Otis House

George Washington House, 5-7 Smith Court and Holmes Alley

The North Slope was once covered with small pedestrian walkways.  Not only were the wooden houses built close together to get the most value out of the land, but there was also no reason to have wide, paved streets because the inhabitants of the North Slope did not own the carriages that would warrant them.

Five Smith Court was built by a lawyer as an income property between 1815 and 1828. It was later sold to George Washington, an African American laborer and Deacon of the African Meeting House, located across the courtyard.  The Washington family lived on the top floor with their nine children while they rented out the other floors.

Seven Smith Court was built some time between 1802 and 1811. Number 7A Smith Court (behind 7), is in Holmes Alley. 7A was built as a double house in 1799 and sold the next year to Richard Johnson, a mariner, and David Bartlett, a hairdresser.  In the 1860’s, black chimney sweep and entrepreneur Joseph Scarlett bought both 7 and 7A as rental property.  In the nineteenth century, Holmes Alley had several houses similar to 7A.  They stood where there are backyards today.  Such housing development in the middle of blocks, with an elaborate system of pedestrian alleys, was typical in the early days of Beacon Hill and the West End.

Along Holmes Alley, there are several small courtyards that seem very quaint and private, however, at the time, they would not have been very pleasant—sanitation wasn’t what it is today.  Several families would have used the same privy and the ground would have been dirt instead of paved.