Charles Monroe Baker, Taunton’s “Architect of Big Buildings”
Eric B. Schultz
In 1864, Timothy Crowell Baker (1838–1925) arrived in the newly-minted city of Taunton, seeking work as a tinsmith. It was a good time and place for his occupation, as the Taunton stove industry was flourishing. Residents of the Old Colony, along with Americans everywhere, were enthusiastically trading their open hearths for cozier homes and stove-top cooking.
A native of South Yarmouth, T. C. (or “Tin Can”) Baker found lodging in a rooming house at 39 Cohannet Street operated by John and Abby Jenkins. The Jenkins were also recent transplants to Taunton. John was a son of Nantucket who had traded the hard life of a mariner for shoemaking in Middleboro before purchasing the Cohannet Street property.
More important to our story, however, was that John and Abby had a daughter named Rebecca, an 1862 graduate of Middleboro’s Peirce Academy. Educated and pretty, Rebecca was helping her parents run the boarding house, undoubtedly — given the clientele — under their watchful eyes.
Timothy soon found employment with Isaac B. Briggs. Retailer “I. B. Briggs” sold stoves and furnaces and provided roofing and other specialty tin work from a storefront located at 42 and 44 Main Street. The match was perfect. Baker and Briggs would work together for much of four decades, even helping to build the copper-clad roof on the Superior Courthouse during its construction in 1894.
Timothy had more on his mind than tin smithing, however. On 29 November 1866, 28-year-old Baker married 22-year-old Rebecca. Planting roots in Taunton, the couple would have two sons, William and Charles.
William Cox Baker (1869–1948) attended Taunton schools and took a job at graduation selling for Reed and Barton. Handsome and charming, he was a born salesman and loquacious enough to earn the nickname “Windy Bill.” His outgoing personality translated to selling success, with a special skill at placing Reed & Barton dining ware in high-end New York hotels. William would work for almost forty years for Reed & Barton, departing at the start of the Great Depression to launch a second career as an entrepreneur — a career in which his younger brother would play a part.
Charles Monroe Baker (1873–1942), Architect
William’s younger brother, Charles, was a serious scholar who also graduated from Taunton schools and then trained at M.I.T. as an architect. His first job was a two-year stint as a draftsman for the government in Washington, D.C. Over nearly a half-century, he would become one of the Old Colony’s best-known building designers, what his obituary called an “Architect of Big Buildings.”
Returning to Taunton from Washington, Charles married Alace Howard Church of New Bedford in September 1900. The couple moved to Framingham, which would become their permanent home. Charles and Alace never had children, but “Uncle Charlie” was a regular correspondent with his four Taunton nephews — William’s sons — and would delight the family with letters full of little sketches and miniature drawings.
“Baker was part of a new generation of well-trained, professional Boston architects,” architectural historian Kate Matison writes. “He became prominent in Framingham’s civic and business affairs, and his forceful personality made him a leading and successful advocate of historic preservation in the Town. Incidentally,” she adds, “Charles Baker worked with Wallace Nutting,” another Framingham resident and “a renowned colonial revival enthusiast, antiquarian, photographer, furniture maker and much more.”
In 1907, Charles and Alace purchased the house at 121 Edgell Road in Framingham Center. Built in 1830, the home was redesigned by Charles in what architect Joseph Everett Chandler praised as livable, modern, and the “essence of Colonial work.” The Baker’s home was featured in the August 1917 edition of The House Beautiful and still stands today.
The following year, Baker updated the John Johnson House at 49 Lynbrook Road in Southborough to create “a lavish Federal-Revival ‘gentleman’s farm’ and country estate” for the granddaughter of Chicago retailer Marshall Field and her husband. In 1920, he tackled another summer retreat, this one seaside in Magnolia, Massachusetts, for William Coolidge. A striking, Tudor-style home, Baker’s creation was occupied in the summers by the Coolidge family until 1944, when it became an assisted living facility.
As Charles Baker’s obituary suggests, much of his legacy stands throughout eastern Massachusetts in the form of enormous buildings. In 1912, he designed Natick High School at 13 East Central in the colonial revival style. The building would later undergo a redesign and is today Natick’s town hall.
In 1913, he redesigned Framingham’s Village Hall (designed initially by Solomon Willard, architect of the Bunker Hill Monument) and donated time and talent to its restoration after it was damaged by fire in the 1920s. Today, the first-floor common room has been named in his honor, a tribute “to Baker’s vision and foresight.” In 2022, Massachusetts governor Charles D. Baker, Jr. visited Framingham, having a little fun in the newly renovated (with elevator and ADA accessibility) Charles M. Baker common room.
