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Beacon Hill Historic District

Historic Beacon Hill District

The Historic Beacon Hill District was designated in 1955, and expanded in 1958 and 1963.

The Beacon Hill Architectural Commission (BHAC) meets on the third Thursday of each month to review exterior alterations.


All exterior work visible from a public way is subject to the review of the BHAC.  Submit a complete application by the appropriate deadline to ensure the project will be on the agenda for review and approval by the Commission before beginning any work.

  • To save time and costs, review district Standards & Criteria early in the planning process.
  • Review all Instructions and documentation requirements before submitting your application to ensure it is complete. Incomplete applications will not be added to a public hearing agenda.
  • Submit your application well in advance of a filing deadline in case it is incomplete and additional or revised information needs to be submitted.
  • Staff is not available to review applications for completeness immediately upon submittal.
  • Do not begin any work, or buy materials, until after you have received confirmation your project has been approved by the Commission.

In 1795, two events central to the development of Beacon Hill took place. The first was the construction of the new State House, designed by celebrated architect Charles Bulfinch and completed in 1797. The construction of the State House provided the impetus for residential development immediately to its west, at the south slope of the Hill. The second event was the formation of the Mount Vernon Proprietors. Consisting of six prominent Boston citizens, this was one of the earliest land development operations in the country. They purchased 18 ½ acres of land to the west of the State House, including the property of John Singleton Copley.

While some structures were built soon after the Mount Vernon Proprietors’ purchase of the land in 1795, development on the Hill did not begin in earnest until 1800. Three types of architecture characterize this period of Beacon Hill’s Development. The first is the freestanding mansion; Bulfinch’s original plan for the area from the 1790s focused heavily on freestanding mansions on large plots of land surrounding a large public square. However, despite this initial focus, only a few of these “mansion houses” were actually built; examples of this type include the first and second Otis houses, at 141 Cambridge Street and 85 Mount Vernon Street, respectively. The second prevalent type of architecture consists of pairs of houses that are symmetrical in design, such as 54-55 Beacon Street. The third type is the rowhouse, consisting of multiple attached units of essentially the same design. The houses built for Hepzibah Swan (the only female member of the Mount Vernon Proprietors) at 13-17 Chestnut Street are examples of this form.

Still largely residential, the structures on Beacon Hill showcase several different styles and are the work of a number of notable architects, such as Charles Bulfinch, Asher Benjamin, Solomon Willard, and Alexander Parris.  While the Federal and Greek Revival styles were most popular during the first half of the 19th century and are the most predominant on the Hill, later examples of Italianate, Panel Brick, Egyptian Revival, Queen Anne, and American Gothic Revival styles can also be found.  The later part of the 19th century also brought about a new form: the apartment building.  Some early examples of adaptive reuse also occurred in Beacon Hill, with the conversion of many stables and carriage houses into loft spaces and studios.

Lissa Schwab
Boston City Hall, Room 709
Boston, MA 02201
United States
Beacon Hill
Email contact
Public hearings

The Beacon Hill Architectural Commission will hold a public hearing on Thursday, August 18, at 4 p.m. in Boston City Hall, Piemonte Room, 5th Floor.

BHAC Agenda August 2016 AMENDED (2)