Eustis-Shirley Mansion of Boston:
By Jane Roy Brown, Boston Globe
Correspondent | (April 10, 2005)
With spring rains and summer vacations coming up, restless children and out-of-town friends may need a few suggestions for interesting inside things to do. These lesser-known (and less-crowded) house museums in the Boston area promise engaging diversions. Guided tours allow visitors to peer into the lives of extraordinary Bostonians (and Cantabridgians) of the past three centuries. All are accessible by public transit.
The Shirley-Eustis House, Roxbury.
Governor William Shirley’s mansion, one of four remaining country houses in America built by British royal colonial governors, stands on a shady street in a 20th-century Boston neighborhood. In the 1750s, this was a rural Tory enclave, and the estate fronted the South Bay, the better to stay close to the British fleet. The property’s grand scale reflects not only the royal governor’s social status, but the spacious landscape that once rippled out in all directions. It took the governor an hour by carriage to reach Boston proper.
Today, the three-story house, grounds, and carriage house spread out over a large city block known as Shirley Place. Though it represents only a fraction of the original estate, which sported a 250-foot-long ornamental canal, the property is still palatial in a middle-class neighborhood of quarter-acre lots.
The grounds are as delightful as the building’s interior, making this a fine place to bring children. The Georgian-style house, its clapboards painted a regal yellow, overlooks a courtyard and soon, when the weather complies, a long greensward divided by a lush, re-created 18th-century garden of perennials and shrubs. (The garden was created by volunteers from the Community Outreach Group for Landscape Design, of the Landscape Institute at the Arnold Arboretum.) A copper-roofed gazebo sits at the far end of the grassy space, and an orchard and carriage house stand across a small street. Neighborhood families use the precious green space as a park, and, according to Andrea Taaffe, director of the museum, neighborhood children sled in the yard in winter.
After the Revolution, the state seized the estate when Shirley’s Tory descendants fled, and an early China Trade sea captain bought it, followed by Massachusetts Governor William Eustis. The governor, who had been a surgeon in the Continental Army, entertained his former comrade in arms, the wildly popular Marquis de Lafayette, at this house in 1824. Eustis updated the building in the Federal style, and many exquisite details such as early wall coverings and patterns painted onto the wide, planked floors have remained intact or been restored since preservationists acquired the property in the early 1900s. A rich narrative chronicles the changes from Colonial America through the late 19th century on the guided tours.