Charles’s 1916 high-style, colonial brick revival, the Jonathan Maynard School at 14 Vernon Street, today houses Framingham State University’s Danforth Museum. In 1923, he designed the John D. Hardy Elementary School, 293 Weston Road, in Wellesley, adding three additional classrooms in 1925 to keep pace with the town’s swelling population. In 2023, the school will have served continuously as an elementary school for a century, Wellesley’s oldest schoolhouse still in use.
Nearly a dozen of Baker’s other designs still stand, including the Southborough Community House, 28 Main Street (1921/2), the Theodore Roosevelt Grammar School, Melrose (1924), the Southborough Fire Station, 5 Main Street (1927, now pizza and retail), the Peters High School Annex, 19 Main Street, Southborough (1929/30), and the Wayland Town High School, 21 Cochituate Road, Wayland (1935/5, now town offices).
Most impressive, however, might be Charles Baker’s 1926 design of First Parish Church in Framingham, its façade styled after London’s St. Martin-in-the-Fields and its interior modeled after a Georgian colonial meeting house. First Parish is home today to an active congregation as it stands watch gracefully over the town’s common.
A Near-Miss in Taunton
Despite being a Taunton native, Charles designed only one “big building” in the Old Colony. In 1916, he teamed with Stanley B. Parker to design the North Easton Grammar School, 115 Main Street. A brick and cast stone Georgian Revival, the school was paid for by Mary Shreve Ames, Frederick Lothrop Ames, and John Stanley Ames in memory of their parents, Frederick Lothrop Ames and Rebecca Caroline Ames. The building was presented as a gift to the Town of Easton and remains a significant architectural landmark on North Easton’s Main Street.
Baker and Parker also designed the tennis court building at Frederick Lothrop Ames’s Langwater estate in North Easton in 1918.
Charles’s father, Timothy, never had the satisfaction of placing a roof on one of his son’s designs as he had on the Bristol County Superior Courthouse in 1894. However, he came close.
In 1902, Bristol County commissioners accepted design bids for a new registry of probate building, to be constructed in Taunton for not more than $100,000. Four architects submitted plans: Nat C. Smith of New Bedford, Gustavus L. Smith of Taunton (who had designed the Leonard School on West Britannia Street in Taunton in 1888), Louis G. Destremps of Fall River, and Charles Monroe Baker of Taunton.
A review of the submissions noted that Baker “leaves not a single detail lacking in his plans. The vaults and toilet rooms; the directness of plans and the small area devoted to corridors; the large, well-lighted probate and file rooms; the spacious suite devoted to the judge . . . the convenience of the clerks to records; the available shelving; space of record rooms; light provided for all work rooms, etc.”
Apparently, this attention to detail wasn’t enough, nor were the efforts of any of the other three initial bidders. The new Bristol Country Registry of Deeds, located at 11 Court Street, was completed in 1904. The final design was awarded to Albion M. Marble of Fall River, who emerged later to beat the original four applicants.
P.S. — In Small Things Remembered
In the early 1930s, the architect of big buildings was contacted by his brother, William, who had recently resigned from Reed & Barton. William had acquired land in West Dennis where he proposed building a summer colony of 12 tiny cottages. He asked his brother to help. Charles designed a dozen distinctive, charming cottages for what would become Toy Village. Thanks to the efforts of Timothy and Rebecca’s sons, Toy Village became a success that fed and clothed the Baker clan during the Great Depression and beyond. Summer guests from Framingham who vacationed there each year would tell the William Baker family stories about how wonderful Uncle Charlie and Alace were to their town.
Charles Baker died in 1942. Alace passed away in 1962. They are buried together in Framingham’s lovely Edgell Cemetery, not far from their beloved home nor far from some of the big, beautiful buildings for which Charles is so fondly remembered.
 Kate Matison, “Jonathan Maynard School (1916), Framingham,” 16 April 2009, Web September 26, 2022, https://ktmatison.wordpress.com/tag/charles-m-baker/.
 Chandler, The Colonial House, 1916.
 2022 Village on the Common, villagehallonthecommon.org.
 Email and picture from Kathy Hauck, Rental Coordinator, Village Hall on the Common, Framingham
 Massachusetts Historical Commission, WEL.1505.
 History Blog, First Parish in Framingham Unitarian Universalist, Web September 27, 2022, https://www.uuframingham.org/about-us/history/history-blog/.
 “Final Report, Ames Historic District Expansion, May 22, 2013, submitted by the Town of Easton Historical Commission to the Massachusetts Historical Commission,” Melanie Deware, Chair.
 “Fall River Architects Submit Plans for New Edifice in Taunton,” Fall River Daily Evening News, 17 June 1902.
 “Bristol County Courthouse Complex,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bristol_County_Courthouse_Complex.