The founding partners of Peabody and Stearns, Robert Swain Peabody (1845-1917) and John Goddard Stearns, Jr. (1843-1917) worked together for an unprecedented forty-five years, creating a body of work that qualified them as one of the most productive and recognized architectural firms of their time.
Robert Peabody grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, where his father, Ephraim Peabody served as pastor at the King’s Chapel for fourteen years. Robert Peabody graduated from Boston Latin High School and was admitted to Harvard University in the Class of 1866. Upon graduation, he worked in the architectural offices of Bryant and Gilman and later at Ware and Van Brunt, where he met his future partner, John Stearns. He studied architecture briefly at MIT, and in May 1867 left for England and the Continent to prepare for admission examinations for the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Two years later, he worked as an intern through the summer of 1869 in the London office of British architect Alfred Waterhouse. He traveled through Europe for the Fall, and returned to Boston in time for “Peabody and Stearns, Architects, 14 Devonshire Street,” to open in May 1870. Peabody was, by all accounts, the design member of the partnership. He met with clients, created thumbnail design sketches for all of the firm’s commissions, and supervised the up to twenty-five employees of the firm. He retired in 1915 due to ill health, and died at his summer home in Marblehead, Massachusetts, in 1917.
John Stearns was born in New York, in 1843. An 1863 engineering graduate of the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard University, he came to the partnership from the position of head draftsman at the prestigious Boston architectural firm of Ware and Van Brunt. He was responsible for the successful execution of the firm’s designs, and ensured that projects were completed on time and on budget. Stearns was an Associate of the American Institute of Architects. He died in Duxbury, Massachusetts, on September 16, 1917, two weeks prior to his partner’s death.
The architectural firm of Peabody and Stearns was succeeded by one of its architects, W. Cornell Appleton, and Stearns’ son, Frank, as Appleton & Stearns.