517 Beacon is one of ten contiguous houses (511-529 Beacon) designed by architect Samuel D. Kelley and built in 1887 for Chadwick & Stillings (N. Henry Chadwick and Oscar L. Stillings), a hat block and flange company that became a significant house building firm in the 1880s and 1890s. They are shown as the owners and builders on the original permit applications, all dated March 14, 1887. The next year, Chadwick & Stillings built one more house, also designed by Samuel Kelley, immediately to the west, at 531 Beacon.
The ten houses at 511-529 Beacon are of a similar pattern, all with entrances on the east side and cylindrical bays on the west. The houses furthest east and west in the group (511 and 529 Beacon) have brick bays which extend to the third story, with two windows above the bay on the fourth story. The next two houses from either end (513 and 527 Beacon) have rusticated stone bays which are cylindrical for the first two stories and angled on the third story, with single arched window above surrounded by decorative stonework with a triangular top. The next two houses from either end (515 and 525 Beacon) have brick cylindrical bays to the third story, with three windows above surrounded by decorative stonework with a fan shape at the top. The four houses in the center of the grouping (517-519-521-523 Beacon) are variations on the same themes.
Chadwick & Stillings are shown as the owners of 511 Beacon on the 1888 Bromley map.
By the 1888-1889 winter season, 517 Beacon was the home of Allen Lafayette Joslin and his wife, Sarah Ann Emerson (Proctor) Joslin. They previously had lived in Oxford, Massachusetts, where he was a shoe manufacturer and bank president, and where they continued to maintain a second home. He is shown as the owner of 517 Beacon the 1895, 1898, and 1908 Bromley maps.
Living with the Joslins were Ada Joslin, Allen Joslin’s daughter by his first marriage, to Lucretia M. Shumway, and Elliott Proctor Joslin, his son by his second marriage. Allen Joslin’s son by his first marriage, Homer S. Joslin, lived in Oxford and later would succeed him as head of hs shoe manufacturing company.
Elliott Joslin graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1895. He continued to live at 517 Beacon with his parents and maintained his medical office there from about 1898. In September of 1902, he married Elizabeth Elliott Denny. After their marriage, they moved to an apartment at 421 Marlborough. He continued to maintain his office at 517 Beacon until 1905, when he moved his residence and office to 81 Bay State Road. Elliott Joslin was a pioneer in the treatment of diabetes and founder of the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.
Allen Joslin died in July of 1911. Sarah and Ada Joslin continued to live at 517 Beacon until her death in June of 1913. Ada Joslin continued to live at 517 Beacon during the 1914-1915 winter season, but moved thereafter to Oxford.
By the 1916-1917 winter season, the Joslin family had leased 517 Beacon to the MIT chapter of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity. It previously had been located at 16 Exeter. 517 Beacon remained Phi Sigma Kappa’s fraternity house until about 1925, when it moved to 487 Commonwealth.
By 1927, 517 Beacon was the home of Bror A. Pearson, a plumber, and his wife, Martha J. (Johansen) Pearson, who operated it as a lodging house. They previously had lived at 557 Columbus Avenue. They continued to live and operate a lodging house at 517 Beacon in 1930, but had moved to 390 Marlborough by 1931.
By 1932, 517 Beacon was the home of Mrs. Signe Eleanora (Svenson) Woods, the former wife of Harold Spry Woods, who operated it as a lodging house. Her sister, Mrs. Ruth (Svenson) Johnson, widow of John T. Johnson, lived with her.
Ruth Johnson purchased and moved to 519 Beacon in late 1936, converting it into a lodging house. She continued to live there until about 1947, when she moved back to 517 Beacon to live with her sister.
In December of 1948, Mrs. Izetta May (Butler) Small, who lived and operated the lodging house at 519 Beacon, applied for (and subsequently received) permission to cut a connecting door between the two houses, presumably so that they could be operated jointly.
By 1950, 517 Beacon and 519 Beacon were acquired by Albert Leo Hollingdale and his wife, Margaret E. (Tabor) Hollingdale. Albert Hollingdale et al were the assessed owners from 1950. They lived at 517 Beacon and operated lodging houses at both addresses. They previously had lived at 82 Bay State Road.
By 1964, 517 and 519 Beacon were owned by Hugh Richardson Farrington, a real estate broker and property manager, whose company continued to operate them as BU dormitories. He also owned 521 Beacon and 425-427 Marlborough, all of which he also operated as BU dormitories.
In mid-1968, Boston University acquired 517-519-521 Boston from Hugh Farrington. It continued to operate them as dormitories for BU students.
In July of 1980, Boston University filed for (and subsequently received) permission to change the legal occupancy of 517 Beacon to be a dormitory, reflecting its current use.
517 Beacon continued to be a dormitory in 2014.