Pierce House (1683)

One of Boston's last seventeenth-century houses (Dorchester, Massachusetts)

Pierce House is one of the last surviving examples of seventeenth-century architecture in the city of Boston. Lived in by ten generations of one family, the house documents the building practices and tastes of the Pierces over three centuries. Family members expanded and adapted their house to meet demands for space, function, comfort, and privacy. The Pierce family’s story highlights key aspects of social, local, and New England history. Today, Pierce House is open year-round for school and youth programs.

Find out how a middle-class New England family worked hard to provide for themselves and their children more than 250 years. The Pierce family took part in both local and national events; during the American Revolution, Col. Samuel Pierce participated in the fortification of Dorchester Heights. Architectural viewports and special lighting highlight many of the rare surviving seventeenth-century features, such as beautifully chamfered framing members and a nearly complete exterior wall of original riven clapboards.

Plan Your Visit


24 Oakton Avenue
Dorchester, Mass. 02122

Days & Hours

Saturday, April 6
Saturday, June 1
Saturday, November 23
Saturday, January 25

Tours every half hour
12 PM – 3 PM



$10 adults

$9  seniors and students

$5 children

Free for Historic New England members and Boston residents.


Tour involves standing, walking, and stairs. Visitors with limited mobility may be able to enjoy a first floor tour of the house. Folding chairs are provided for visitors who would like to use them while on tour. The site is not equipped with ramps, elevators, or lifts. Service animals are welcome. We are happy to work with you to make your visit an enjoyable one and we encourage visitors with questions or requests to call ahead.


Take I-93 to Granite Avenue exit heading toward Ashmont. Continue straight onto Adams Street. Oakton Avenue is the seventh street on the right; Pierce House is on the left.


Street parking is available on Oakton Avenue. Please note that buses for the school across the street cause traffic backups in the mornings and afternoons.

Public Transportation

Pierce House is walkable from Ashmont station on the MBTA Red Line.

Contact Information

Pierce House Today

Over a 300-year period the appearance of Pierce House changed dramatically as ten generations of Pierces left their mark.

  • Pierce House Today

    Over a 300-year period the appearance of Pierce House changed dramatically as ten generations of Pierces left their mark.

  • Architectural Evidence: Nogging

    Brick and clay in-fill known as nogging lay against the clapboards from the inside, perhaps for insulation or protection against vermin.

  • Roof Framing

    The attic shows the house's original construction most clearly. All of the rafters and most of the other roof framing date to Thomas Pierce’s era.

  • 1765 Door Pediment

    A new entry door was embellished with a pediment as changes to the house gave it a Georgian-style appearance.

  • Cased Beam

    The 1765 addition reflects a desire to be stylish, concealing the structure by casing the beams and posts and plastering the ceiling.

  • Parlor Woodwork

    After Col. Pierce's mother died in 1778, he remodeled the middle room, turning it into a formal parlor with elaborate decorative trim.


For more than 6,000 years the Neponset Band of the Massachusett Tribe lived and thrived on land English colonists later renamed Dorchester. The Neponset people hunted, fished in both rivers and the sea, and planted vast fields of grain, corn, squash, and beans on this fertile land near the river, which provided large harvests for winter stores. The area was rich in resources and the Neponset had not only adequate food for their year-round needs but a surplus of meat, grains, and skins for trade with other tribes.

Prior to arrival of English colonists in 1620, European trading ships anchored along the coast to trade with Indigenous tribes. Visitors brought with them diseases that were deadly to the Indigenous people and that dramatically reduced their populations. In 1616, just a few years before the arrival of English colonists, a foreign plague swept through coastal villages of the Massachusetts killing nearly eighty percent of the Indigenous population. Just as the Massachusett population was beginning to stabilize and recover, the English conquest of the region began.

When the English sailed into Massachusett territory in 1620 to establish a permanent settlement, the Neponset Sac’hem was Chickataubut, Principal Chief of the Massachusett. Chickataubut signed a treaty with the English in 1621 and consented in 1630 to the establishment of an English settlement where the Neponset River met the bay. Seventeenth century references claimed that Chickataubut sold the land at this time, but current thinking is that he saw his payment as a tribute and not as a sale, since the concept of land ownership was unheard of to the Massachusett.

