Historic Building of the Week: the Bartoll Houses

An image of 33 Front St, one of the Bartoll houses. Photo by Marblehead Historical Commission

The title “Historic Building of the Week” is something of a misnomer for this article. Yes, I will still tell you about history, but I will be talking about more than just one building.

As I do every week, I was scouring the Massachusetts Cultural Information System (MACRIS) inventory for an interesting building to write about. As I scrolled through, I noticed something unusual: two houses, back to back on the list, were labeled Bartoll Houses. The first was the Samuel Bartoll House at 33 Front St. and the second was the Capt. John Bartoll House at 31 Front St. Later, I found yet another house labeled the Samuel Bartoll House and Paint Shop. 

In 1757, Elizabeth Shapley sold a plot of land to Capt. John Bartoll on what is now Front St. Around 1760, John built a house, presently 31 Front St., on the northeast section of the land. He rented the house until his death in 1771, after which it was rented out for one more year by his wife Hannah.

John’s son, William, and grandson, Samuel, then inherited the property. William “was awarded this house and land with a passageway leading from Front Street along the northeasterly side of the property to Crocker Park,” according to MACRIS. 

In 1774, the property was divided by the two men. William maintained the house at 33 Front St. and the passage. It is likely at this time that Samuel built 33 Front St., as MACRIS records date the construction of this house later than that of 31 Front Street. In 1807, Samuel built 29 Front St. as a residence and paint shop.

The buildings have changed hands numerous times since John built the first building. The Litchman family owned 33 Front St. from 1881 through 1912. 

Owners of 31 Front St. included Thomas McMaster, mariner, and Mrs. McMaster; Mrs. McMaster’s brother, Richard Besom, truckman; Capt. Richard Martin 3rd, mariner; Franklin Alley, yeoman; the widow of Martin; Charles W. Bartlett and his three sons; and Alvah L. McMullin of Boston. 

In 1815, Samuel granted his house and land to several Marblehead Tuckers, who owned the house until 1867. At some point after 1867, the roof was raised. It now stands as a four-story building.

Though remodeled since their original construction, the houses maintain historic appearances. 33 Front St. is a two-and-a-half story Georgian-style building with a simple streetside elevation indicative of the period. 31 Front St., the smaller building, is a two-and-a-half story half-house that is now connected to 29 Front St, a Federal-style house.

When John first purchased the land in 1757, he probably did not imagine there would one day be three buildings on it – but he probably also did not imagine someone would be writing about his land almost 300 years later.