The Paul Revere House  
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The Revere House Gazette "Containing the freshest Advices, Foreign and Domestic." This quarterly newsletter will help you rediscover the Boston that Paul Revere knew through insightful articles and also update you on the latest happenings at the Paul Revere House.

An article from a recent issue of The Revere House Gazette

The Business of Preservation: John Phillips Reynolds, Jr. and the Restoration of the Paul Revere House
By Patrick M. Leehey

One hundred years ago, on December 31, 1902, John Phillips Reynolds, Jr., a great-grandson of Paul Revere, purchased his ancestor's former home at 19-21 North Square for $12,200. Patriot Paul Revere had purchased the house in 1770, and he and his family lived there for most of the next thirty years. In 1800, Revere sold his North Square home and moved to Charter Street. For the next 100 years, the former Paul Revere residence served as a rooming house and tenement, and the ground floor was eventually converted into shops (for a time, a cigar factory occupied the second floor of the building). When Reynolds purchased the building in 1902, it had deteriorated to a considerable extent, although the basic structure of the house remained remarkably intact. Compared to its neighbors, however, the building was noticeably antiquated and impractical for modern purposes. Unless someone intervened it would almost certainly have been torn down or at best moved to a new location.

When asked by a reporter from the Boston Transcript why he purchased the old structure in what was then seen as a less than desirable part of town, Reynolds replied:

Being much interested in old Boston and regretting the changes which are rapidly obliterating so many of its historic buildings, it seemed to me, when an opportunity arose to secure Paul Revere's house on North Square, that advantage should be taken of it. It is hoped that others interested in a like way will join in preserving this venerable landmark and that satisfactory arrangements can be made with some of the historic or patriotic societies for its restoration and maintenance under conditions which will allow the public access to it, which it does not now have. The value of the Revere House is comparatively small, but as the building is entirely unsuited to modern purposes, its destruction could not long be delayed unless a distinct effort were made for its preservation. (Boston Transcript, December 31, 1902)

Reynolds' motives in buying the Paul Revere House have often been questioned. At the same time that he purchased the Revere House, Reynolds, a prominent businessman in real estate, finance and manufacturing, was involved in a syndicate whose object was to demolish the Park Street Church on the corner of Tremont and Park Streets, a building that had served as a Boston landmark for nearly a century (in fact, Columbus Avenue in the New South End had been laid out for the specific purpose of creating a vista leading to the Park Street Church). This apparent contradiction has led some historians to wonder whether Reynolds had some less than high-minded reason for purchasing the Revere House ? that in fact he had no real intention of preserving it, but that its purchase was part of some larger deal from which he could make a lot of money.

Such an interpretation might make sense today, but would be out of context in turn of the century America. In fact, at the time it would not have seemed contradictory for Reynolds to have wanted to preserve his ancestor's home while at the same time tearing down Park Street Church and replacing it with a commercial structure, largely because the locations of the two buildings were completely different. The former Paul Revere home was located in an Italian slum where there was little prospect of commercial real estate development, while Park Street Church was located just across the street from the entrance to the new Park Street subway station ? presumably a prime retail location. In addition, the Park Street congregation had their own reasons for abandoning their church building, making the entire issue more complicated that it appears on the surface (see box).

Who was John Phillips Reynolds, Jr. exactly, and how did he become involved in what turned out to be one of the earliest preservation efforts in the United States?

John Phillips Reynolds, Jr. was born in Boston on January 18, 1863. His father, John Phillips Reynolds, Sr. (1825-1909), was a well-known physician and lifelong resident of Boston and Nahant, Massachusetts. The elder Reynolds, the grandson of John Phillips, the first mayor of Boston, graduated from Harvard College in 1845 and then attended Harvard Medical School. Reynolds senior served as a professor of obstetrics at Harvard College for more than 20 years and also served on the Boston School Committee. In 1859, Dr. Reynolds married Jane Minot Revere (1834-1910) a granddaughter of Paul Revere.

John Phillips Reynolds, Jr. was one of eight brothers and sisters. He attended Boston Latin School and then went directly into business, unlike his father, grandfather and three brothers, who all attended Harvard College. Reynolds seems to have succeeded in business at an early age, first in real estate and finance and later in manufacturing. In 1891, at the age of 28, John Phillips Reynolds, Jr. became vice-president of Walter M. Lowney Company, manufacturers of chocolate products. After leaving Lowney in 1900, Reynolds remained active in business in a number of capacities. He served as treasurer and trustee of Suncook Mills, and as treasurer and director of the Northern Waste Company and the O'Bannon Corporation. In addition, he served as trustee or director of the Atlantic Building Company, the Copley Square Trust, the Reynolds Building Trust and a number of other businesses including the Submarine Signal Corporation, which was involved in finding a method of undersea communication as an alternative to transatlantic cable. Reynolds also advocated a not-for-profit "over the counter" insurance sales plan which would eliminate the need for insurance agents. Reynolds served as a member of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind and on the corporation of Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. He belonged to several historical organizations, including the Bostonian Society and the Old South Association, and numerous clubs, including the Somerset, Tennis and Racquet, Union and Exchange Clubs of Boston, the Eastern Yacht Club of Marblehead, and the Knickerbocker Club of New York City. On November 13, 1884, John Phillips Reynolds, Jr. married Lucretia Monroe, with whom he had two children, Priscilla and John Phillips Reynolds III.