English settlers who arrived on the ship Mary and John at Nantasket Beach in June of 1630 erected the first settlement just north of that site. The arrival of the landing party initiated the long-term occupation of these indigenous homelands, a process that transformed a landscape of natural resources collectively managed by Indigenous people into a stockaded settlement governed by settler values of private property, patriarchy, and resource extraction.

Updated narratives that more accurately explain the relationship between Indigenous people and English colonists in the seventeenth century come from more nuanced research and the oral histories of the Massachusett people, who still live in their ancestral homelands and continue the practice of storytelling to pass their history from one generation to the next.

2-piercehousein1683_-_364_x_253First and Second Generations

Robert Pierce and Ann Grenway settled in Dorchester in the first wave of seventeenth-century emigration from England to America, but the circumstances of their arrival are ambiguous. Family legend weaves a tale of a shipboard romance between them on the Mary and John, a vessel in John Winthrop’s Massachusetts Bay Colony fleet, but the passenger list for that 1630 voyage does not include a Robert Pierce. John Grenway, a millwright, his wife Mary, and their daughter Ann, however, were passengers on the Mary and John and the Grenways became active residents of the fledgling town. Robert Pierce, who married the Grenways’ daughter Ann, was among the first few groups of Englishmen who left from Plymouth and other western counties of Great Britain to settle the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It is not known whether he sailed on another ship in Winthrop’s fleet, or came later in the 1630s on a ship arriving directly in Dorchester, but genealogists have traced the family to Plymouth, England, where Robert was born around 1600. Genealogists use the year 1635 as the approximate date of Robert and Ann’s marriage and the birth of their first child.

Robert and Ann Pierce settled first in Pine Neck, later called Port Norfolk, an area of upland and salt marsh along the Neponset River and the harbor that took its name from a dense grove of pine trees that persisted well into the nineteenth century. Pierce built their home on six acres belonging to his father-in-law. Like other seventeenth-century fathers, John Grenway arranged for the distribution of property among his male heirs at his death, but the Grenways had six daughters and no sons, so he divided his land during his lifetime among his daughters and sons-in-law.

Thomas Pierce inherited the Pierce lands when his father Robert died in 1664. He had been married for three years to Mary Fry, from Weymouth, and the two of them, with their son Thomas, may have lived with the senior Pierces. However, when his father died Thomas’s independence was still circumscribed, as his mother retained her half share of the property for another thirty-one years. Thomas and Mary had seven more children, four of whom lived long enough to be mentioned in Thomas’s will. Although children frequently died in infancy or in early childhood in the seventeenth century, seven of the Pierce children lived into their early twenties, and the family household during those years was large and multi-generational.

Over his lifetime Thomas Pierce added extensively to the Pierce family holdings, including the homestead now known as Pierce House and its surrounding twenty acres of upland. In 1696 he purchased from James Minot twenty acres of upland, “together with all and singular the housing Ediffices, buildings, and Fences standing thereon Yard Garden.” This property, which included Pierce House, lay along the Lower Road not far from the Robert Pierce House, with the house situated in the northwest portion, on a crest which sloped down hill to the south and east toward the Neponset River. Built in 1683 by a member of the Minot family, the house was part of James Minot’s inheritance from his father, but James, a teacher and physician, had moved to Concord, Massachusetts, in the 1680s. Elegant and fashionable, the house had characteristic First Period detail, including a gabled roof and small diamond-paned windows. A two-and-a-half-story structure, with two rooms on each floor, plus an attic, it was also a large house for its time. With various additions and alterations over the years, it would be the Pierce family home for eight more generations.

19-piercehousein1765_-_364_x_253Third and Fourth Generations

John Pierce was thirty-eight years old when he inherited the Pierce House and home lot in 1706. He had married Abigail Thompson of Braintree thirteen years earlier, and the couple had five surviving children. By the time of his father’s death in 1706, when John inherited his father’s house, John and Abigail were already well established, with a family and a farm. The couple had two more children, John and Hannah, and all seven children survived their father and inherited property themselves under the terms of John Pierce’s will.

