JP History: John Hancock’s stairs transcend Jamaica Pond

January 18, 2013
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(Gazette Photo by Peter Shanley) The Hancock stairs at Jamaica Pond Park.

Walk or run too fast around the thumb of Jamaica Pond and you’ll likely miss a piece of history.

There on the northeastern side, tucked into the slope of a promontory, lies a series of steps that John Hancock, a famous signer of the Declaration of Independence and first governor of Massachusetts, once climbed at his residence on Beacon Hill.

“Jamaica Plain has a long history and walking up and down the same steps as John Hancock is a direct and personal connection with American history,” said Margaret Dyson, director of historic parks at the Boston Parks and Recreation Department.

According to the Jamaica Plain Historical Society website (iphs.org), the steps were brought to the pond in 1864 after Hancock’s mansion was demolished on Beacon Hill. The steps were installed and allowed easy access to the pond for residents of the Pinebank mansion, which sat atop of the promontory.

The stairs are made of sandstone and have the inscription “From the Terrace of the John Hancock Mansion” etched into them.

The Pinebank mansion had its own unique history. The first mansion was built by the wealthy Perkins family, for whom the nearby street is named, in 1806 before being demolished for a fancier version in 1848. That one burned down in 1868 with a third version erected in 1870.

Older JP residents will remember that decayed mansion was torn down amid controversy in 2007. In its place is a granite outline of the building, a low brick wall and an area that the public can use.

The Hancock stairs remained and were refurbished in 2008, according to Dyson. She said the original stairs brought people only partially up the promontory, so a short flight of stairs was added.

“The steps were designed to be sympathetic to the historic steps, but distinct from them, offset by a landing and a slightly different material,” said Dyson. “A handrail was added to facilitate access, but the railings were carefully designed to be offset from the historic material.”