33 Fairfield was built in 1877-1878 for banker and real estate investor Asa Perkins Potter, one of eight houses, four on each side of the block: 31-33-35-37 Fairfield on the west and 32-34-36-38 Fairfield on the east. He and his wife, Delle (Sheldon) Potter, lived at 29 Fairfield, built at about the same time.
Each block of four houses was designed as a symmetrical group, centered on the paired entrances to the middle houses (33-35 Fairfield and 34-36 Fairfield). It appears likely that the eight houses originally matched in design, all with bays topped with conical roofs. 31-33-35-37 Fairfield remained unchanged as of 2015, but 32-34-36-38 Fairfield were significantly altered.
The permit application for 31-33 Fairfield (one application for two houses) does not indicate the architect, but the application for 35-37 Fairfield (also one application for two houses) names the architects as Ober and Rand. The original permit applications for 32-34-36-38 Fairfield have not been located. Bainbridge Bunting’s Houses of Boston’s Back Bay attributes all eight houses to Ober and Rand, which appears likely given the similarity of design.
On May 31, 1876, Asa Potter purchased the land for 31-33-35-37 Fairfield from wholesale dry goods merchant George H. Braman. The purchase also included the land where 246 Commonwealth would be built. On the same day, Delle S. Potter purchased the land for 29 Fairfield from George Braman. On October 21, 1878, Asa Potter entered into an agreement with National Bank of Commerce of Boston to purchase the land for 32-34-36-38 Fairfield. He completed the purchase on June 21, 1879, after the houses had been built. All of the land was part of a parcel previously owned by Nathan Matthews, part of an even larger tract which was purchased by Nathan Matthews on January 2, 1871, from David Sears, Jr., Frederick R. Sears, and Knyvet Sears.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 33 Fairfield.
Having purchased the land (or secured the right to purchase it), Asa Potter worked with builder Silas Whiton Merrill and his son, Luther Moore Merrill, to construct the houses. Silas W. Merrill is shown as builder on the permit applications for 31-33-35-37 Fairfield, with mason John F. Richardson for 31-33 Fairfield and alone for 35-37 Fairfield. As noted above, the permit applications for 32-34-36-38 Fairfield have not been located. However, on October 27, 1878, the Boston Globe reported that Luther M. Merrill had been granted permits for two of the houses (32-34 Fairfield), and on June 5, 1879, it reported that Silas W. Merrill had been granted permits for the remaining two (36-38 Fairfield).
An April 12, 1879, Boston Journal on “Building Operations in the Back Bay” summarized the development of the eight houses as of the spring of 1879: “On Fairfield street, between Commonwealth avenue and Newbury street, Luther M. Merrill has erected a block of four small houses, 26 [sic] by 44 feet, two stories, Mansard roof. These houses contain eleven rooms, and have been sold for $10,000 and $11,000 each. On the opposite side of the street the same builder has erected for Asa P. Potter two houses of the same style and dimensions, and has a permit for two more.”
In all but two cases (31-33 Fairfield), after the houses were built, Asa Potter held the property until a buyer was found, and then sold the land with the house on it to Silas Merrill, who resold it on the same day or soon thereafter – presumably at a profit – to the buyer.
The pattern was different for 31-33 Fairfield, the first two houses sold (both in August of 1878). In the case of 31 Fairfield, Asa Potter sold the house to Jarvis Dwight Braman, president of the Boston Water Power Company, who resold it on the same day (Jarvis Braman was the brother of George H. Braman, from whom Asa Potter had acquired the land). In the case of 33 Fairfield, Asa Potter sold house to Silas Merrill, who then mortgaged it and transferred it back the next day to Asa Potter, who sold it soon thereafter. Silas Merrill had filed for bankruptcy in May of 1878, and the approach to these two sales may have reflected his financial position. The other six sales all were in 1879, presumably after his bankruptcy was resolved.
On August 26, 1878, Asa Potter sold 33 Fairfield to Silas Merrill. The deed included an easement reserving a three foot wide strip across the western boundary to provide access to the alley for the houses to the south. A similar easement was included in the deeds for 31 and 35 Fairfield. Silas Merrill subsequently mortgaged the house and then conveyed it back to Asa Potter on August 28, 1878.
On October 18, 1878, 33 Fairfield was purchased from Asa Potter by George W. Terrill. He lived at 9 Brimmer. In December of 1878, he married Susan Tolman Covell. After their marriage, they lived at the Hotel Bristol (northwest corner Clarendon and Boylston).
By the 1879-1880 winter season, 33 Fairfield was the home of Lemuel Rice Howe and his wife, Martha Ada (Silsby) Howe. They previously had lived at 337 Marlborough. He was a dealer in dyewoods, analines, and extracts, and later also was a commission merchant in the Calcutta trade.
At the time of the 1880 US Census, taken in June, the Howes were living in Sharon, Massachusetts, where they appear to have maintained a second home.
The Howes continued to live at 33 Fairfield during the 1881-1882 season, but moved thereafter to 391 Marlborough.
33 Fairfield was not listed in the 1883 Blue Book.
On May 18, 1883, 33 Fairfield was purchased from George Terrill by retired merchant Jonathan French, a widower, who lived at 42 Commonwealth.
By the 1883-1884 winter season, 33 Fairfield was the home of Jonathan French’s son and daughter-in-law, Aaron Davis Weld French and Elizabeth French (Davis) French. They previously had lived at the Hotel Kempton at 237 Berkeley. Aron D W. French was a shipping merchant.
The house was not listed in the 1897 Blue Book.
On February 24, 1897, 33 Fairfield was purchased from Jonathan French by Henry Harrison Sprague. In June of 1897, he married Charlotte Sprague Ward and they made 33 Fairfield their home. Prior to their marriage, he had lived at 9 Tremont Place and she had lived at 337 Marlborough with her sister, Annie Norton Ward.
Henry H. Sprague was an attorney. He served as a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in the early 1880s, and as a member of the State Senate from 1888 to 1891, including serving as President of the Senate in 1890 and 1891. As a legislator, he authored significant election reform legislation, including the introduction of the secret (or “Australian”) ballot.
Henry Sprague died in July of 1920. Charlotte Sprague continued to live at 33 Fairfield until her death in July of 1937.
On November 8, 1939, 33 Fairfield was acquired from Charlotte Sprague’s estate by William Hobbs Goodwin, III, and his wife, Ruth (Kempton) Goodwin. He was a stockbroker and investment counselor. They continued to live at 33 Fairfield until Ruth Goodwin’s death in January of 1990.
In April of 1991, 33 Fairfield was acquired from William Goodwin by William M. Bulkeley and his wife, Debra (LaCava) Bulkeley.
33 Fairfield a single-family dwelling in 2016.