Until at least 1900 Reynolds and his family made their home in Milton, Massachusetts, a suburb south of Boston. They then moved to 79 Marlborough Street in Boston's Back Bay, just down the street from his father's home at 416 Marlborough Street. From his Back Bay residence, Reynolds could easily walk to his offices on State Street in downtown Boston.

On December 21, 1902, at 12:21 in the afternoon, John Phillips Reynolds, Jr. purchased the former Paul Revere house at 19-21 North Square from Sidney F. Squires for "one dollar and other good and valuable considerations." At the same time, he took out a mortgage for $10,000 from the Conveyancers Title Insurance Company to cover part of the purchase price. Although it is not recorded in the deed, Reynolds apparently paid $12,200 for the property, according to later Paul Revere Memorial Association documents. Thus, it appears that Reynolds gave $2,200 to Squires as down payment, approximately twenty percent of the total price. Exactly how the balance of the funds was transferred to Squires is not indicated, although presumably the mortgage company gave him this sum directly. As recorded in the deed, Reynolds assumed two encumbrances on the property: a previous mortgage for $4,000 held by George L. Clark, and a lease on the property held by Louisa Santosuosso, which expired on April 30, 1905. Originally, Reynolds was supposed to pay off the mortgage by May 1903, although later documents indicate that his mortgage was transferred to another company, and that he did not fully redeem the mortgage until November 1905.

Although discussions among interested persons about what to do with the former Revere undoubtedly took place, there is no record that any firm plans were made or any funds collected prior to the Spring of 1905. It seems that Reynolds was content to let Mrs. Santosuosso continue to operate a rooming house in the former Revere home undisturbed until her lease ran out.

In a letter dated April 10, 1905, a committee of citizens led by Governor William L. Douglas, Lieutenant Governor Curtis Guild, Jr. and Mayor Patrick A. Collins, issued a call for a meeting to be held at the Twentieth Century Club, 2 Ashburton Place, Boston on Friday, April 14 "to organize a movement to save the Paul Revere House." They sent this letter to a number of prominent persons in Boston. The next day, Tuesday April 11, 1905, the Boston Globe published an article titled "Famous 225-Year-Old Landmark That Boston Soon May Know No More." In this article, the reporter laments the possible imminent demise of the former Paul Revere House, and reports on the meeting scheduled for the next day at the Twentieth Century Club.

Like many of the articles and letters that would soon appear, the writer compares the imminent fate of the Revere House to that of the John Hancock House, demolished in 1863 in spite of preservationists' efforts to save it. The author issues a dire warning that "the march of improvement in North Square, where [the Revere House] stands, together with the steady deterioration of the structure itself, has become such a menace to its further existence that nothing can save it from demolition save a subscription of a sufficient amount for its purchase and permanent preservation." The writer concludes his piece by pointing out that the business community should consider its own advantage in contributing to the preservation of the building, since even in its present form it attracted many visitors from outside the city who contributed to the local economy. Since John Phillips Reynolds actually owned the property, however, the possibility that it would be immediately torn down was remote. The fact that the Globe published this article one day after the letter announcing the meeting was sent out does not seem coincidental. It seems likely that someone in the preservation community as it existed at the time probably shared the letter with the Globe staff..

Although no formal record of the meeting at the Twentieth Century Club seems to have been kept, various newspaper articles published in the next few days give a good account of the proceedings. Those present, who consisted of twenty of the most prominent citizens of Boston, voted to form a new organization, to be known as the Paul Revere Memorial Association, for the purpose of purchasing the former Revere House from its current owner, John Phillips Reynolds, Jr. and restoring it to something like its original condition. The officers of the new organization were Lieutenant Governor Guild, president; Henry L. Higginson, treasurer; William Sumner Appleton, secretary; who along with Walter Gilman Page, William D. Sohier, and John Phillips Reynolds, Jr., formed the executive committee. The permanent executive committee consisted of the governor, lieutenant governor, mayor, Miss Sawtelle (the mistress of the Paul Revere School, a Boston public school near the house), William B. Revere (a banker and great-grandson of Paul Revere), and a delegate from each of a large number of patriotic and historical organizations, including the Sons of the American Revolution, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Colonial Society, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association, St. Andrew's Lodge of Masons, and the Board of Selectmen of the town of Revere.*[*This permanent executive committee no longer exists. At the first recorded meeting of the PRMA, held on March 8 and 12, 1907, the persons and institutions listed above (with a few exceptions) were elected to membership in the Association] The new organization authorized architect Joseph Chandler to proceed with plans to restore the house and voted to establish a fund to finance the purchasing and restoration of the house.

