Chilton Club History

Club History

The Chilton Club was founded in 1910 by ten prominent women from Boston. They wanted a club in Boston, patterned on the Colony Club in New York, that was more “interesting and exciting” than existing social club options for women at the time. The new club was to be a genial, graceful retreat in the city, featuring restaurants, bedrooms, an assembly room, and a library. The ten founders soon expanded in number to forty-three Charter members. Invitations were extended and approximately three hundred ladies became the first members of the Chilton Club.

Also in 1910, they purchased the building at 152 Commonwealth Avenue to serve as their clubhouse. Originally built in 1870, the building was remodeled by architect F.L.W. Richardson, son of the famed American architect H.H. Richardson and the husband of one of the Club’s founders. He performed this service “as a labor of love.” In 1924, the Club was able to purchase the adjacent house at 150 Commonwealth Avenue. The two buildings were joined as one in 1926 and since that time, the two buildings have been home to the beautiful Club that it is today. A number of years later, 287 Dartmouth Street was designated as the primary member entrance.

The Club was named for Mary Chilton, said to be the first woman to step off the Mayflower. A plaque to commemorate this event is located at the Dartmouth Street entrance to the building. Its first President was Pauline Revere Thayer. In the century since its founding, the Chilton Club has played host to dignitaries and heads of state, featured notable speakers on a myriad of topics and has been a treasured resource to many generations of women from Boston and beyond.

Building History

The Chilton Club is a social club organized in Boston in 1910 as a meeting place for women in the community. It was organized by ten women, and its first President was Pauline Revere Thayer.

The Club occupies a large red brick building at the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Dartmouth Street in Boston’s historic Back Bay district, an area of the city that is easily accessible to the public via public transportation, a short walk from downtown Boston and adjacent to popular attractions such as the Public Garden and the Boston Common. The Club building is an important structure in the fabric of the Back Bay, an area which daily attracts thousands of Boston residents and visitors alike to its historic architecture, unique shops and restaurants, and beautiful park along Commonwealth Avenue, including across the street from the Club. The building, which is only a few feet from the public sidewalk and is visible to all passersby, combines two adjacent historic structures, one built in 1870 (152 Commonwealth Avenue/287 Dartmouth Street) and the other in 1880 (150 Commonwealth Avenue).

152 Commonwealth Avenue/287 Dartmouth Street was designed in 1870 by architect Henry Richards of the firm of Ware and Van Brunt. Richards was married to Laura Elizabeth Howe, daughter of Julia Ward Howe and Samuel Gridley Howe. His career as a Boston architect was short, but Richards continued to execute various important projects in Maine, including the C.H. Dorr House (c. 1910) in Bar Harbor and the public library in Gardiner. His last major design was the William Amory Gardner house in Beverly MA, now part of Endicott College (1915-17). Ware & Van Brunt was an architectural firm formed in 1864 by Henry Van Brunt and William Robert Ware. Ware is credited with founding the first architecture school at an American university, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in 1868.

Important Boston-area work by Ware & Van Brunt includes:

  • Ether Monument in the Boston Public Garden
  • First Church in Boston (Marlborough Street)
  • Memorial Hall at Harvard University, described as one of the greatest examples of Ruskinian Gothic architecture outside of England
  • Walter Hunnewell house in Wellesley
  • Various other collegiate buildings at Harvard College, Episcopal Divinity School, Wellesley College

In 1910, the Chilton Club received permission to significantly remodel and expand 152 Commonwealth Avenue/287 Dartmouth Street, including removing the original third floor, with its mansard roof, and adding three additional floors, two of brick and the third of roof. It also received permission to construct an addition at the rear, 38 feet by 18 feet 9 inches, five stories high above the basement, four of brick and one of roof. The Club retained the firm of Richardson, Barott, and Richardson, and the work was overseen by F. L. W. Richardson, son of the noted architect Henry Hobson Richardson. The addition was completed in February 1911. On May 28, 1926, the Club acquired 150 Commonwealth.

The well-known architectural firm of Peabody & Stearns was hired to design 150 Commonwealth for Mrs. Richard Baker in or around 1879. The firm had been formed about 10 years earlier by Robert Swain Peabody and John Goddard Stearns and continued until their deaths, in 1917. They have been described as “the most important arbiters of building taste after H. H. Richardson” by scholar Karl Putnam in the 1940’s. Their pre-eminence in the late nineteenth century was exemplified by the fact that they were chosen over rival architects to represent Boston at the great Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

The firm’s particularly noteworthy designs in the 1880’s and early 1890’s occurred at a time when Julius Schweinfurth, the most influential of all Peabody and Stearns’ array of talented designers, was chief draftsman. Their commercial work in Boston and environs includes insurance company buildings, churches, banks, railroad stations and the Custom House Tower on State Street at India Street.

Of the 74 residential buildings designed by Peabody and Stearns in the Back Bay (all but four still standing), 23 were on Commonwealth Avenue. The Chilton Club’s 150 Commonwealth Avenue building is the only one designed by the firm in the block between Clarendon and Dartmouth.

In 1925 and 1926, the house at 150 Commonwealth Avenue was bought and then sold to the Chilton Club by Pauline Revere Thayer. The Club received approval to commence remodeling the building to consolidate it with its property at 152 Commonwealth Avenue/287 Dartmouth Street in 1926, hiring architect William Bigelow of Bigelow and Wadsworth to design the work.

The Club has a storied past and has had as members many women who have occupied important roles in the City of Boston as philanthropists, artists, academics, and professionals. Its records reflect the history and social development of Boston during the 20th and 21st century.

Today the Club promotes friendship and provides opportunities for shared social, intellectual and cultural pursuits. It remains an active social club for both women and men.