I once had a professor who advised his graduate students that one should never chase rabbits while hunting for bear. The metaphor was his way of saying that while doing research, one should not follow enticing facts unless they are directly related to the current research project. Otherwise, the project will never get done. It’s good advice that I don’t always follow.
For example, Lady Frankland’s story intrigued me too much to let go. And when one of my research subjects moved his family from Salem to the Tremont Hotel in Boston, I wanted to know why he decided not to obtain a more formal residence. It turns out that luxurious residential hotels became quite popular in the early 19th century, and when it opened in 1829, the Tremont Hotel was state-of-the-art.
For people who could afford it, a residential hotel provided a number of conveniences. The address gave residents immediate social status, even if they were new in town. The hotel worked out to be less expensive and easier to manage than a large townhouse with a garden and the corresponding staff. Apartments were private, while the public spaces were convenient places to dine or meet associates.
Building Tremont House
The 1824-1825 Massachusetts legislative session authorized a company to construct one or more buildings to be used as a public hotel. In May 1828, the company came up with a plan to build the hotel and provided a 3 percent return on a loan of $100,000 payable ten years from completion of the hotel. The offering was fully subscribed by the end of June.
A week or so earlier, ground excavations began at the new hotel’s Tremont & Beacon Streets location. Samuel Armstrong , president of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association, laid the cornerstone on July 4.
The completed building, designed by Isaiah Rogers and based on popular principles of Grecian architecture, was a wonder. The 160-foot front was built of Quincy granite. The entire structure used about 2 million bricks, 1200 perches of dimension stone, 21,000 feet of hammered stone, and 486 tons of timber. When complete, the building footprint was 12,849 feet and contained 170 apartments with supporting spaces. There were three entrances with the principal entrance at the Doric Portico on Tremont Street. The portico was just over 37 feet long with substantial Doric columns and a frieze of metopes on top.
The Inside Tour
A guest passing under the portico would encounter the entrance via 16-foot folding doors constructed with one thickness of oak plank paired with another of pine, and held together by 160 bronze bolts. Each door weighed 450 pounds.
The guest then climbed ten steps to the first floor. On each side of the steps there were half columns. There were two circular doors at the top of the steps that opened onto a circular hall with a domed ceiling supported by 10 Ionic half columns and lit via a circular skylight glazed with stained glass produced by the New England Glass Company.
The first floor contained two Receiving Parlors, an office, and a dining room warmed by two open fireplaces and an air furnace situated behind the kitchen fireplace below that sent heat up from the cooking fire.There was also a principal staircase and a Reading Room.
The dining room was the first one in America to feature French cuisine. At the time, a woman could not dine alone in the main dining room. But the Tremont opened a women’s only dining room called the Ladies’ Ordinary where women could dine alone or with other women while being protected from male attentions.
The 170 guest apartments were suites of rooms with private parlors that locked with a key. The rooms featured indoor plumbing and running water, and soap was provided. All for the fee of $2.00 per day, which in today’s dollars works out to $58.99. It must be noted that the price for services has risen considerably since 1829.
The kitchen was below the dining room. It was 54 feet long by 34 feet wide and lit by 7 windows of ground glass. There was a staircase between the kitchen and dining rooms for food delivery. I suspect the food did not arrive “piping” hot. The servants’ hall was next to the kitchen.
The south wing basement story housed the housekeeper’s apartment, laundry, larder, and eight bathing rooms for the guests, each with a separate entrance. Cold bathing water was supplied from a reservoir of rainwater and heated with gas. Another reservoir supplied water for the eight guest water closets on the first floor. A unique system used a steam-powered pump raise water to a tank on the hotel roof. From there, gravity guided the water into taps.
Builders completed Tremont Hotel in August 1829, but the hotel did not officially open until October 16. The gala celebratory dinner menu featured roast beef, boiled cod, turkeys, pears and grapes.
Time for Something New
In 1895, developers razed the structure for an office building. The photo below shows the partially destroyed walls on the Tremont Street side.
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Tremont House by James Bennett. 1830s.
Samuel Armstrong, published 1914.
Tremont House, Boston, 1834.
Plan for Tremont House, 1830.
Folding Doors, 1830.
Circular Skylight, Tremont House, 1830.
Tremont House by John Carbutt, about 1865.
Demolition Photo. 1895.
Paul Groth. Living Downtown: The History of Residential Hotels in the United States. University of California Press. 1994.
Madeline Bilis. “Throwback Thursday: When the First Modern Hotel In America Opened in Boston.” Boston Magazine. Oct. 15, 2015.
Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.
Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.