Double Homes on Union Date to the 1700s

The attached structures have an unusual roof line.

Built around the turn of the nineteenth century, the sage and daffodil double frame house at 19 and 21 Union Street at one time faced the Charlestown Female Seminary. While the seminary is long gone, the house is probably now at its most glorious.

#19 recently had major renovations and, while #21 loses some of its sunlight to the brick house on its south side, its arched doorway opens to a brick walkway which leads to an enclosed yard behind a tilted gate.

Although the two houses share a common brick dividing wall, they differ in a way that sets them apart from any other attached house in Charlestown: they have two different roofs. While the roof over 19 Union is a straight gable, #21 has a gambrel roof, a style resembling a crooked finger.

There’s no apparent reason for the differing styles but they evidently ‘represent the original roof configuration.’

The historic marker assigns ownership to Jacob Forster and dates the house at 1798, when Charlestown was in its rebuilding stage after the devastation of the Battle of Bunker Hill. One by one, private homes were being built.

Jacob Forster

Jacob Forster moved to Charlestown in 1786, from Berwick, Maine. A maker of fine furniture, Forster opened a small cabinetmaking shop in Charlestown and then built a large furniture-making structure at the corner of Main and Union. The Forster furniture business, ultimately run by the Forster family, became a vital part of Charlestown business life. In the 1820s, Jacob Forster and Son even set up a cabinet shop inside the state prison.

According to Sawyer’s history of Charlestown, Forster Furniture Makers had orders coming in from all parts of the existing United States. ‘Almost every house in the town was made attractive by tasteful and thoroughly made chairs, sofas and tables purchased at the old corner store.’

Since it was built, the house at 19 & 21 Union Street has changed owners many times. Mary Lawrence sold #21 to Charles Perry, undertaker, for $3,500. Sergio Smith bought the house then sold it in 1870 for $3,650. Owners of #19 have included Rebecca Damon, James Harris and Daniel T. Mahoney. The current list price for 19 Union Street, according to territory.com is $1,069,000.

  • Where is it? 19 & 21 Union Street
  • When was it built? 1798-1810
  • What was it built for and who was the first occupant? Jacob Forster is indicated as the first owner.
  • Why was it built? as a family home
  • How was it built? It is a wood frame double house, separated by a common brick wall.
  • What are the future plans for the structure? Number 19 had considerable renovation in 2006 and in 2010. The houses are occupied and privately owned.

Information for this article was compiled from various research materials, including Old Charlestown by Timothy T. Sawyer; Boston Landmarks Commission; http://furniturehistory.wikispaces.com; http://www.territory.com/mlspin/71284302/19-union-street-charlestown-ma-02129.

Nancy Hannan May 31, 2012 at 07:48 PM
thanks for pointing out so much of the tremendous hisorical detail Helen. I look at these structures all the time and because there's some similarity in the surrounding structures I never would have known about how special these properties really are. I so appreciate the column 'what's happening at this address.' Thanks again!
Helen O'Neil June 01, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Nancy --Thanks for reading 'At This Address.' I agree with you about the unique architecture in Charlestown. It's so pleasant to walk around the town, and just enjoy. I think it was Vincent Van Gogh who said 'Admire as Much as You Can." Good advice.


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