John P. Coburn (1811-1873), a free black resident of Beacon Hill in Boston, ran a clothing business and was a community activist. He was treasurer of the New England Freedom Association, which assisted fugitive slaves and, in 1852, he was a founder and captain of the Massasoit Guards, a black militia unit. In 1851, Coburn was arrested for his role in aiding Shadrach Minkins, a fugitive slave, in his escape from federal custody (he was later acquitted). John Coburn’s first house on Beacon Hill was located in a cul-de-sac off of Phillips Street at 3 Coburn Court. Dating to the 1830s, the house, now lost, was recognized in 2005 as one of Massachusetts’ most endangered historic resources. From 1844 until his death in 1873, Coburn lived in the house at 2 Phillips Street, which was designed for him by Asher Benjamin. The house is a site on the Black Heritage Trail.
The original Old West Church in Boston was a wood-frame building, built in 1737. It was used as barracks by British soldiers during the occupation of Boston, but they soon razed the structure in 1775 due to concerns that supporters of the Revolution were sending signals to Cambridge from its steeple. The church was finally rebuilt in 1806. It was designed by Asher Benjamin and has similarities to his earlier Charles Street Meeting House of 1804. Originally a Congregationalist church, Old West Church was deeded to the City of Boston in 1894 to serve as the West End Library. The church remained a library until 1962, when a new library was built. Since 1964, Old West Church has been home to a Methodist congregation.
The Captain Charles Leonard House, at 663 Main Street in Agawam, was built in 1805 and is attributed as the work of Asher Benjamin. A Harvard graduate, farmer and militia captain, Charles Leonard built the house to serve as a tavern. It had many owners over the years and had become a multifamily rental property by the early twentieth century. The house was purchased and restored by prominent Agawam citizen Mrs. Minerva Davis, who made it Agawam’s Community House. Today, the house can be rented for events.
Deerfield Academy was founded in 1797 and a brick building, designed by Asher Benjamin, was built to house the school in 1799. The Academy later expanded and the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association purchased the old school building in 1877. The building was renovated and opened in 1880 as the Memorial Hall Museum, displaying a collection of objects gathered by antiquarian George Sheldon. Memorial Hall continues today as a museum of Deerfield history and an adjacent building houses the libraries of the PVMA and Historic Deerfield.
Sudbury was first settled in 1640 and successive meeting houses for the community were built, east of the Sudbury River, in 1642, 1652, 1682 and 1725. In 1780, the section of town west of the river separated from the eastern section, which was at first called East Sudbury and, from 1835, Wayland. The 1725 meeting house was replaced, in 1814-1815, by the current Federal-style church, built by Andrew Palmer of Newburyport to a design by Asher Benjamin. The church bell was cast by the foundry of Paul Revere and Son. The church became Unitarian in 1825, during the ministry of Reverend John Burt Wight. In 1850, the interior of the church was altered to to create a two-story plan, with an auditorium on the second floor. While he was minister at First Parish in Wayland, Reverend Edmund Hamilton Sears composed the Christmas hymn, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.”
Dr. William Ellery Channing was a leading Unitarian preacher and theologian, who was minister of the Federal Street Church in Boston from 1830-1842. Asher Benjamin designed the 1835 house at 83 Mount Vernon Street, on Boston’s Beacon Hill, where Channing and his family lived from 1835 until his death in 1842. Among the distinguished visitors at the house was Charles Dickens, who had breakfast with Channing in 1842. Dr. Channing’s nephew was William Ellery Channing, the Transcendentalist poet.
The Alexander House in Springfield was originally built at the corner of Elliott and State Streets in 1811 for James Byers. The design of the house has been attributed to Asher Benjamin and it was built by Simon Sanborn, Springfield’s master builder of the first half of the nineteenth century, who designed many of the city’s old mansions. In 1820, Byers sold the house to Colonel Israel E. Trask, who also owned a plantation in Mississippi. The artist, Chester Harding, briefly lived in the house from 1830 to 1832, as did the railroad superintendent General James Barnes, in 1839. After Trask’s death, in 1835, his family occupied the house until 1862, when it was sold to Henry Alexander, Jr. In that year, Alexander became mayor of Springfield and he resided in the house until his death in 1878. In 1874, he moved the house to a new location nearby on State Street. The house was acquired by the SPNEA (Historic New England) in 1939, and moved again in 2004 to Elliott Street to make way for the construction of a new federal courthouse. The house will be sold, with perpetual preservation restrictions to protect its architectural features.