The William Hickling Prescott House
55 Beacon Street ~ Boston, MA 02108
2018 Open Dates:
OPENING Saturday, 4/7
Hours 12-4. Note: tours start 15 past hour
April and May: Saturdays
June, July, August: Wednesdays and Saturdays
September* and October: Saturdays
Admission is $8 Adults, $6 Seniors and children under age 12 free. We are a member of the Blue Star Museums Initiative: admission for active military personnel and their families is also free.
Group Tours availible by appointment. Rates available upon request
The house is opposite the Boston Common, under which there is a parking garage. It is within easy walking distance of the Arlington and Park Street subway stops.
The William Hickling Prescott House, at 55 Beacon Street, and the adjoining home at 54 Beacon Street, were built in 1808 for the Boston merchant, James Smith Colburn. These Federal period twin houses overlook Boston Common. The land was once owned by John Singleton Copley, America's most accomplished colonial portrait painter.
These 5 1/2 story brick town houses were designed by the esteemed American architect Asher Benjamin and are highlighted by two bow-fronts. Gracious geometric forms such as these accentuate the rhythm of the exterior design as well as create beautiful oval interior spaces. The building's Federal style features include a ground floor colonnade with delicate fluted Doric columns, elliptical fanlighted entrances with flanking side lights, colossal pilasters, elaborate iron balconies, and an ornamental balustrade over the cornice.
The American historian, William Hickling Prescott, lived at number 55 Beacon Street from 1845-1859. Prescott was one of the first English-speaking historians to write about the Spanish Empire. His books included histories of the Spanish monarchs and the conquests of Mexico and Peru. Some have been translated into several languages and remain in print today.
Prescott made major renovations to the house. He built a rear addition, which included his extensive library on the second floor, and a third floor study, now faithfully restored, where he wrote his History of the Conquest of Peru and Philip II.
After Prescott died in 1859, his widow continued to live in the house until her death in 1869, when it was purchased by her nephew, Franklin Gordon Dexter. The Dexter family replaced the original spiral staircase with the present colonial revival staircase.
In 1944 the house was purchased by The National Society of The Colonial Dames in The Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964.
The extensive collections of furniture and decorative arts have been generously donated by Colonial Dames. Chinese export porcelain and English ceramics are permanently on view.
The remarkable costume collection, dating from the 18th through the 20th centuries, includes dresses, fans, shoes, parasols and children's clothing, selections of which are on continuous display. The collection is available to researchers by appointment.