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Massachusetts Governor’s Mansion: A history of why there isn’t one

Last big effort dates from early 1970s and involved massive Back Bay property

A grand, multi-story building along a city sidewalk and behind some trees. Boston Globe via Getty Images

After the pomp and circumstance of his second swearing-in cease on January 3, Governor Charlie Baker will not return to the Massachusetts Governor’s Mansion.

That is because the commonwealth is one of only five states without an official residence for its chief executive and his or her family. It’s not for want of trying.

Efforts to create an official Massachusetts Governor’s Mansion extend back to at least the 1850s, when the owners of the old Hancock Manor on Beacon Street in Boston offered to sell the one-time home of John Hancock to the state. Financial concerns doomed the deal.

It was not until the early 20th century that another serious plan emerged. That one would have had the state buy the old Province House on Marlborough Street (present-day Washington Street)—an appropriate move, given that the property had housed colonial governors before the American Revolution.

Province House needed significant repairs, so financial concerns scotched that plan too. Both Hancock Manor and Province House were demolished by the 1930s besides.

There were three more attempts during the 1900s to site a Massachusetts Governor’s Mansion. One would have made the Georgian mansion at 33 Shirley Street in Roxbury—the Shirley-Eustis House—the official residence. It’s unclear why, but then-Governor Foster Furcolo turned down the idea in 1955.

More than 10 years later, leaders in Dedham voted to offer Massachusetts the 21-acre Endicott Estate off East Street. Governor John Volpe even took title to the 25-room spread and planned to relocate there with his family around Christmastime in 1969.

Then it become clear that the decades-old manse would need upward of $1 million in renovations—a steep tag back then. The Volpe clan never did move in, and the governor himself left office in early 1969 to become U.S. transportation secretary anyway. Massachusetts then gave the Endicott Estate back to Dedham. Thanks, but no thanks.

A final push for a Massachusetts Governor’s Mansion came in the early 1970s. According to Donald Dwight—Massachusetts’ lieutenant governor from 1971 to 1975 and, before that, state commissioner of administration and finance—the commonwealth was offered a large property in Back Bay. That property was very likely the 50-room Ames-Webster Mansion at 306 Dartmouth Street (it’s pictured above).

Like with some previous efforts, however, costs got in the way of plans to turn the mansion into an official gubernatorial residence. Frank Sargent, governor from 1971 to 1975, was particularly vulnerable to any criticism regarding state spending as he had recently proposed a tax increase (and the nation was just coming out of a recession).

Dwight pointed out in 2014 another possible reason for a mansion-less Massachusetts: The vast majority of the commonwealth’s most recent chief executives have hailed from the Boston area or nearby: Sargent (Dover); Michael Dukakis (Brookline); Edward King (Burlington); William Weld (Cambridge); Paul Cellucci (Hudson); Mitt Romney (Belmont); Deval Patrick (Milton); and now Charlie Baker (Swampscott).

Only Jane Swift in the early ‘00s came from western or central Mass. She lived in Williamstown, which is much closer to the New York capital of Albany than to Boston.

Sources not otherwise linked to: Boston Globe; CBS Boston