Governors Digs

The question usually comes up when some out-of-towner discovers that Gov. Paul Cellucci drives home to his three-bedroom house in Hudson every night. In one recent instance, a Hollywood film producer was chatting with the governor about the movie biz and Cellucci mentioned that he sees at least one film a week, sometimes two on the weekend. Naturally, the producer wanted to know, “Do you have a private screening room in the governor’s mansion?” Cellucci was nonplused, politely explaining that not only does he go without a private screening room, he doesn’t hold the keys to an executive mansion. To see a new movie, he drives 3.1 miles to the local multiplex. To get to work, he faces the same traffic the rest of Boston’s commuters do.

The heads of 45 other states get to live in an official governor’s residence when they take office. Why not here? Doesn’t the top dog in the Bay State rate? Surely there’s no shortage of beautiful historic homes to fit the bill. Curious about this anomaly, CommonWealth investigated.

As it turns out, there have been several attempts to establish an official, state-owned home for the Commonwealth’s governors, but all fizzled–often because of the anticipated expense. [See below.] Since the 1970s, how- ever, none of the sitting governors has expressed interest in the idea.

Wouldn’t Cellucci prefer a grand manor house in the city to his relatively modest home in Hudson? His response is straight down the Republican line: “It’s unnecessary and would be an added expense for taxpayers,” says his spokesman Jason Kauppi. “If you consider not only the cost of the home, but staff and upkeep, it can get quite expensive.”

Plus, Kauppi notes, any official function that might be held in a governor’s mansion in another state is held here at the State House, which Cellucci says “seems to work just fine.” Besides, Kauppi adds, “I think he very much likes being able to go home to his own private house every night.”

Other recent governors apparently shared that sentiment. Dick Manley, a senior fellow at UMass-Boston’s McCormack Institute who kibitzed with several governors as longtime president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, says all seemed content in their own abodes. Once, during Mike Dukakis’s tenure, Manley suggested using a budget surplus to pay for a governor’s mansion. The Duke’s response? “Why the heck do we need to do that?” Manley recalls him saying. “I have a house.”

But not everyone is pleased with the status quo. “It’s embarrassing and unfortunate” that Massachusetts has no executive mansion, says former state representative John Sears, who proposed legislation to look into the possibility of establishing one in the 1960s. “There’s something Yankee and flinty and sort of penny-pinching about it.”

Chief executives need a place where they can “receive guests with dignity and give them hospitality,” adds Sears, the Republican candidate for governor (who lost to Dukakis) in 1982. Sears felt so strongly about the issue that he even considered trying to move to the historic Shirley-Eustis House in Roxbury–formerly the private home of two governors–if elected. “Gov. Eustis entertained [the Marquis de] Lafayette in the Shirley house for two weeks,” Sears says. “Heaven knows what we’d do with him today.”

What might have been

By Carol Gerwin
Fall 1999

Gov. Paul Cellucci may be perfectly happy in his Hudson home, but several previous governors liked the idea of letting the state pay the mortgage. Proposals for establishing an official governor’s residence have come and gone for more than 200 years, ever since the Commonwealth’s first governor, John Hancock, took office in 1780.

At least four different buildings have been considered for the honor, according to Thomas Lyman, who gives State House tours and researched the subject at the request of Susan Weld during her husband’s administration. (Another state’s First Lady was writing a book about governors’ mansions and asked Weld why there was none in Massachusetts. Weld asked the Division of State House Tours and Government Education to find out.)

These are the stories of the attempts that came closest to fruition, culled from Lyman’s research and other sources:

The Endicott Estate, Dedham

Gov. John Volpe came the closest of any Massachusetts chief executive to living in a state-owned house — at one point even holding the keys to the 25-room manse in Dedham known as the Endicott Estate.

The town of Dedham received the yellow-and-white manor near Route 128 from Katherine Endicott, the daughter of a shoe magnate, soon after her death in 1967. But “the town didn’t know quite what to do with it,” recalls former historical society president Robert Hanson, “and the governor’s mansion issue was at one of its periodic peaks at that time.” So Dedham’s town meeting voted to offer it to the Commonwealth.

Volpe took title to the 21-acre property, which included a ballroom, Italian marble fireplaces, and mahogany paneling at a ceremony on the grounds on Dec. 1, 1967. Members of the public were invited in for tours and sandwiches, and the governor’s wife, Jennie, chatted with her soon-to-be neighbors.

The local paper, The Dedham Transcript, hailed the imminent move with an editorial headlined, “Welcome, Governor Volpe!” and the declaration that Dedham would be the “second capital” of the Commonwealth. A few months later, the Volpes sold their house in suburban Winchester and moved to an apartment in Boston in preparation for occupying the estate by Christmas 1969.

