Roxbury history preserved in Warren Street house
For decades, the puddingstone house at 130 Warren Street has beat the odds that laid waste to so many other homes from the early 1800s — the ravages of time, the wrecking ball of Urban Renewal and, most recently, a raging fire two weeks ago that reduced the Second Empire Victorian next door to a pile of charred wood.
Currently on the market, listed for $975,000, the Warren House, as the building has been known since it was built in 1846, survived the fire with minor damage to its slate roof, second and third story windows that were shattered by the heat of the conflagration and some melted vinyl trim under its eaves.
While potential buyers are looking at the building for office space, knowledgeable Roxbury residents value the building for its history, with roots in the early days of the Massachusetts colony.
“For me, and I think for everyone, it’s a symbol of the Warren family,” says Roxbury Historical Commission member Thomas Plant.
The house sits on the site of a 1720 house, built by colonist Joseph Warren. His grandson, also named Joseph Warren, was a doctor and a general in the Revolutionary War who gave orders to Paul Revere and William Dawes to warn the revolutionary militia that the British were en route to Lexington for the first battle of the American Revolution.
Gen. Warren served on the front lines in the battle of Breeds Hill, where he was killed during the third assault on June 17, 1775.
In the post-revolutionary era, the Warren family remained in Roxbury. Their apple orchard ran from the current location of the Warren house to the Orchard Gardens housing development, the original name of which commemorates the family’s property. It was Joseph Warren’s nephew, John Warren who built the 1846 house.
Like his uncle, John Warren was also a doctor and was one of the founders of Harvard Medical School. By the time he constructed the home, Warren Street had already been named after the family.
Roxbury residents continued to memorialize the Warren family up through the early 20th century. In 1902, a bronze statue of Gen. Warren was installed at a traffic island at the intersection of Warren, Alpine and Moreland streets.
However when the traffic island was removed as part of a late ’60s urban renewal project, the statue was put in storage and later claimed by the Roxbury Latin School, a private school in West Roxbury.
“It was never returned,” Plant notes.
Now the only remaining vestiges of the Warren family in Roxbury are the house, the street name and a few colonial-era headstones in the Roxbury Burying Ground in Dudley Square.
Plant says he hopes the new buyers respect the history of the Warren house.
“They have a responsibility to restore the exterior,” he said.
In recent years, the house has been home to several nonprofits, including the Roxbury Defenders, a public defense nonprofit that was later absorbed by the state’s Committee for Public Counsel Services. Its nonprofit tenants have given the interior a decidedly institutional look, with walls and doorways shorn of any 19th century ornamentation.
Although the exterior still resembles the depicted in 19th century engravings of the house, a steel fire escape has been installed on one side of the building and a new kitchen at the back.
Real estate broker Russell Hill, who is listing the property, says new owners will not likely be able to make any more significant changes to the interior.
“In terms of the layout, it’s been virtually unchanged because of structural issues,” he says. “It’s pretty much as it was.”
Its history aside, the house, which for the past three decades has served as office space, is as valuable for its location as it is for its historic charm, according to Hill.
“You wouldn’t be able to say this 10 years ago, but the location is important,” he said. “It’s close to the center of the community. It’s close to public transportation. There are three bank branches and all that Dudley Square has to offer.”
Hill says one buyer has put an offer on the building and “several other parties are interested in acquisition.”