City and State: Boston, Massachusetts
Type of district: National Register historic district, state historic district
Main Intersection: Sussex Street
The Frederick Douglass Square Historic District is regarded as an important remnant of one of Boston’s last privately financed speculative landfill ventures. To create it, a Lower Roxbury salt marsh was transformed into an attractive neighborhood of spacious avenues and brick row houses. The area possesses several outstanding examples of early apartment design, but its architectural character is largely defined by the diminutive Queen Anne brick houses erected for Boston’s urban poor by prominent social reformer, Robert Treat Paine, Jr.
Paine, a great-grandson of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, wanted “better homes for the masses of plain people.” Beginning in 1886 he built and sold more than 200 single-family row houses to the working poor who settled in the Frederick Douglass Square area for $2,500 each. He asked for a deposit of $1,000 and offered buyers a 5% mortgage on the remaining $1,500 payable over five years. His efforts were successful, as the area was initially inhabited by a variety of immigrant families whose men were employed as clerks, laborers, grocers, janitors and as other service providers. Approximately 77 of Paine’s houses remain.