But the family Christmas tree never made it to Dedham. The plan “came to a screeching halt,” according to The Dedham Times, when the cost of the renovations became clear. Originally, the Volpes believed they could do the work for about $100,000. But once state building experts had a chance to examine the house, the estimate jumped to a staggering $700,000 to $1 million. It would have been cheaper to build a new mansion to the First Family’s exact specifications.

The house needed extensive rewiring and new plumbing, to be sure. But another problem might have been Jennie Volpe’s lavish taste. “Her notion was to have all the gorgeous wood paneling ripped out and replaced with pastel-colored plaster,” Hanson says. “Then other people started tacking on foolishness. They wanted an addition suitable for seating 400 for dinner…. They had all sorts of crazy notions.”

The state decided to give the property back to the town, which now rents it out for weddings, parties, meetings, and other events.

The Shirley-Eustis House, Roxbury

The only mansion left today in the Dudley Street section of Roxbury, the Shirley-Eustis House was a frequent target of talk about an official governor’s residence in the 1950s and ’60s. The yellow, green, and white Georgian edifice was the private home of two governors — William Shirley (a British colonial governor who built the house in 1747) and William Eustis (who served from 1823 to 1825) — but never made it into the hands of the state.

The idea of turning the house into an executive mansion was first floated by members of a group working to save the then-dilapidated building from demolition in the 1950s. When Gov. Christian Herter became intrigued by the idea of establishing a governor’s mansion, one of the group’s members convinced him that the Shirley-Eustis House could be used for the purpose if moved — possibly to Boston’s Fenway neighborhood, near the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Herter named a special commission to investigate the possibility in 1955, but its report concluded that the commission “could not visualize an auspicious future for the house.”

The idea resurfaced two years later when the Legislature’s Committee on Cities recommended giving the state three acres on Jamaica Pond for a governor’s mansion and moving the Shirley-Eustis House there. But the new governor, Foster Furcolo, balked at the $300,000 price tag, despite his 100-mile commute from East Longmeadow. A formal bill for the project was never proposed.

None of this stopped Gov. Endicott Peabody and his wife from raising the matter several years later. Barbara Peabody, known as “Toni,” says she realized the pressing need for an executive mansion while her husband was governor, from 1963 to 1965.

“It wasn’t the material side of it,” Peabody, who now splits her time between Boston and New Hampshire, told CommonWealth. “We had a tiny house in Cambridge, and I used to put a tent up early in the morning and sometimes I would entertain eight groups during the day…. It was very hard. You couldn’t put up a tent every day.”

The Shirley-Eustis House would have been perfect, she said, even though 20th-century amenities, such as indoor plumbing, would have had to be installed. “It’s one of the most beautiful houses,” Peabody said. “It has the most beautiful hallway when you go in. You see this spiral staircase and you think you can go right to heaven.”

Peabody says she broached the subject with many different people in Boston, but couldn’t convince any of them to help out. “I went to see a lot of the bigshots in town, the bigwigs, and they thought it was ridiculous,” she said.

Now a museum, the house is slowly being renovated. It is open for tours June through October.

The Province House, Boston

One of the Commonwealth’s earliest office buildings, the Province House was considered for a governor’s mansion in the years after the Revolutionary War. The Legislature even went so far as to appropriate money to turn the colonial-style building into an official executive residence. But the plan fell through, perhaps overshadowed by the construction of the State House on Beacon Street in the late 1700s.

Built in 1679, the Province House was originally the home of a wealthy Boston merchant and was later occupied by several British royal governors. After the Revolution, it housed the offices of the governor, the secretary of state, and the receiver-general. Eventually the building became a tavern and was gutted in a fire in 1864.

The John Hancock House, Boston

It would have been the shortest of commutes for Massachusetts governors had John Hancock received his wish to make his home into an executive mansion. The 1737 stone building was situated next to the present State House on Beacon Street, on what is now the west lawn.

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Hancock, whose wealthy uncle built the house, lived there during his terms as the Commonwealth’s first and third governors. Though he intended to give it to the state for use as an official governor’s mansion following his death, he died before signing a will.

Despite protests from preservationists, the building was destroyed in 1863 and replaced by brownstones — which were demolished about 50 years later to make way for the State House’s new West Wing. But the allure of Hancock’s property remained. When Gov. Samuel McCall grew interested in the idea of a governor’s mansion in 1917, he recommended to the Legislature that Hancock’s home be reconstructed for the purpose on its original site.