The prevalence of stained-glass windows was simply a curiosity for St. Botolph resident Dan d’Heilly for a number of years, just as it was for countless neighbors in the area as well.
Many had heard the legend of the neighborhood’s stained glass, and knew it was once called ‘Stained Glass Row,’ but there wasn’t too many people who could recite the real history. It was over a glass of wine with neighbor Claire Dargan that d’Heilly was struck by the topic and began to dig deeper.
Now, he’s detailed a long history of the neighborhood’s once-famous artisans and is finding new revelations every day via a stained glass website he created in partnership with the St. Botolph Neighborhood Association (SBNA).
“There’s a reason why people say this used to be a big stained glass area,” he said. “We were famous for our stained glass. It’s what neighbors say over a glass of wine. I was doing just that, having a glass of wine with a neighbor and this came up. I said if we were famous, we should be able to find evidence of it. People who had known about it must have written things down. It’s been 30 years since any stained glass has been manufactured here, but the area still carries the bones of it.”
Doing his own research, and relying a lot on Boston Landmarks publications to get his start, he found that the neighborhood saw the manufacture of tens of thousands of stained glass windows from 1913 to the late 1990s. One of the biggest and most famous was the Charles J. Connick Associates Studio, which was located on Harcourt Street, now abutting the Southwest Corridor.
Connick was the most famous maker, he said, but did very little work in the homes that dot the neighborhood and have an inordinate amount of stained glass in them to this day.
“He was really known for his work in churches,” said d’Heilly. “He wasn’t really known for residential, but did more church windows that probably anybody. He was that guy.”
The stained-glass artisans were part of a larger trend called the Arts & Crafts Movement. It was a pushback against industrialization and mass production of items that started in England. It thrust craftsmanship back into the spotlight and all kinds of artisans were elevated to a higher status, including stained glass, bookbinding, woodworking, textiles and masonry – among others. That period, he said, coincided with the geography and development of St. Botolph.
During that time, land lots were being auctioned off to developers in what had been swampland in the Back Bay. West Newton Street was one of the first cross streets to be developed. Developers would purchase multiple lots at a time and build out the homes, often including touches like stained glass, he said.
“When they did West Newton, all the developers put stained glass in all the windows,” he said. “They had public auctions and developers would bid on the land and develop a swath of five or six townhouses. So there are many unique patterns where several homes have similar stained glass one after the other.”
One example of that is on Fallon Street, he said, where a touch of stained glass cascades down the street in the transoms of homes on one side of the street. The same is true in the 200th block of West Newton where semi-circle transoms with the address were clearly all made at the same time by the same person.
The same pattern, he said, is visible in the development along Mass Avenue and Albemarle Street on the other side of St. Botolph. Evidence can also be seen along St. Botolph Street too, but d’Heilly noted that as the styles changed and the neighborhood filled in, stained glass became less of a feature in the homes – which is evident in places like Blackwood Street, the last street to be developed.
But the question remained why it was that so much stained glass ended up there, and why it was that the makers were working nearby.
“It’s a great question and the answer is even better in some ways,” said d’Heilly. “They were a product of the arts and crafts movement. At that time the MFA was in Copley Square…The first arts and crafts exhibit in the United States was at the MFA about three blocks from the Harcourt building. There was a lot of back and forth. They had an arts and crafts workshop there. Arts and Crafts was not just stained glass, but also woodworking, masonry and textiles.”
St. Botolph resident Dan d’Heilly, like many neighbors, always knew that stained glass was a part of the fabric and history of the neighborhood. However, he was recently compelled to do major research on the subject, and to begin to document it on a website in conjunction with the St. Botolph Neighborhood Association.
Those honing their craft in the area found a home at the Harcourt Bindery, which eventually became Connick’s studio on Harcourt Street. The owners made space for the artisans in the movement, and it ended up becoming a nexus for anyone in that movement.
“If you had a craft you wanted to pursue, you were welcome on Harcourt Street,” he said. “The craft that stuck was stained glass and the bookbinding.”
Later, the Harcourt Bindery moved to Charlestown, where it still exists in some form today, and the stained glass took over the neighborhood. That, of course, coincided with the development of other parts of the area, and having a plethora of makers nearby allowed developers to add a touch of “glass” to their new homes at a reasonable price.
“A big thing at the time was to bring beauty into middle-class homes,” he said. “Tiffany had been part of that, but they got too expensive to be affordable. That didn’t happen here.”
He said he has found it very inspiring to bring the history back to life, and to know how special St. Botolph was at one time to the creative energy of Boston.
“It was the creative part of town,” he said. “If you were creating, you wanted to be here. They had all their arts and crafts studios just a block off of Huntington. It was known.”
So far, he has gotten great feedback from neighbors, and he’s looking to expand the project with their help.
“Neighbors are really enthusiastic with their response,” he said. “Frankly a number of people have just gushed about it. We always knew we were St. Botolph, but now we have an additional meaning and I’m getting enthusiastic gratitude.”
He said he is hoping to get more public engagement out of the project, and he’s asking St. Botolph neighbors to send in pictures of their stained glass – both those inside and outside the home. He said he can also come to the home and take pictures as well if neighbors wish to allow that. The crowd-sourced project will document as much of the stained glass in the neighborhood as possible.