Approximately six years after John inherited his father’s house, he and Abigail expanded the building to accommodate their growing family. Using the same post-medieval design and construction as the original house, the Pierces added two rooms, one on each floor, to the west end of the building. The chimney stack was rebuilt so that there was a fireplace in each of the new rooms, and although cooking still seems to have been done in the original hall, the new rooms provided additional work and sleeping space for John and Abigail’s three teenage daughters (Abigail, seventeen; Mary, fifteen; and Sarah, thirteen) and their four younger children.

When Samuel Pierce inherited the family home and approximately seventy acres of land from his father in 1744, he was aged forty, and had been married to Abigail Moseley, also of Dorchester, for twelve years. The couple had four young children; two more daughters were born in the late 1740s. The family had been living in Pierce House with Samuel’s parents, John and Abigail, and the widowed Abigail continued to live with them until her own death in 1747.

Over the next twenty-five years Samuel Pierce and his son, also named Samuel, made various additions and improvements to the family home and farm. A later family historian, George Francis Pierce, described Samuel as a man of comfortable circumstances and good taste, referring not only to his property holdings, but to such things as a collection of family china, and the alterations to the house reflected these attributes as the dwelling was enlarged and more attention paid to elegant detail. At some point between c. 1712 and 1765 either John or Samuel Pierce added a lean-to across the back of the house, perhaps to create additional cooking space as room usage became more specialized. In 1765 Samuel Jr. constructed a two-story addition onto the eastern end of the house, incorporating newly fashionable Georgian decorative elements. Samuel Sr. and Abigail occupied these rooms, a lower room with a separate cooking fireplace and an upper bedroom chamber, while Samuel Jr. and his new wife Elizabeth Howe Pierce lived in the older center portion of the house.

Samuel Pierce Sr. also added to the row of outbuildings that stretched eastward from the house itself. This collection of buildings — woodshed, gate, corn barn, pigpen, slop and tool house, carriage house, cowyard, and barn — was depicted in an 1877 painting now in the Pierce-Shaughnessey family’s possession, and it offers a visual image of an eighteenth- and nineteenth-century farm and the variety and complexity of the tasks that farming involved.

20-colsamuelpiercejournal_-_364_x_253Fifth Generation: Samuel Pierce Jr. and Elizabeth Howe Pierce

Samuel Pierce Jr. inherited the family home and lot from his father in 1768, but he and his wife Elizabeth had lived there with his parents since their marriage in 1765, and they continued to share the home with other family members until 1778. Samuel and Elizabeth lived in the older middle section of the house, which Pierce also began to update, adding new Georgian style woodwork and a beaufat, or china cupboard, to display some of the family’s finer goods.

After his father’s death, Samuel and Elizabeth continued to share the house with other extended family members. Samuel’s mother, Abigail, lived in the third left to her use until her own death in 1776, by which time Elizabeth had given birth to five children, three of whom survived into childhood. During some of these same years, Samuel’s unmarried sisters also continued to live in the household, in the western part of the house and lean-to. Two of his sisters eventually married and moved into their own households; sister Rebecca did not marry, and lived with her brother’s family until her death in 1778.

Like the records he left, Colonel Samuel Pierce’s major concerns focused on the patterns of daily life—farming tasks and cycles, the weather, kin and community relationships, improvements to his family home—he was also deeply engaged by the world around him. Pierce was an astute observer whose commentary on the American Revolutionary era brings to life the events of this crucial period in American history. Participant as well as observer, Pierce made his political sympathies clear. An early supporter of the patriot cause, he resigned his commission in the King’s militia to join the Massachusetts militia and took part in what Dorchester historians view as a crucial step in the United States’ war for independence: the fortification of Dorchester Heights and the forced evacuation of the British troops from Boston in March of 1776. He led his regiment for the duration of the war.

