Otis House Museum

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by zabelle on November 27, 2007

141 Cambridge St.

If you go out the front door of the Liberty Hotel and go left around the corner you will be on Cambridge St. It is a very short walk up the hill to the Otis House.

This house can only be visited on a guided tour.

Harrison Gray Otis was born into a prominent Boston family. He graduated from Harvard and then studied law. He was a Massachusetts State Representative and a United States Representative for the Federalist Party. He was also Mayor of Boston, District Attorney and US Senator.

This is the first of three houses where the Otis family lived in Boston. They only lived here for 2 years because the area was growing so fast that it no longer was fashionable, the new bridge to Cambridge made it a very successful commercial area.

This house was designed by Charles Bulfinch who is also known for designing the Massachusetts State House, St. Stephens Church and The Old State House in Hartford and perhaps most importantly for being the last architect on the Capital in Washington DC. It is built in the Federal style. The lines are clean and classical with symmetrical windows and a fanlight over the front door.

After the Otis family moved, the house was lived in by the Osborne family for 30 years. After 1833 the house became a boarding house and there was a business in the house. Doctor and Mrs. Mott ran a bath house and holistic medicine center for woman only.

By 1912 the house was derelict and was rescued by Appleton who was one of the founders of the Historic Trust. There are two shown in the slide show that show how much this neighborhood changed in the 1960’s. It makes you very grateful that this house was protected because there is nothing left of once was a historic area. Urban renewal has replaced all the beautiful buildings with what to me is urban blight!

We arrived just as a tour had begun so we missed the beginning of the slide show but she did stop long enough to have us put on our shoe covers. Our guide was very friendly but her knowledge of the house was almost non existent beyond her memorized script which was very disappointing. She tried to find answers to several questions posed by not only me but others in our group but was not able to answer any of them.

We began by visiting the first floor front rooms of the house. They have been returned to the time period of the Otis family. Most of the furniture in the house is of the period but not of the family. One exception is the dining room table which belonged to Mr. Otis’ sister. The room colors yellow and blue are original to the room because in their time they were the most expensive and they are typical of Bullfinch houses.

Mr. Otis’ office has wallpaper that was duplicated from the original (a piece was found and it had the maker and number on it) and also has an iron closet which is very much like a safe, for storing important documents.

One thing that is original to the house are the mirrors. There is one in the dining room and one in the parlor.

On the second floor we visit Mrs. Otis bedroom and the withdrawing room. In the bedroom there is a chair that belonged to Mrs. Otis and next to it are a pile of books since Sally was an avid reader and belonged to a ladies reading group. Be on the lookout for the Gilbert Stuart portraits of the couple.

One room is dedicated to the Motts and their bathhouse. It gives a good idea of how much the housed had changed over the years.

This is interesting in that you get to see how a family lived in Boston, albeit a very wealthy influential family in the late 18th century. It is perhaps the next step beyond the Paul Revere House.

Otis House Museum
141 Cambridge St
Boston, Massachusetts, 02114
+1 617 227 3956


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