Pinebank, a Former Homestead in Jamaica Plain

  Pinebank I was built in 1802 by China trade merchant James Perkins (1761-1822) as a Federal country house on the banks of Jamaica Pond. Photograph courtesy of Anthony Mitchell Sammarco.

Pinebank I was built in 1802 by China trade merchant James Perkins (1761-1822) as a Federal country house on the banks of Jamaica Pond. Photograph courtesy of Anthony Mitchell Sammarco.

An old Jamaica Plain homestead is best known by the name of the former estate, over which it once presided: Pinebank, so called from its pine-surrounded rise on the north shore of Jamaica Pond. Now surrounded by a high chain-link fence, entirely overgrown with lofty weeds, and in ruinous state, the Ruskinian Gothic brick house hardly shows any trace of its former graciousness.

One claim to glory is that it is now the only house left of those that were taken by the City of Boston in 1892, when it was decided to create Jamaica (now Olmsted) Park. Taken for use as a refectory for those visiting the park (but only briefly used thus), the house's downfall began when the last Perkins was allowed to remove fireplace mantels and stained-glass windows.

Pinebank's name is often linked to the illustrious Perkins family of China merchants and philanthropists, who owned the area throughout the 19th century. Hence the name of the street that connects Roxbury, JP, Brookline, Newton and West Roxbury. This was the first Perkins county home in our vicinity. Brothers Samuel and Thomas had fancier ones reaching into Brookline.

The present remnants of the Ruskinian Gothic house seen today are of the third Perkins residence on the site, as attested by the three dates in tan terracotta work above the driveway entrance-something worth preservation. Fortunately, photographs of all three homes remain. Pinebank I, a 21/2 story wooden Federal style home with shutters and porch (more in the spirit of Holbrook Farm), was built in 1806 as a summer house by the scholarly James Perkins (1761-1822), senior member of the China trading firm.

His grandson, Edward N. Perkins, tore Pinebank I down in 1848 and built a year-round house. Pinebank II was a substantial three-storied affair with mansard roof by a French architect, Jean Lemoulnier, who worked in Boston in the 1840's. It faced the Pond with a small terrace and balconied front entrance with fancy grillwork along the roofline.

When Pinebank II burned out in 1868, Perkins started all over again on the still useable foundation. Sturgis & Brigham designed the once-glorious Pinebank III, Gothic in red brick and imported English tan terracotta-a theme they developed in their next project, the first home of the Museum of Fine Arts at Copley Square where the Copley Plaza Hotel now stands.

  Pinebank II was built in 1848 on the site of the original house by Edward Newton Perkins. Photograph courtesy of Anthony Mitchell Sammarco.

Pinebank II was built in 1848 on the site of the original house by Edward Newton Perkins. Photograph courtesy of Anthony Mitchell Sammarco.

The driveway entrance was made to commemorate all the Perkins homes with the dates they were built worked into the terracotta over the door, while the Pond entrance retained the prior balcony porch concept. Pinebank III seems not as elegant as its predecessor, but life there must have been pleasant. To the east the family had easy access to the Pond via their cove in the adjacent vale, filled in by the Park Commissioners early in this century.

To the west, easy access was had to the Pond via a set of sandstone steps installed in 1864 and purchased from the auction of the former John Hancock Mansion on Beacon Hill. Notable also were the giant cottonwood trees on either side of the house and its ivy, brought from England by the family.

After the Perkins family moved out, Pinebank III became the property of the Parks Department of the City of Boston. Fire visited the site in 1895, destroying the roof and much of the interior. Noted City architect Edmund Wheelwright designed a new roof, remodelled the interior, and added the present large terrace, perhaps inspired by the elegant look of Pinebank II.

Until July, 1913 the remodeled Pinebank served as headquarters for the Park Department, when it granted Pinebank's free use for ten years to the newly founded Children's Museum. The natural history and ethnological lectures and exhibits so well recalled by older JP residents were given here.

Nominal rent was arranged with the City, and the Museum prospered with the help of its neighbor, Mayor Curley. In 1935 came the end of the second ten-year lease, and the Museum Trustees confronted the question of renewal. Pinebank needed major repairs and was growing smaller day by day with every spaced pressed to the utmost. Automobiles were denied access.

Fortunately the Museum was able to purchase the former Morse/Milton estate on the Jamaicaway in January 1936 and after a gala program in March left Pinebank. On July 15 it was completely empty and officially returned to the Parks Department, which used it to store records. Henceforth it was a white elephant.

In the 1970's it became a center for arts courses in an Arts in the Park series run by the Parks Department, but a fire in 1978 gutted the interior, preventing any further use. A roof was hurriedly thrown up, but the house, standing secluded off the Jamaicaway, invited trouble. In 1982 another fire finished off any wood in the interior. Yet again another crude roof was hurriedly installed, and for good measure a chain link fence erected all around it. Thus the sorry picture at the present time.

Sources: Seaburg & Paterson, Merchant Prince of Boston, Cambridge, 1971 C. Zaitzevsky, "Pinebank: the History of a Site and a Building" in R. White, Feasibility Study- Pinebank Recreational Building, BRA, 1979 A. B. Sayles, The Story of the Children's Museum. Boston, 1937.

Reprinted with permission from the September 20, 1991 Jamaica Plain Gazette.Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.