The modest farmhouse at 1090 Centre Street was originally the home of Jabez Lewis and his relatives, until 1882 when the Adams Nervine Asylum acquired the property. From 1885 to 1917, the Arboretum leased the house to accommodate its first plant propagator, Jackson Dawson, as well as an additional acre of land that it utilized for plant propagation. The Arboretum purchased the house between 1924 and 1927, along with five acres of land subsequently used for nurseries, greenhouses, and other services. The building housed members of the Arboretum staff until 1990, and was last used for temporary office space during the Hunnewell Building renovation in 1993. Harvard University recognizes the structure’s historic value as one of the few remaining Federal-era houses that formerly lined Centre Street in Jamaica Plain (formerly West Roxbury).
The house sits on a Harvard-owned parcel of land used to support the Arboretum’s horticultural operations. These operations fulfill the institution’s responsibility to protect and maintain the historic, Olmsted/Sargent-designed landscape as a defining element of the Arboretum’s National Historic Landmark designation. While Harvard recognizes and understands the Boston Landmarks Commission’s interest in preserving the house, this desire must be balanced with the broader historic preservation goal of maintaining and protecting the Arboretum’s historic landscape. In considering the parcel at 1090 Centre Street, Harvard seeks to balance two public interests—the preservation and maintenance of the Arboretum’s historic Olmsted/Sargent landscape and preservation of the historic house. It is committed to finding an appropriate solution to the long-term stewardship of both resources.
The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University is the oldest public arboretum in North America and one of the world’s leading centers for the study of plants. A unique blend of beloved public landscape and respected research institution, the Arboretum provides and supports world-class research, horticulture, and education programs that foster the understanding, appreciation, and preservation of trees. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and the Arboretum’s first director, Charles Sprague Sargent, the Arnold Arboretum is a National Historic Landmark and one of the best preserved Olmsted landscapes. Harvard provides exemplary care and stewardship of the Arboretum and its horticultural collections, and maintains the landscape—a jewel in Boston’s Emerald Necklace—as a public resource for the citizens of Boston and the more than 200,000 visitors who enjoy the Arboretum each year.