A Street View of the Paul Revere House
By Patrick M Leehey
Editor’s Note: This article is written from the point of view of a visitor standing in the street looking at the Paul Revere House and its neighboring structures. It is meant to serve as a primer for exterior tours of North Square and as extra information before a visit into the Paul Revere House.
Whether you stand in North Square or directly across the street in Rachel Revere Park, the Paul Revere House appears noticeably different from the surrounding buildings. This is true for a number of reasons. First, it is a single-family house rather than an apartment building. Second, it is made of wood, whereas almost all of the surrounding buildings are constructed of brick. Finally, the style is very different from the surrounding buildings. This is because most of the buildings in the surrounding North End neighborhood date from the late 19th or early 20th centuries. Although the neighborhood surrounding the Revere House is famous for its colonial and Revolutionary War-era associations, in fact, it is largely a Victorian-era immigrant neighborhood. The brick apartment buildings you see replaced earlier wooden apartment buildings or tenements, which had replaced the mostly wooden homes of Paul Revere’s day. The cobbled pavers in the Square you are standing in (or can see just to your right if you are in Rachel Revere Park) housed a market center for the North End in the 18th century. In addition to hosting regular outdoor markets, the Square contained at least one town water pump and a watch house for a constable to keep order. It was a very busy place.
As you see it today, the Paul Revere House is a fairly typical post-and-beam, or Tudor-style, house. The heavy posts and beams, which are almost all original, are exposed and visible inside the house. The house appears rather small compared to the surrounding apartment buildings but it is larger than it first appears on the exterior. One peculiarity visible from the outside is the main chimney, which is at one end of the house rather than in the center. This is somewhat unusual for a Tudor-style house. Most similar homes had their chimney and main door in the center of the house. Constructing the Revere House with the chimney at one end guaranteed that the first- and second-floor front rooms would be unusually large by Colonial-era standards, which in fact they are. Each of these rooms measures about 600 square feet. The ceilings are rather high as well, which is one of the first things visitors notice upon entering the house. The generous proportions of the house are one indicator that it was not built for a middle-class silversmith like Paul Revere. Rather, the original owner was Robert Howard, a wealthy merchant who moved into the house with his family in 1681.
If Paul Revere went to visit his house today, he might have trouble recognizing it. This is because when it was restored as a museum in between 1907 and 1908, various changes were made both to the inside and the outside of the house. In particular, a third-story addition at the front, added sometime before Paul Revere and his family moved in, was reduced. Today, Revere would be surprised to see a house that only has two full stories to it.
Why was the third-story adapted or changed during the restoration, you might ask? According to Joseph Chandler, the architect in charge of the restoration, he judged it had been added after Paul Revere lived here. Today we know differently. Because Chandler did not like to get rid of any early material, no matter what era it came from, he stored the removed beams from the third-story addition in the Revere House attic, in case he needed them for repairs on the Revere House or for one of his many other house restoration projects. More recently, historical architects have examined the beams from the third-story addition and concluded almost universally that they were mid-18th century beams. This research confirms that the third-story addition was already on the house by the time Paul Revere bought it.
Joseph Chandler also decided to install reproduction diamond-pane casement windows on the front of the house and reproduction wooden sash windows on the back of the house. This was because he found surviving window frames from both styles of windows and wanted to show both. Whenever he could, Chandler liked to show features from multiple time periods in his restorations. The result of Chandler’s work is that the front of the Revere house today looks closer to what it looked like when Robert Howard lived there, not Paul Revere. The inside of the house, however, is a combination of 17th, 18th, and 19th century features. Most of the furniture and decorations are from Paul Revere’s day, including several pieces of furniture once owned by the Revere family.
To the left of Paul Revere’s house, behind the ticket booth and in what is now our central courtyard, there was another building very similar to the Revere House, except that it had a central doorway and chimney. This would have been far more usual for a post-and-beam house than the way the Revere House is constructed. This house, which is often referred to as the Barnard House, after the name of the family that lived there the longest, was torn down in 1871. In the 1890s, a five-story brick apartment building took its place. After this was torn down in the early 1940s, the Paul Revere Memorial Association acquired the property. Today this space serves as an entrance courtyard for our museum. In fact, the entrance gate to the Revere House site today is very near where the front door to the Barnard House once was.
Further to the left is another of the three buildings owned by the Paul Revere Memorial Association – a brick home once lived in by Paul Revere’s cousin, Nathaniel Hichborn. Built about 1711, this house is an excellent example of an early Georgian-style house and currently functions as a museum and offices for the Association. This house is unusual because it is oriented sideways on its lot. This is why the front door does not face the street but opens onto a passageway on the side of the house. Be sure to take a look at the striking facade of this house as you walk by. We hope you have enjoyed this primer, and we look forward to welcoming you in soon!
Patrick Leehey is a Consulting Historian for the Paul Revere House