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Jamaica Plain’s Dodecagonal House

“Out in Jamaica Plain is a most peculiar and interesting house. It is dodecagonal in shape — or, in other words, has 12 sides. The odd dwelling is located at 17 Cranston St. [...] Two of the three exits are so steep that to drive a horse and vehicle through them is an extremely hazardous undertaking.” — The Boston Daily Globe on September 20th, 1908.

That peculiar house is still there, perched on a hill overlooking Centre Street. And its current owner has been digging into the home’s rather mysterious origins. He’ll be presenting his findings at a public talk in JP this weekend.

Bob Field and his wife bought this place in 1996, and you can imagine why. He spent 25 years building large foam props for a living, like the giant bottle in front of the Coke museum in downtown Atlanta. This is a guy who’s really into shapes. And his historic house is nothing but.

“Yeah, if you walk around this house, it actually has 12 sides,” Field says.

But if you look closely, the real magic number here is six.

“When we first moved in, it was all covered with asphalt roofing shingles,” he says. “But there were places where it had fallen off and we saw that underneath it had six-sided interlocking wooden hexagonal shingles. And we thought, ‘Wow, that’s really odd.’”

Particularly odd, considering what’s inside.

“If you look at the plan of the house from the top, looking down on it, there’s three six-sided columns, basically, that go up three stories. Two of the columns are devoted to rooms, and the third one is a spiral staircase that takes you up and down,” Field says.

The result of course, is that all the rooms are hexagonal, like the shingles.

“Um, it’s a perfect fit for us,” says his wife Joan.

Joan loves it here, but says the rooms do present one constant dilemma: “Where to put the furniture. There’s no right angles. It’s been a challenge.”

“I see the circular table, that’s…” I say.

“…Sort of a cheat,” says Bob.

“It’s usually like a really inefficient use of space, but in this case it works just perfectly because it nestles into these wide corners.” I reply.

“Exactly.”

And the hexagons just keep coming.

“If you look around you start noticing things, like the stained glass windows have hexigons in them,” Bob says.

At the top of the ornate spiral staircase there’s a six-sided cupola with phenomenal views of the Back Bay skyscrapers, the Blue Hills…everything. Bob and Joan use it as a little guest room; all the grand kids fight over it when they visit.

“So this is the cupola, and it’s sorta like a tree house, sorta way up and above, and you can actually go up to the roof…” Bob says, “on this little ladder.”

Leading up to a, you guessed it, hexagonal porthole. Who built this place? And what was his thing with the sixes? Well, when Bob retired last fall, he figured he’d finally try to get some answers. He visited the city and state archives, dug around, and came up with a name.

“Archibald Scott. I ended up going to Halifax, Nova Scotia, because I think that’s where he’s from. There’s one theory that says this guy was an organ builder,” Bob says.

Indeed, there’s record of an Archibald Scott working at the Hook & Hastings organ factory in Weston.

“There’s another theory that says it was two Scottish brothers.”

There’s John Scott on the original 1870 mortgage along with Archibald, but Bob can’t find anything else about the guy. Part of the reason Bob’s giving a public talk this weekend is that he’s hoping somebody with some intimate knowledge will show up. He’s still nowhere on the whole sixes thing.

“But you’ve gotta have some theories, even if they’re kind of outlandish. Maybe some kind of numerological significance?” I ask him.

“You know, I have actually looked into that. No, I’d say my main theory at the moment, is that John Scott turned to Archibald and said, ‘You know there are these basalt columns, it’s a natural phenomenon of lava, in Ireland, and also in Scotland, and there are these hexagonal columns that radiate out from the ground, and wouldn’t it be cool if we made a house that was like three hexagonal columns abutted to each other. So that’s one of my theories,” he says.

Bob Field will present what he knows about his 12-sided house on Saturday, 10 a.m. at the Connolly Branch of the Boston Public Library in Jamaica Plain. His talk is called: “Looking for Archibald: A Detective Story.”


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