4-20 John Eliot Square
Architect: Major George Curtis(1853), father of Boston Mayor Edwin U. Curtis.
Interiors remodelled in 1915, Julius Schweinfurth.
Conversion to condominiums, Edward Snow, 1986.
The Norfolk House has served as a hotel and public house when Roxbury was a prominent stop on the road out of Boston. Later it was converted to a settlement house with a branch of the Boston Public library. Currently the first floor is retail space and the upper floors are condominiums.
The Norfolk House is built on the site of the Joseph Ruggles Mansion (1781). After the death of Ruggles, the residence was owned by David Simmons who sold it to the Norfolk House Company in 1825.
The Norfolk House was opened as a public house in 1827 with a large brick addition for public assemblies (Highland Hall). It was the first tavern on the road out of Boston for travelers heading south and west. The original frame building was demolished in 1853 and was replaced with a more substantial brick structure with many amenities including a bowling alley. The Norfolk House Company also ran public coaches; the business increased so rapidly that at one time 252 trips were made daily from Roxbury to Boston, equal to 1500 miles a day or 450,000 miles a year. The coaches ran from Old South Church to Norfolk House.
The Norfolk House was a famous meeting place for sleighing and dining parties, noted for oysters and hot toddies. Informal horse races across the neck and up Washington Street ended at the Norfolk House. While Roxbury was still a separate town (annexed to Boston in 1887), all official dinners were held at the Norfolk House.
In 1914 Norfolk House was bought by the South End Industrial School and converted to a settlement house called The Norfolk House Center. Later it was renamed the Marcus Garvey House in honor of Marcus Garvey(1887-1940), a famous Black Nationalist. It also housed a branch of the Boston Public Library.
In 1969 Northeastern University rented space on the top floor to house the library of the Afro- American Institute. Under the direction of Chuck Turner, the Institutes first Director, all the offices moved to 40 Leon Street in the fall of 1971.
Norfolk House is a massive four and ½ brick Italianate style building ornamented with brick corner coins, string courses and under the cornice, a corbelled course which incorporates the round headed top story windows.
In 1986 Eliot Square Associates began conversion to 31 condominiums.
It is now 26 condominiums with street level offices.
Historic Hotel of Old Roxbury, Boston Herald, May 22, 1904
Northeastern University website. www,lib.neu/archives/africanamericanactivism/africanamericaninstitute
Drake, Francis. The History of Roxbury
Boston Landmarks Commission: Building Information From
Balfour, David. The Taverns of Boston in Ye Olden Time, Bay State Monthly, November 1884, Volume 2, issue 2.
National Register of Historic Places: Nomination Form-Norfolk House
Richard Heath , files and research
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