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THE HINCKLEY MANSION-HOUSE
THE REVEREND JAMES ALLEN (1632-1710), son of a clergyman in Hampshire, England, came over to this country in 1662. He was the Minister of the First Church in Boston for forty-two years. A graduate of Oxford University, he served as a Fellow of Harvard College from 1692 to 1707. Mr. Allen became one of the largest land-owners in the community, his holdings including a large portion of the present West End in Boston. His homestead (being part of a tract of eighteen acres bequeathed to him in 1671 by James Penn, Ruling Elder of his Church) was on the east corner of Beacon and Somerset Streets.1 And there he lived in a two-storied stone house built by himself, and “maintained the style of a gentleman.” His barn occupied the corner abovementioned; and the house was placed about seventy feet to the eastward, on Beacon Street.
On March 12, 1705, Mr. Allen deeded the property, including “the Mansion-House, with the land, members and appurtenances thereof,” to his son, Jeremiah Allen, who became Treasurer of the Province in 1715. On the latter’s death in 1741, the estate passed to his son, of the same name (d. 1755), and later was inherited by his grandson, James Allen, of the fourth generation from the emigrant ancestor.2 On December 20, 1799, the latter sold the homestead to his brother, Jeremiah, who held the office of High Sheriff of Suffolk County. After being in the possession of members of the Allen family for nearly one hundred and forty years, the demesne was sold by James Allen, January 8, 1810, to David Hinckley, a Boston merchant, who took down the old stone house. And during or about the year 1814 he built a large double granite mansion on the premises, and occupied the westerly, corner portion, which fronted on Somerset Street. This mansion was at that time considered to be the finest dwelling-house in the town.3 It was elaborately furnished, and filled with beautiful works of art, together with many costly statues and mirrors.4 The progress of its building was interrupted by the War of 1812; and the venture must have been an expensive one at that time, when the cost of materials was high. The window glass and cornices were said to have been imported.
This mansion was the scene of a tragic occurrence in July, 1820. Miss Anne Hinckley, daughter of David Hinckley, had taken a course of lessons in modern languages under the guidance of a young Neapolitan named Pietro Perodi, who had served in the Italian army, and who had arrived in Boston some three years before. Here he obtained the entrée of polite society, and had won the affection of Miss Hinckley. Their engagement had been formally announced, when it was discovered that he had made false representations regarding his antecedents. This fact, and her father’s strong opposition, caused the lady to break the engagement. Unable to regain her confidence, Perodi became desperate. Repairing to the Hinckley home, he ran up to her chamber, where she was engaged with a dressmaker; and there, in her presence, he ended his life by the thrust of a dagger. Such is one account of the melancholy affair. A correspondent, Syphax Tertius, in a communication to the “Boston Transcript,” February 20, 1873, stated that the scene of the tragedy was the house of a friend, Mrs. Elizabeth Davis, who kept a boarding-school at Number Three Somerset Place, now Allston Street, in the immediate neighborhood of the Hinckley residence. According to the above authority Miss Hinckley had fled to Mrs. Davis’s school, to avoid Perodi.
On Mr. Hinckley’s death in 1825, the property was inherited by his daughter. Not long after she married an Englishman named William Gill Hodgkinson. On April 25, 1839, the estate was bought by the Honorable Benjamin Crowninshield, a former Secretary of the Navy of the United States, for $38,500. He and the members of his family occupied the corner house on Somerset Street until his death in 1851.
In the following year this house was acquired by the members of the Somerset Club, and was occupied by them for about twenty years. In 1872, or thereabout, the Club bought the Sears mansion, at Forty-Three Beacon Street, built by David Sears in 1819. Its site is a part of the former large estate of John Singleton Copley, the distinguished American painter. The original mansion formed the western half of the present structure, and its entrance opened on a courtyard. Later, Mr. Sears built another house adjoining, on the east; the older dwelling being enlarged, and both forming the present double, swell-front edifice, facing the Common. The decorative carvings of the marble tablets, above the bow-windows are the handiwork of Solomon Willard, the architect of Bunker Hill Monument.5 In the rear of the old Copley domicile was a barn, which was used as a temporary hospital, where some of the wounded British officers were cared for after the Battle of Bunker Hill.
The easterly portion of his estate, including the land, and “the large, elegant stone house and other buildings thereon standing,” was sold by Mr. Hinckley, December 20, 1820, to Benjamin Wiggin, Gentleman, for forty thousand dollars.
In 1825 the ownership passed to Joseph Peabody, Esq., of Salem, who gave it to his daughter as a wedding present, at the time of her marriage to John L. Gardner, Senior, an enterprising young merchant in the East India trade. The house was the birthplace of his son, of the same name, whose widow occupies the well-known Italian palace in the Fenway region.
The Hinckley house was the residence of the Gardners for many years, and they retained possession of the property until 1871, when the American Congregational Association bought both portions of the original mansion for $292,000. In 1904 the whole edifice was removed, and a new building was erected and occupied by the Houghton & Dutton Company.
1 Gleaner Articles, No. 11.
2 Gleaner Articles, No. 33.
3 The Memorial History of Boston, IV, 59.
4 A full description of the interior of this house is given in some unpublished Reminiscences of Mrs. J. Mason Warren.
5 History of the Somerset Club.