Otis House

Old West Church

Since at least 1737, when there was a wood-frame church here, a church has been located on this site.  The wood-frame church was partially burnt to the ground in 1775 by the British, who believed that the church steeple could be used by Patriots to warn colonists, much like the Old North Church. The Old West Church, as we know it today,  was built in 1806 and was designed by protégé of Charles Bulfinch, Asher Benjamin. Benjamin became well-known for the seven pattern books he wrote throughout his career, which focused on Federal and Greek Revival style architecture.  These pattern books had an enormous influence on architecture in New England throughout the beginning of the nineteenth century.  They were the first to be created by an American architect.  This three and a half story building is accented by white wood trim and three entry doors.  The classical influence of Asher Benjamin’s work can be found in the pairs of Doric pilasters on the third level, the triglyph frieze above the pilasters, the four columns on the cupola and the pronounced architectural symmetry.

Churches at this site have always had a history of social activism.  The ministers and congregation of the wood-frame church supported the fight for independence against Britain. Charles Lowell, who was the minister when this Old West Church was built, was a vocal advocate for civil and religious liberty. In the later parts of the nineteenth century, the Church became a center for anti-slavery activity.  Abolitionists often lectured from the pulpit.  Changes in the neighborhood as more congregants moved to the Back Bay led to the congregation disbanding in 1887.  A former parishioner bought the Church to save it from demolition, and in 1894 the Church became the West End Branch of the Boston Public Library.  It was a polling place during the election of 1960 and candidate John F. Kennedy (who lived in nearby Bowdoin Square) voted here.  In 1961 the building was purchased by the Methodist Church, which continues to own and run the building today. The building is also one of more than 100 structures in Historic New England’s Preservation Easement Program. Working with property owners, Historic New England’s team works to protect significant building or landscape features in perpetuity.