In a letter to the Boston Transcript a few days later, William Sumner Appleton outlined the goals of the new organization, the most important of which was raising the $30,000 which it was estimated would be needed to purchase and restore the house. Appleton also outlined the possible uses for the home, once it had been restored:

The uses to which such a house, when restored may be put are various. Part at least, must be devoted to a collection of Revere relics. There should be found examples of his engraving and silver work, either originals or facsimiles, and such personal souvenirs as can be obtained. It has been suggested that the ground floor might be used as a public library branch, or perhaps one of the many North End charities could be here provided with quarters. Another possibility is the use of the whole house as a museum to illustrate in all its details domestic life in an old Boston home of the eighteenth century.

At the end of his letter Appleton appended a long list of those who had already contributed to the Revere House fund, the most important of whom were Nathaniel Thayer and his wife Pauline Revere Thayer, who had donated $1000 each. John Phillips Reynolds, Jr, is sixth on this list with a contribution of $250. At this point the headquarters of the PRMA was located in the Old South Meeting House, and those interested in contributing to the fund were directed to send their checks there to Henry Higginson. Fundraising proceeded rapidly, and by August of 1905 the Association had collected over $10,000. Fundraising proceeded more slowly from this point on, but by the winter of 1907, while the restoration work was in progress, all but $4000 of the total amount needed to complete the work had been subscribed. It appears that Nathaniel and Pauline Revere Thayer provided the final $3,500 needed in the form of a loan, which was paid off by the PRMA in installments after the house was opened to the public.

On December 11, 1906, John Phillips Reynolds, Jr. sold the Paul Revere House property to Grafton Delany Cushing and Walter Gilman Page of Boston, and Charles Rackeman of Milton, as trustees. On May 1, 1907, these men in turn sold the home to the Paul Revere Memorial Association. No longer owner of the house, Reynolds was able to take a more active role in the Association. By 1907, Reynolds had become both the secretary and the treasurer of the organization. A letter to potential donors the Association sent out in the fall of 1907 lists Henry Higginson on the letterhead as the treasurer, but John Phillips Reynolds, Jr, signed it at the bottom as treasurer. Potential contributors are directed to send their checks to Reynold's business address, at 50 State Street, which had become, in effect, the headquarters of the PRMA. When the Paul Revere Memorial Association was incorporated on May 4, 1907, Reynolds signed the articles of incorporation twice, as both secretary and treasurer, along with Grafton D. Cushing, president, William D. Sohier and William Prescott Wolcott of the executive committee.

At the opening ceremonies of the Paul Revere House, on April 18, 1908, John Phillips Reynolds, Jr. gave the opening speech and then introduced former governor John D. Long, the featured speaker for the occasion. The ceremonies took place in the first floor front room (the "Hall") of the newly renovated house. Reynolds described the Association's work to restore the building, and reminded visitors that they had several Revere descendants among them, including a granddaughter of Paul Revere, and several great-great-grandchildren. Reynolds also read portions of one of Paul Revere's own accounts of his ride. Following Governor Long's speech, which recapped the heroic deeds of Paul Revere and referred to the importance of the house as a symbol of the American spirit for the Italian immigrants then living in the neighborhood, the guests were invited to look around the house, which was furnished with artifacts such as Revere's "water-ewer," and "toddy-warmer" (goffering-iron), a spinning wheel, four-poster bed, and other colonial-era furniture and memorabilia.

John Phillips Reynolds, Jr. participated actively in the Paul Revere Memorial Association during the organization's first ten years. He served as secretary from 1907-1908 and treasurer from 1907 to 1919. Undoubtedly his involvement in the organization would have continued many more years had he not, like his father, died at a relatively young age. John Philips Reynolds, Jr. died at his home at 79 Marlborough Street in Boston on December 9, 1920, at the age of 58, after becoming ill less than a week earlier. His funeral was held at St. Paul's Cathedral in Boston. Mourners included many prominent businessmen, including representatives from the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, and companies for which Reynolds had worked. His body was taken to Mt. Auburn Cemetery for cremation.

A successful businessman, John Phillips Reynolds, Jr. was neither an antiquarian nor a preservationist, and most likely would have abandoned the Revere House project if he had found no allies or insufficient financial support. His actions, however, along with those of others, allowed a priceless artifact from the past to survive until the present day.

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