Charles Brigham

Life Timeline and Milestones

Timeline of Events
"Boston of To-day" Article
"MacMillan Encyclopedia of Architects" Excerpt
"Illustrated Boston" Excerpt
Buildings and Architecture

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June 21, 1841 - Brigham is born in Watertown, Mass. to John and Mary Brigham in the former Coolidge Tavern, a revolutionary war-era tavern that George Washington visited in 1775 and 1789. John was a Watertown lumber dealer and descended from Thomas Brigham, who emigrated from England in 1634, and after a short stay in Watertown settled in present-day Sudbury where he practiced civil engineering. Brigham was descended on his maternal side from Lieutenant Griffith Crafts, who settled in Roxbury in 1630.

1856 - Brigham graduates from the first class of Watertown High School.

1858 - Brigham becomes a draughtsman for architect Calvin Ryder of Cambridge.

1861 - Brigham joins the architectural firm of Gridley J.F. Bryant and Arthur Gilman as their Boston City Hall and Arlington Street Church designs were being erected. It is with this firm that he met John Hubbard Sturgis.

1862 - Brigham enlists for service in the Civil War, serving as second sergeant in the K Company of the Fifth Massachusetts Regiment. Brigham provides topographical sketches as part of his reports to superiors. He serves until late 1863.

1863 - Brigham returns from war and continues practice with Bryant & Gilman.

1866 - Brigham and John Hubbard Sturgis form a partnership (Sturgis & Brigham) that lasts for twenty years. Brigham is 25.

1868 - A mansion in Fairhaven, Mass. for Standard Oil magnate, H.H. Rogers is completed. Rogers’ and Brigham’s relationship would steadily grow and Brigham’s would go on to design more than ten buildings both private and public in Fairhaven between 1892 and 1906.

1869 - Brigham, along with Newton historian Jesse Fewkes, designs the Watertown town seal.

1871 - Construction of the Museum of Fine Arts in Copley Square in Boston begins. This was the first public art museum in the United States and is credited with introducing the use of terra cotta in this country and was the first gothic style building in the world to be designed using this material. Construction ends in 1876. Brigham is 30.

1871 - Brigham saves the Edmund Fowle House on Mount Auburn Street in Watertown from demolition by moving it to his new development on Marshall Street. The Fowle House was the seat of Massachusetts government from 1776-1777 and the first treaty of the United States was signed there in 1776.

1872 - Edward N. Hooper House at 25-27 Reservoir Road, Cambridge, Mass. is completed. It is the earliest known Georgian-revival design in the United States.

1875 - Various outbuildings on the present-day Vanderbilt Estate in Hyde Park, N.Y. are completed.

1876 - Construction begun on Church of the Advent on Brimmer Street in Boston. This building is unique in American ecclesiastical design for its fusion of (then) contemporary English elements.

1881 - Brigham establishes Brigham and Garfield Streets on the former Bailey farm in Watertown and designs many of the houses on it over the next 30 years. Brigham capitalizes on new streetcar to Boston and many homes in his new development are sold to Boston commuters who easily commute to Boston and create garden settings on large but manageable-sized lots. Many find this “garden suburb” a great improvement over the congestion of Boston and this development remains today as an exemplary example of the nineteenth century’s vision of the garden suburb.

1882 - A townhouse at 152 Beacon Street in Boston designed for Isabella Stewart Gardner as well as an addition for her summer home at Green Hill in Brookline.

1885 - Brigham is elected Selectman in Watertown. He would serve until 1889.

1886 - The firm of Sturgis & Brigham is amicably dissolved. The innovative firm is credited with initiating fusion of the complex eclectic references of the English Queen Anne revival with American colonial design. The resulting New England houses of the 1880s by Brigham and other Boston architects defined the shingle style in one of the most original and distinguished epochs of American architectural history, from which other notable architects, such as Henry Hobson Richardson, emerged.

1888 - Brigham forms a partnership with John Calvin Spofford (Brigham & Spofford).

1889 - Brigham is elected as a Trustee of the Watertown Free Public Library.

1889 - Construction is completed on Brigham’s 2˝-story home, 18 Garfield Street in Watertown. This massive structure was a fusion of Queen Anne, Shingle, Swiss Chalet and Craftsman Styles. The upper stories were destroyed in the great hurricane of 1938, but the first floor remains as an unusual Queen Anne cottage. The house was renumbered 84 Garfield Street on May 31, 1912.

1889 - Construction commences on the rear wing of the Massachusetts State House. Construction will continue until 1898. Brigham is 48.

1891 - Rear extension of the Maine State House completed.

1891 - The firm of Brigham & Spofford is dissolved. The prior few years were, perhaps, Brigham’s most significant. In the latter years of Sturgis & Brigham as well as on his own, he became more skilled and innovative. Many of his designs in the late 1880’s and early 1890’s demonstrate Brigham’s ability to create styles as well as working with and managing styles in is designs.

1893 - Brigham married Rebecca Jordan

1898 - Rear extension to the Massachusetts State House completed.

1901 - Burrage Mansion at 314 Commonwealth Avenue completed. This building is credited with introducing a staid New England to the lavish French Chateauesque style. Predictably, the design was panned but the design persevered and was named a Boston Landmark and to the National Register of Historic Places.

1904 - Construction begins on the Christian Science Mother Church extension.

1906 - Brigham forms the firm of Brigham, Coveney & Bisbee, his final professional association that will last until his retirement in 1919. Brigham turns 65.

1906 - The Christian Science Mother Church extension completed.

1909 - Brigham’s wife Rebecca dies.

1910 - Brigham designs and donates plans for a new Watertown High School at 314 Mount Auburn Street.

1919 - Brigham, Coveney & Bisbee is dissolved and Brigham retires at age 78

1922 - Brigham retires from the Watertown Water Board, having served since 1900 and he also retires as a Trustee for the Watertown Free Public Library, a post he held for 33 years. Brigham sells his home at 84 Garfield Street and moves to his summer home at Shelter Island, N.Y. with his sister Maria.

July 22, 1925 - Brigham dies at Shelter Island, N.Y. at age 84. His funeral service was conducted several days later at the First Parish Unitarian Church in Watertown and he is interred in the modest family plot at the Common Street Cemetery in Watertown.