History lives on Chickatawbut Street

A view of 21-23 Chickatawbut St. from the air. Developer Ted Ahern successfully restored the front property and added a residential unit in the rear. “The idea was to return it to its original glory,” Ahern says. Photos courtesy The Galvin Group

Builder’s dream evokes the 1840s

In the midst of a building boom, plans to develop new housing in Dorchester often prompt a slew of concerns from wary neighbors. In recent years, certain questions have become a familiar refrain: How will it preserve the character of the neighborhood? How will it impact traffic and congestion? Where will I park?

As developers struggle to please everybody, a new housing project in Neponset Village has seemingly achieved the impossible with the presentation of a historically styled, multi-unit property – with parking.

At 21-23 Chickatawbut Street, there are two buildings, one old, on new, offering six units of housing. According to the Dorchester Atheneum, 23 Chickatawbut St., a mid-19th century Greek Revival-style home thought to have been built around 1840, once housed the family of Nathan Holbrook, proprietor of the Neponset House Hotel.

As one of few examples of Greek Revival architecture in the area, the building is a rarity with significant historical value, although recent alterations – vinyl siding and an addition built in the back of the house – were seen as detracting from that value.

When local developer Ted Ahern acquired the property in 2016, he saw an opportunity to transform the three-family home and uncover a piece of Dorchester history in the process.

“The idea was to return it to its original glory,” said Ahern in an interview with the Reporter. That meant removing the siding and the rear addition, which opened up a large swath of land toward the back of the roughly 20,000 square foot plot of land. There, Ahern proposed a second building that would add more units without compromising the historical integrity of the neighborhood, as well as evoke thoughts of the barn that originally stood at the rear of the Holbrook property.

See a video of the property here.

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21 Chickatawbut St., the new four-unit structure at the rear of the property.

“We wanted to put something in the back that was very similar to what was originally there,” said Ahern.

The final product, 21 Chickatawbut, was completed earlier this year as a four-unit, two-story structure meant to recall the style of a traditional carriage house, but with a modern interior. At the front of the property, No. 23 had its exterior restored and its interior remodeled. The buildings are separated by a wide strip of greenery that acts as a buffer zone. From the street and from an aerial perspective, the two buildings seem part of the historic Neponset Village. Ahern agrees: “It looks like it should for fitting the period of time and the street it’s on,” he said.

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The living room inside 23 Chickatawbut.

Craig Galvin, the realtor for the property, considers the scale and the style of the development to be a win-win. “These developers, they definitely took their time and they definitely got a plan that the neighbors were on board about,” he said. “Each unit comes with parking...and they did a very nice job of making them feel private. I think this a good example of the neighborhood working with the developer to get something that everybody’s happy with.”

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The master bedroom inside 23 Chickatawbut.

One mostly happy observer is Earl Taylor, the president of the Dorchester Historical Society. “Overall it’s great,” he said. “I’m a bit disappointed in the columns they used; originally they were rounded columns, and the new ones are square.”

Those details aside, preservation efforts are better than the alternative, Taylor said. “The goal is to put them back the way they look, and in general the door openings and the window openings are where they were, the columns are where they were, and it’s still the same distance from the street. Either way, it’s a better choice than demolishing it. If they had torn it down, it would have been a real disappointment.”