At a time when attorneys are flocking to sleek high rise buildings with prestigious addresses in reborn city centers, few would have opted for a rotting, deserted structure tucked away in an alley. Yet, that’s precisely what happened in the heart of historic Boston.
In 1976, the law firm of Swartz & Swartz, P.C. rediscovered The Hancock House, which is the oldest brick building in the city. It was neglected, unoccupied and in danger of becoming permanently lost in a city heavy with wrecker balls and renewal.
If John Hancock strolled down the narrow, cobblestone street today to visit his tenant and youngest brother Ebenezer, he’d find much of the house as it existed over 300 years ago. He would relish the unchanged imported handmade English bricks, the axe hewn beams, the hand-wrought iron door hinges and window latches, and the warmth of the working fireplaces. And, he’d nod approvingly at the tasteful renovation.
Even before the famous signer of the Declaration of Independence owned this property, it had experienced a long and colorful life. The first Town Crier of Boston, William Courser, lived on this spot in 1660 and later, in 1737, James Davenport, the brother-in-law of Benjamin Franklin, called 10 Marshall St home.
Hancock inherited the property, along with many other holdings, in 1764 from his uncle Thomas Hancock who died that same year. Since John preferred the Hancock Mansion on Beacon Hill, he never lived at this address. Instead, the house was occupied by his “n’er-do-well” brother, Ebenezer. After John used his political clout to get Ebenezer a government commission as a deputy paymaster to the Continental Army, with a salary of $50 a month, Ebenezer used 10 Marshall St as his residence and his business address. But Ebenezer had little to do until after Benjamin Franklin negotiated a “lend-lease” agreement with the French Court of Louis XVI that secured financial assistance for the revolutionary government. This simple house took on a new importance, as did Ebenezer, when two million silver crowns were transferred from a French brig by Court d’Estaning to the Marshall Street residence. Armed soldiers ringed the building to protect the cache as ragged militiamen trouped inside in single file to collect long overdue pay from Ebenezer.
After the revolution, in 1785, the house became the property of Ebenezer Frothingham, a china and glass merchant who kept a shop on the ground floor. In 1796, Benjamin Fuller, the first of a series of shoe merchants, began selling boots and shoes on this site. In 1821, William H. Leonard took over the shop. The shoe business was carried on by George H. Tarbox until as recently as 1963.
Only through foresight and laborious negotiations was this fine building saved from the fate of the Hancock Mansion on Beacon Hill, which was razed for the want of 3 votes on the Great and General Court.
Edward Swartz personally supervised the careful and loving restoration of this fine building, owned and occupied by the brothers Hancock, over a 2 1/2 year period. Some consider it the most important Georgian residential interior, dating from the mid-18th Century, remaining in the city. Not only was the original structure restored, but also a tasteful and architecturally complementary three-story addition was added to the back of the building to provide additional offices for the law firm. This visible historical site, also a practical law office, is a unique combination of the antique and modern living together in graceful harmony.
Stepping into the law offices transports the visitor into another time and place that belies the hectic pace one finds just outside the door. A Grandfather clock tolls the hours and authentic furnishings bid welcome.
Conference rooms and offices for the firm occupy some of the original rooms and testify to the house’s past with fine handmade paneling, wide board floors, working fireplaces, and furnishings selected to recreate the Hancock decades.
And, the atmosphere is in concert with the consumer-oriented advocacy that reigns at Swartz & Swartz, P.C., a firm that often champions cases that others refuse to tackle. The dedicated and purposeful attorneys, who have earned a national reputation as leaders in civil litigation, have cared for the property with the same diligence with which they seek precedents in their products liability, personal injury, medical malpractice, and other civil litigation cases. They succeeded in turning a decrepit, forgotten, and all but unsalvageable building into a historical monument that generations more can enjoy.
The John and Ebenezer Hancock House has been declared a national historical landmark by the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the United States Department of the Interior.
To learn more about the legal practice of Swartz & Swartz, P.C. and the historic building we occupy, call (617) 742-1900, or toll-free at 1-800-545-3732. You can also contact us by filling out our online form. We will forward your question to the appropriate member of our staff.