Boston Home Spring 2010: Blueprint : Victorian Charm: Kara Baskin

A legacy of stately mansions endures in a Jamaica Plain neighborhood.

SUMNER HILL IN Jamaica Plain is one of Boston’s most architecturally enchanting neighborhoods. With its distinctive “Painted Ladies”—ornate 19th-century homes done up in bright palettes with fanciful exterior details—set amid rambling yards, it seems a world away from downtown (even if it’s a mere four miles to the west).

[sidebar]How did Sumner Hill become a picture of late Victorian style? Gretchen Grozier, president of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society, explains that the neighborhood developed when General William Hyslop Sumner married into a prominent Boston family, the Greenoughs, and settled here in the late 1870s. He then encouraged his high-profile colleagues to follow his lead. Aided by a newly constructed network of streetcar and railway lines, many of Boston’s elite abandoned their city residences for this area. Armed with money and fashionable tastes, they commissioned the era’s best architects—William Ralph Emerson and William Ware, among others—to build their Queen Anne–style mansions.

Today, Jamaica Plain is a vibrant community known for its hip restaurants and lush greenery. As for the Sumner Hill manses, most remain lovingly preserved single-family dwellings, but are no longer home to just the city’s upper crust. Grozier says modern-day Sumner Hill is filled with “families with kids, fourth-generation residents, and young couples walking their dogs.”