During the ten years between 1765 and 1775, a series of political conflicts between Great Britain and her American colonies contributed to the breakdown of the imperial relationship, the outbreak of armed conflict between patriot and loyalist troops, and the eventual declaration of independence by the new United States. Because Boston was a center of colonial protest, Britain tried to make the town an object lesson in imperial authority, and from nearby Dorchester, Col. Samuel reported his personal politics and involvement in the town’s growing support for the patriot cause. All through New England the Sons of Liberty had formed in 1765 in opposition to the Stamp Act, and Col. Samuel recorded that they met in Dorchester at a “very Grand Entertainment at mr. Lemuel Robinson’s” in August 1769. The Pierce family also held patriotic events at their home, including a “spining match” held “at our house” in June of 1769. Such gatherings were part of the colonists’ campaign to produce and wear their own homespun clothing rather than rely on English imported goods.

From Dorchester Col. Samuel observed the unfolding of events in Boston. On March 6, 1770, the day following the Boston Massacre, he noted “four kild in boston by the Soldiers.” He also recorded the growing support of the Dorchester citizenry for the colonial protest, as evidenced by a town meeting in December of 1772 “to Exclaim against the Duty being Laid upon us & Judges having their Saliry paid from England &c.” Pierce also followed the controversy over the Tea Act of 1773 closely. England had granted what colonial merchants termed an unfair advantage to the East India Tea Company’s virtual monopoly and the fact that Parliament had levied a tax on tea in the first place. Many colonists resolved to boycott tea, but a large supply arrived in Boston late in 1773. “Boston,” observed Pierce in his journal on December 11, “is full of trouble about the tee. . .,” and several days later Boston radicals orchestrated the Boston Tea Party.

By June of 1774, following the passage of the Intolerable Acts, tensions between the colonists and Great Britain had increased. Colonial self-government and the judiciary were reduced, more British troops and warships arrived, and “Boston [was] in a most Deplorible Condition.” In the fall of 1774 Col. Samuel Pierce and others in the provincial militia had resigned their commissions under the crown and received new appointments as officers in the colonial militia. The following March the town of Dorchester voted that all men fit for military duty should be ready to respond to any alarm on a minute’s notice. When actual conflict broke out at Lexington and Concord in April of 1775, Col. Pierce’s loyalties were evident: “April 19. this Day there was a terible battle at Lexinton & Concord between our People and the Soldiers which marcht out of Boston the Soldiers fird on our people and then the Battle Began & there was about 40 of our People kild & 190 soldiers as near as could be Recolected.”

Over the spring and summer of 1775 Pierce observed and recorded activity in Boston as some Tories from surrounding towns moved into the city and patriots fled. He lamented the “Terrable battle fout at CharlesTown”—the Battle of Bunker Hill—and noted various “scirmiges” with the British regulars, particularly on the Boston Harbor Islands, as each side sought to establish position and to cut off the other’s supply of hay. General George Washington had set up headquarters in Cambridge, with his other troops camped in Roxbury, Somerville, and Dorchester, so that the city of Boston, though held by the British, was surrounded. When the patriot officer Col. Henry Knox arrived with guns and ammunition dragged on sledges from Ft. Ticonderoga, Washington and his advisors decided to act.

Washington’s plan was to fortify Dorchester Heights, now South Boston, and therefore “command a great part of the town and almost the whole harbor.” After careful preparation Colonel Samuel and his troops took part in the expedition that began on the night of March 4, 1776. About 5,000 men and over 380 wagons sneaked onto Dorchester Heights, placing straw along the road to muffle the sound; the men were under orders not to speak above a whisper. The troops carried the tools, materials, and arms for their defense, including bales of hay, barrels of stone and earth, and the heavy siege guns from Ticonderoga. It was, according to Pierce, “the most work Don that Ever was Don in one Night in New England.” When the British commander, General Howe, realized his predicament, he sent word to Washington that if he and his troops were allowed to leave without being fired upon, he would refrain from destroying the city. On March 17, 1776 (still observed in Boston as Evacuation Day), Howe, his 8,000 troops, and approximately 900 loyalists set sail for Halifax. Although Boston had suffered much during the occupation, with buildings destroyed for firewood, troops and horses quartered at will, and hunger rampant, Howe kept his word and did not burn the city. He and his troops left, wrote Col. Samuel, “like so many frited Sheep.” By March 28 patriots were able to “go into boston all freely,” and in Dorchester town meeting pledged in May of 1776, “america Declard Independancy from Great britain.”

