Get a glimpse into the 19th century when you step into The Gibson House Museum, a Victorian era time-capsule nestled amongst the brownstone buildings at 137 Beacon Street.
Built in 1860, it was one of only 15 houses in Back Bay, which had recently been filled in three years prior. Boston architect Edward Clarke Cabot designed the he Italian Renaissance style house for widowed Catherine Hammond Gibson and her son Charles.
It’s been more than 50 years since a family member lived there, and the museum owes its existence to Charles Gibson Jr. He knew he wanted to make the house a museum when he inherited it and began roping off sections in 1936 to preserve the house as it was in his childhood.
“Charlie” a childless and confirmed bachelor, was a writer and world traveler who spent his life preserving and cataloguing his household. Although his poetry was largely ignored, he left us with original possessions dating back to the late 18th – early 20th century, and a slice of history that’s still picture-perfect.
Guided museum tours offers visitors a glimpse of the well-known family and their possessions, and a taste of Bostonian social history and period culture. They run Wed – Sat at 1, 2, and 3 p.m. for $10 (discounts for students and seniors), and Executive Director Charles Swift leads the tours with an informative and laid-back humorous style.
“It really is the only museum in Boston that retains its 19th century interiors and has not been modernized,” Swift said. “A house like this helps bridge the gap between a century or two of living.”
The tour begins in the dinning room where gold reflective wallpaper lines the walls. Some of the golden luster is gone due to coal soot from the old furnace, but plans are underway to restore the original gleam. Against the right wall there is a set of pink china made in France during 1860 that looks astonishingly new.
Climbing the staircase to the second floor the tour heads into the music room where an exquisite chandelier dangles in the center, quickly seducing the eye before you’re drawn to paintings and white woodwork. The music room is the most elaborate in the house, with the purpose of entertaining guests.
Charles Jr.’s study on the third floor was laid out with the notion of the house becoming a museum, and it pays tribute to the Gibson’s family history. Framed thank you notes from Britain’s Royal Family to Charles Jr. for poems he sent them sit upon one of his desks.
His mother Rosamond’s bedroom is located across from study through an adjoining bathroom. On special occasions Swift pulls from the closet her complete wedding dress ensemble and a silk dress that has virtually no signs of aging.
A National Historic Landmark, the Gibson House was considered modern in 1860 with gaslights and unique architecture. It remains an important building for today’s residential community.
“The Gibson House is a very accurate portrayal of life and you don’t have to sit there and imagine the house with a bunch of stuff taken out of it to get into the 19th centruy,” Swift said. “You’re there when you walk in the door.”