The architectural firm of Peabody and Stearns, Boston, was active from 1870 until 1917. Over one thousand commissions for buildings of every type passed over their drafting tables, qualifying them as one of the most prolific architectural firms of the period. One might reasonably ask how this firm that was so well recognized in their own time—building alongside H.H. Richardson, McKim, Mead & White, and Richard Morris Hunt—is so little known in ours?
Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that compared with their more celebrated contemporaries, Peabody and Stearns designed a limited number of major public buildings. Of the forty or so libraries, museums, town halls, hotels and banks that they did complete, relatively few remain standing. The Boston and Providence Railroad Station at Park Street in Boston, completed in their first year of business, was torn down in 1925. The Mechanics Building and the Massachusetts Pavilion created for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago were predestined for destruction. Many of the firm’s innovative or influential commercial buildings have been demolished or altered beyond recognition. As a result, their buildings are not seen on a daily basis, as are McKim’s Boston Public Library or Richardson’s Trinity Church, and the name of Peabody and Stearns has been to a large extent forgotten.
The reputation and enduring value of Peabody and Stearns rests on the large number of residential designs completed in the forty-five years of their active involvement in the architectural firm, as well as on the firm’s role as a training ground for young draftsmen and architects. Arthur Little, Henry Ives Cobb, Edmund Wheelwright and William Barry are among those who once worked for Peabody and Stearns. Perhaps the partners’ legacy lies as much in the building of the next generation of architects as it does on the bricks and mortar of Boston’s Back Bay.