For the duration of the war, Col. Samuel Pierce remained in the colonial militia, one of the two separate but complementary military forces that fought for American independence. As commander of the South Dorchester militia regiment Col. Samuel Pierce seems to have held a chiefly administrative position. He dispatched men from his unit to serve with the Continental Army near Boston and, later, in the Middle Colonies and other New England locations. In addition to troop deployment, Pierce handled both payroll and provisions. Pierce did accompany his men on two expeditions, one through New York to New Jersey in 1777 and one to Tiverton, Rhode Island, in 1779, and he also saw active duty on Castle Island in Boston Harbor. During his absence, Elizabeth Pierce, with the assistance of Samuel’s sister Rebecca, took care of the family and managed the farm. In the later years of the war, with fighting concentrated n the southern states, Col. Pierce detached his men for only limited service, but they maintained their role as patriotic citizen-solders until the war ended in 1783.

32-eastparlorin1897_-_364_x_253Sixth and Seventh Generations

Lewis Pierce, the youngest son of Samuel and Elizabeth Pierce, inherited the family homestead at his father’s death in 1815. Like most men of his generation, Lewis was a transitional figure in New England history. His father, Col. Samuel Pierce, had been a man of multiple interests and talents—carpenter, teamster, mason, soldier—but he was primarily a farmer or husbandman, with all that implied about his responsibility for fields, livestock, garden, and orchards. Although Lewis, Col. Samuel’s youngest son, described himself as a farmer throughout his long life, his father’s life pattern was not possible for Lewis because the farm he inherited along with the family homestead at his father’s death in 1815 was no longer large or productive enough to sustain a family. Although Dorchester, and Neponset in particular, retained a rural character for much of the nineteenth century, families like the Pierces, whose farms had passed to the sixth generation, could no longer provide their children with enough land to support a household.

By the time Lewis Pierce died, he and his sons had literally redrawn their expectations for land use; they had begun to divide the family farm into a subdivision with streets and small lots designed for suburban dwellers. By the 1870s they had sold off a number of lots and had built and sold homes on others. While they continued to depend on their land for family sustenance, they had begun to see land as a different kind of commodity. By mid-century, farmland was being sold and divided into varying sized house lots across the villages that constituted Dorchester in a process of urbanization that continued into the twentieth century. Over the course of his life Lewis Pierce both witnessed and participated in the process that changed the occupational and ethnic composition of his community.

By the late 1860s the Pierce family was involved in speculative development of the family’s own properties, not merely the sale of their land to other builders. Between 1867 and 1872 nine houses were built on Lewis’s fifteen-acre home lot. Although Lewis Pierce’s name appears on all of the deeds and mortgages, his sons, Charles, William Augustus, and Lewis Francis, probably spearheaded the development, since Lewis was by this time in his eighties. Brick masons, they may have participated in the actual construction of at least some of the homes along with Elias Perkins, a housewright from nearby Quincy.

Lewis financed his development and construction through a series of successive mortgages and property sales, following a pattern typical for small nineteenth-century builders. The proceeds of successive sales and mortgages provided the funds to construct the additional houses; Lewis either sold each newly built home outright or mortgaged it before it was sold. In either case, he then had new capital to finance construction on yet another of his lots, and the proceeds from that development helped to support yet another building project. Still standing, these nine houses built within the boundaries of the old Pierce farm were similar in style, mostly two-story, mansard roof dwellings with Italianate details. Some of their residents worked nearby, but most of them commuted via the nearby railroad line.

