Established in 1848, BSCES is the oldest engineering society in the United States and currently supports over 3,400 members throughout Massachusetts. On April 26, 1848, BSCE founding members met at the U.S. Hotel in Boston to discuss forming a society for civil engineers. Since that time, the Boston Society of Civil Engineers has been at the forefront of the industry. BSCES Civil Engineering Practice Journal has published 98 volumes of scholarly, peer-reviewed technical articles almost continuously since 1914, with only a short break during World War I.
In 1974, BSCES formally became a Section of ASCE following a merger with ASCE's Massachusetts Section. Ten years later, BSCES was instrumental in the formation of The Engineering Center, already a focal point for our professions throughout New England. With The Engineering Center Education Trust, BSCES staff is now headquartered at One Walnut Street in Boston, MA. It is appropriate that BSCES, as the oldest technical society in the United States, should have its headquarters in a building that reflects heritage and prestige.
The building at One Walnut Street was the product of Charles Bulfinch, the leading architect of his time. In addition to designing the Massachusetts State House, Bulfinch is noted for designing many outstanding homes on Beacon Hill establishing a style of elegance that has made the hill famous. The Engineering Center was built on the corner of Beacon Street and what is now Walnut Street, with its original entrance on Beacon Street. Built in 1804 in the “square style” for which Bulfinch was noted, it was one of the earliest, and most probably the first, brick house on Beacon Street.
The builder and first resident of the house, John Phillips, was one of Boston’s most prominent citizens. He was a member of the Massachusetts State Senate and elected the first mayor of Boston in 1822. Born in the house was his son Wendell Phillips, the famous orator for abolitionism and other causes. After John Phillips died, his heirs sold the house to Thomas Lindall Winthrop, who was a very prominent Bostonian serving in the State Senate and as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts from 1826 to 1832. Subsequent owners included Thomas Dixon, who served the Dutch government as Consul General at Boston and abroad; noted philanthropist Nathan Matthews; successful Boston businessman Robert M. Mason and his daughters, Ida M. and Ellen F. Mason.
In 1931, Mrs. James J. Storrow purchased One Walnut Street from the Mason Estate, and in 1939 donated it to the Judge Baker Foundation as its headquarters. The work performed to transform the former private residence to accommodate institutional functions removed some of Bulfinch’s and other later architectural features from the interior, but made it adaptable to the uses of The Engineering Center without requiring extensive alterations.
In 1976, the building was acquired by the Phillips-Winthrop House Trust to serve as the law offices of Mahoney, Hawkes & Goldings. Some interior changes were effected to suit its new, more modern function. In 1978 an exterior restoration was accomplished that removed many of the decorative features that had been added over the years including its exterior gray paint which expose the old red brick. On June 7, 1990, the Trust sold One Walnut Street to The Engineering Center Education Trust.
The building at One Walnut Street is an historic building that contributes to, and is part of, historic Beacon Hill. The mansard roof is certainly not Bulfinch, but even with this later addition, the Bulfinch lines and features are still in evidence. The changed features that remain reflect the history of Beacon Hill and Boston over the two centuries since the house was built. In this building, engineers can be reminded of their rich heritage on which they base their present and future.
One Walnut Street represents a proud past. It will be a fitting reminder to those of the engineering societies that constitute The Engineering Center of the great heritage that they represent as they make history today and in the future.
This article contains excerpts from an article that was published in the Fall 1990 issue of CIVIL ENGINEERING PRACTICE, the Journal of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers Section/ASCE. H. Hobart Holly (d. 1996) was the Chairman of the History and Heritage Committee of the Boston Society of Civil Engineers Section/ASCE.
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Supported by the staff of The Engineering Center Education Trust