Dorchester’s architecture is justly famous. All Saints Church designed by Ralph Adams Cram in 1892 was the model for American parish church architecture for the next 50 years. St. Peter’s Church is a magnificent example of 19th-century American Gothic Revival. The former Girls’ Latin School built as Dorchester High School in 1899 in the Renaissance Revival style has been converted into the Latin Academy apartments.
The first settlers of the town are represented by two surviving 17th-century houses, the Blake House, ca. 1648, in Richardson Park on Columbia Road, owned by the Dorchester Historical Society and the Pierce House, ca. 1683, on Oakton Avenue, owned by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. A third 17th-century house, the Capen House was moved to Milton in the early 20th century, then taken apart and put in storage in the early 21st century.
Illustrations exist of at least eight 17th-century houses that once stood in Dorchester, three of which have survived into the 21st century. The Pierce House stands where it always has on Oakton Avenue; the Blake House has been moved a few hundred yards east to its present position in Richardson Park on Columbia Road; and the Barnard Capen house, formerly situated on Washington Street, now stands in Milton. The other five 17th-century houses of which we have illustrations are the Bird-Sawyer House, the Minot House, the Rev. John Danforth House, the Humphreys House and the Bridgham House.
Examples of 18th-century homes and Federal era and Greek Revival buildings are scattered throughout Dorchester. Dorchester is especially famous for neighborhoods with architecturally designed homes from the second half of the 19th century. Its architects include Edwin J. Lewis, Jr., John A. Fox and Luther Briggs, Jr. among many others. The three-family home of the late 19th to early 20th centuries exists in Dorchester in every imaginable design, ranging from the Peabody at Ashmont Street and Dorchester Avenue, a building designed as a series of attached brick 3 family homes, to the freestanding three-decker. A walking tour of nearly any neighborhood will reveal a variety of building elements with appealing designs: original decorative shingles, stained glass, columns, and brackets.
Architects represented in Dorchester include: Harrison H. Atwood; Asher Benjamin; Luther Briggs, Jr.; Charles Bulfinch; George Clough; Ralph Adams Cram and his firm Cram, Wentworth and Goodhue; John A. Fox; A. Warren Gould; Hartwell, Richardson and Driver, Patrick Keeley; Keeley and Houghton; Edwin J. Lewis, Jr.; Maginnis and Walsh; Charles Austin Wood.
As early as 1654 Dorchester’s buildings were described by Johnson in his Wonder-Working Providence:
“Her houses for dwellings are about one hundred and forty, orchards and gardens full of fruit-trees, plenty of corn-land, although much of it hath been long in tillage, yet hath it ordinarily good crops. The number of trees are near upon 1,500. Cows and other cattle of that kind about 450.”