Lewis Pierce died in 1874 without a will. Although most of his houses had been sold and Lewis’s debt on them cleared, Lewis owned one unsold house, at 28 Plain Street, with an outstanding mortgage, and he had mortgaged a number of undeveloped properties. He also had a mortgage on his own family house and some 50,000 square feet surrounding it. Lewis and his sons may have intended to begin another round of speculative building and development, as they had done in the late 1860s, but the lingering effects of the Panic of 1873 and then Lewis’s death interrupted their plan. Because Lewis’s primary asset was his undeveloped land and because he had so many outstanding mortgages, his four children could not pay his debts out of his estate. Lewis Francis, administrator for the estate, petitioned the probate court for permission to partition and sell the remaining property.

When Pierce House came up for public auction along with the rest of Lewis Pierce’s land in 1876, William Augustus Pierce, Lewis’s youngest son, was the highest bidder. Valued at $500 at Lewis’s death in 1874, the house and its 10,000-square-foot lot were sold to William Augustus for $1,400. Given the family’s close ties, their long residence in Pierce House, and the fact that Lewis Francis Pierce lived right across the way, it is not surprising that the Pierce heirs would prearrange William Augustus’s purchase. Proud of their family’s history and heritage, the Pierces would have been loath to permit an “outsider” to purchase the house. Family members even provided financial assistance; Lewis Francis Pierce agreed to pay or obtain the release on an existing mortgage on the property, and a cousin and neighbor, Frederick Leeds Pierce, loaned William $1,000 toward the purchase. Without a directive from a will, which in most previous generations had provided for the disposition of the house and lot, Lewis’s children settled the issue among themselves before the auction.

In the first years after William Augustus moved back into the family house, he would have observed few changes in his surroundings, despite the breakup of the Pierce property. Although Oakton Avenue had been extended from Plain Street to Adams Street, the street was a dirt carriage way, and the new landowners were slow to develop their lots. By 1884 only three new houses had been built. The Pierce barn and outbuildings, on lands no longer belonging to the Pierces, were torn down, but the sense of the fields and orchards remained. Twenty years later, however, the lots had begun to fill up and the sense of the neighborhood had changed. Between 1884 and 1904, twenty-one additional houses were built on the old farm property, bringing the total to thirty-five, including the Pierce House. Although some open areas remained, these new houses were more densely spaced. William and Antoinette’s new neighbors were mostly artisans and their wives with young families, and almost a third of them were of Irish descent, reflecting the changed demographics of Boston and Dorchester.

The changing face of the Pierce neighborhood reflected demographic changes in late nineteenth-century families as well. Like their neighbors, the Pierces had many fewer children than their forebears; middle-class children were regarded as emotional rather than economic contributors to the family unit. In the Victorian family children were to be educated rather than apprenticed, and the family was expected to live as a nuclear unit. William and his wife Antoinette had only two children; their son, William Alvin, died as a baby, and the couple lived in their house with their only daughter, Antoinette Louise, rather than with the multiple generations of family, boarders, or hired help who had shared Pierce House over many earlier generations. After Antoinette’s marriage in 1883 to George Frederick Pierce, the son of Frederick Leeds Pierce and a neighbor and distant cousin she had known all her life, Antoinette moved to a nearby but nonetheless separate household. By 1900 the senior Pierces, both aged seventy-three, were, unlike any previous generation, living alone in their ancestral home. When they died in 1904 and 1905, they left Pierce House to Antoinette, but she and her husband chose to live in his parents’ elegant Victorian home rather than her ancestral one. For the first time in more than 200 years Pierce House would, for the next two decades, not be occupied by lineal Pierce descendants.

33-piercehousein1885_-_364_x_253Eighth and Ninth Generations


Antoinette Pierce holds a unique position in the Pierce family history; she was both the only daughter to inherit Pierce House and the only heir not to live there as an adult. Until the age of five or six Antoinette lived with her parents William Augustus and Antoinette Read Pierce, and her grandparents Lewis and Sarah, in Pierce House, but by 1870 William Augustus and Antoinette and their daughter were renting a house nearby on Minot Street. The family moved in 1872 to the corner of Adams Street and Ashmont Avenue, still not far from the family homestead, and Antoinette’s later recollections and her affection for the “Old House” suggest that she spent considerable time there. Antoinette moved back to Pierce House with her parents after Lewis’s lands were broken up in 1876, when she was thirteen. Antoinette attended Dorchester High School, where she was the valedictorian for her class in 1881, and two years later she married her distant cousin, George Frederick Pierce, who was descended from Robert and Ann Pierce through the Thomas line. Antoinette, or “Nettie,” and George Frederick, or “Fred,” had known each other since they were children, and they grew up together as neighbors and playmates.

