Beacon Hill


In 1795, two events central to the development of Beacon Hill took place.  The first was the construction of the new State House, designed by celebrated architect Charles Bulfinch and completed in 1797.  The construction of the State House provided the impetus for residential development immediately to its west, at the south slope of the Hill.  The second event was the formation of the Mount Vernon Proprietors.  Consisting of six prominent Boston citizens, the Mount Vernon Proprietors was one of the earliest land development operations in the country.  They purchased 18 ½ acres of land to the west of the State House, including the property of John Singleton Copley.

While some structures were built soon after the Mount Vernon Proprietors’ acquisition of the land in 1795, development on the Hill did not begin in earnest until 1800.  Three types of architecture characterize this period of Beacon Hill’s Development.  The first is the freestanding mansion; Bulfinch’s original plan for the area from the 1790s focused heavily on freestanding mansions on large plots of land surrounding a large public square.  However, despite this initial focus, only a few of these “mansion houses” were actually built; examples of this type include the first and second Otis houses, at 141 Cambridge Street and 85 Mount Vernon Street, respectively.  The second prevalent type of architecture consists of pairs of houses that are symmetrical in design, such as 54-55 Beacon Street.  The third type is the rowhouse, consisting of multiple attached units of essentially the same design.  The houses built for Hepzibah Swan (the only female member of the Mount Vernon Proprietors) at 13-17 Chestnut Street are examples of this form.

Still largely residential, the structures on Beacon Hill showcase several different styles and are the work of a number of notable architects, such as the aforementioned Bulfinch, Asher Benjamin, Solomon Willard, and Alexander Parris.  While the Federal and Greek Revival styles were most popular during the first half of the 19th century and are the most predominant on the Hill, later examples of Italianate, Panel Brick, Egyptian Revival, Queen Anne, and American Gothic Revival styles can also be found.  The later part of the 19th century also brought about a new form: the apartment building.  Some early examples of adaptive reuse also occurred in Beacon Hill, with the conversion of many stables and carriage houses into loft spaces and studios. 


The Historic Beacon Hill District was designated in 1955 by an Act of the Massachusetts State Legislature (Chapter 616 of the Acts of 1955, as amended).

Scope of Review

All exterior work (including work at rooftops) that is, or will be, visible from any public way requires the review of the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission.  A Certificate of Appropriateness, Design Approval, or Exemption Application must be submitted to and approved by the Commission prior to beginning any exterior work that is visible from a public way. 

See the Architectural Guidelines for the Historic Beacon Hill District for further information.

Applications, application instructions, and a schedule of filing deadlines and hearing dates are available below.  To save time and costs, property owners and developers are encouraged to contact staff early on in the project planning process, in order to obtain information on compliance with guidelines.

Lissa Schwab, preservation planner for the Historic Beacon Hill District, may be reached at or at 617-635-3850.

  • Please note that Commission staff is not available to review applications for completeness immediately upon submittal. 

  • Please review all instructions and documentation requirements carefully before submitting your application. 

  • It is your responsibility to ensure the application is complete before submittal.  Incomplete applications will not be accepted. 

Beacon Hill Information

Certificate of Appropriateness, Design Approval, and Exemption Application


  • Beacon Hill Architectural Commission Agenda June 2016

    The Beacon Hill Architectural Commission will hold a public hearing on Thursday, June 16, at 4:00 p.m. in Boston City Hall, Piemonte Room, 5th Floor.

    BHAC Agenda June 2016

Beacon Hill Architectural Commission Agenda Archive

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