Antoinette had inherited Pierce House when her father William Augustus died in 1905, but she never returned there to live. Instead, Antoinette rented Pierce House to a series of tenants over the next twenty-five years. Although Antoinette chose not to live in Pierce House as an adult, she took great pride in its long history and in her family heritage and wanted to preserve and pass along both the house and family memories it held. She and George Frederick chose Grenway as their son Roger’s middle name, an indication of their tie to family tradition, and Antoinette wrote an eighty-four stanza poem, “The Rhyme of the Old Pierce Tree,” that traced each Pierce generation. The poem emphasizes the importance of the family connection and continuity and captures intimate details of the Pierces’ history: a little girl licking the cookie bowl, the ticking of Colonel Samuel’s clock, the foxglove and larkspur growing in Aunt Melissa’s garden. Antoinette, who was born in 1863, even remembered the “old barn and the hay-mow/ Where she jumped from the beams,/ Walked rickety-fences,/ and climbed on the teams.” These recollections reinforce the transitional nature of the Pierces’ experience in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, the overlap of traditional agricultural life with modern property development and new careers, and the nostalgia for rural life that continued even after the balance had permanently shifted.

In her will Antoinette formalized her vision of Pierce House’s historic as well as family importance. She was determined to save the Old House as family property, specifying that Roger and his family remain in the house. To that end she bequeathed to Roger “the land and buildings located at 24 Oakton Avenue. . . , a property which has been owned and occupied by members of my family for about eight generations past, together with all articles of furniture, ornamentation, and personal property,” items which included such treasured possessions as John Pierce’s shaving mirror and the oak chest and piece of “Old Bread” said to have come from England on the “Mary and John.” Antoinette’s poem had conveyed her pleasure in the continuity of generations in the house, with her images of children asleep in the old bedroom, the family antiques carefully placed where she recalled them from her childhood, and the family stories passed to a new generation. Now her will formally passed the weight of family responsibility to Roger and, looking into the future, to his children. If any of them proved unwilling or unable to stay in the house, Antoinette desired that it be given “to some museum or historical society which will keep it up…” and also display the family’s prized antiques and heirlooms. Having witnessed threats to other historic houses, such as Dorchester’s Blake House, and the demolition of other houses in her neighborhood, including Edward Pierce’s house and Lewis Francis’s and George Francis’s former family home at 31 Oakton Avenue, which was replaced by a school in 1926, Antoinette clearly sought to avoid a similar fate for her beloved Pierce House.

35-piercehousetoday_-_364_x_253Ninth and Tenth Generations, and Becoming a Museum

In the twentieth century, as before, Pierce House was home to multiple generations of family members. Although Antoinette Pierce, who owned the house between 1905 and 1937, lived elsewhere during her adult life, her eldest son, Roger Grenway Pierce, and his family took up residence in Pierce House in 1929. He inherited the house when his mother died. Forty-one years old when he moved into the “Old House,” Roger raised his own family there and remained there the rest of his life. In the years following World War II his two children, Curt and Anne, married and settled into their own houses, but when Roger suffered a heart attack in 1950, his daughter, Anne Pierce Shaughnessey, and her husband Robert returned to Anne’s childhood home to care for him. With the births of the Shaughnessey children, Pierce House once again sheltered a three-generation household.

In 1967 the aging Roger Pierce deeded his property to Anne and Curt, and when Roger died in 1968 the family chose to accede to the terms of Antoinette’s will. They sold Pierce House, along with some of the family’s furniture, antiques, and memorabilia, to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now Historic New England. The Shaughnessey family moved to Milton, where Anne’s grandparents and other Pierce relatives had lived. To Anne it seemed appropriate that “Ann Grenway Pierce was the first woman to live in the house. And Anne Grenway Pierce Shaughnessey was the last.”

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