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Danvers State Hospital N.J. Bradlee John Gray

When viewing images or reading about the former Danvers State Hospital, we tend to overlook the most important piece in its history and architectural beauty. The architect and designer himself, Nathaniel J. Bradlee. Mr. Bradlee designed Danvers as far back as 1866 which was based on his unbuilt 1867 plan for an insane asylum in Winthrop.

Nathaniel Jeremiah Bradlee was born in Boston on June 1, 1829, the seventh child of hardware merchant Samuel Bradlee and Elizabeth Williams Bradlee. Nathaniel received his formal education at the well-known Chauncy Hall School. He graduated in 1846 and at the age of seventeen, Bradlee entered the office of architect and engineer George Minot Dexter from whom he learned engineering and draftsmanship. When Dexter retired in 1852 Bradlee inherited the firm along with its roster of clients.  


He served on numerous boards of directors of New England banks, insurance companies, and railroads. Bradlee would publish A History of the Introduction of Pure Water into the City of Boston (Boston: Alfred Mudge & Son, 1868). In 1872 Bradlee made Walter T. Winslow (1843-1909) his partner in the firm. Winslow had joined Bradlee's office as a draftsman in 1861, before taking a five-year leave during which time he studied in Paris. Another draftsman, George Homans Wetherell, who had first joined the firm in 1872, was promoted to partner in 1884.

Additional draftsmen who worked for Bradlee were: Louis Weissbein (c.1856); Henry, P. Hall (c.1856-64); Williams S. Park (c.1865); Albert E. Swasey, Jr. (c.1865-66), Edward Delano Lindsey (1865-67) and James F. Ells (c. 1875-1878) who supervised the Danvers project. Bradlee was one of nine founding members of the Boston Society of Architects, hosting their first meeting from his own office at Pemberton Square on May 15, 1867.


The devastation from the Great Fire of 1872 spurred a sudden influx of work for the firm, which received fourteen commissions on the morning after the fire alone. Bradlee would work on about sixty projects in the ensuing two years, many of which involved reconstructing buildings he had first designed in the 1850s and 1860s. Bradlee was active in civic affairs as well as business, serving as president of the Boston Water Board, running two unsuccessful mayoral campaigns.

In 1886, at the age of fifty seven , Bradlee retired from active architectural practice. At this time he began listing his business address as 87 Milk Street. His architectural firm, however continued to go by the name it had held which was Bradlee, Winslow & Wetherell.


Nathaniel J Bradlee's thirty three year career in architectural design was involved in over five hundred projects for the Boston and surrounding areas. His work included stores and commercial buildings, houses, churches, factories, banks, government buildings, hospitals, hotels, libraries, schools, barns and railroad buildings.


Nathaniel married Julia Rebecca Weld on April 17, 1856. In 1881, following the death of Julia, Bradlee married Anna M. Vose on December 29th, the family's housekeeper of many years. They occupied a townhouse at 660 Tremont Street, a fashionable address in the South End, until 1871 when they moved to a Greek Revival mansion at 65 Highland Street, in Roxbury Highlands (the Alvah Kittredge house, built c.1836). The Bradlee's had five children, three of whom survived childhood:

  1. Joseph Williams, January 20,1858- October 1, 1858 (8 months, 11 days) 

  2. Caroline Louisa, May 11, 1860-July 23, 1860 (2 months and 12 days) 

  3. Elizabeth Lydia (Mrs. Albert W. Childs of Kansas City, Missouri), June 21, 1862-1912 

  4. Eleanor Collamore (Mrs. Robert Weld of New York City)  April 13, 1867-July 15, 1928 

  5. Helen Curtis (Mrs. Alfred P. Emmons of Brookline, Massachusetts) August 3, 1875-1930


In the early morning of December 17, 1888 Nathaniel and a friend he took the morning train on the Fitchburg Railroad to attend to a matter of business in Bellows Falls, VT. An hour and a half afterward, as the train neared Leominster, Bradlee died, With the exception of Elizabeth who is buried in Missouri and Helen (unknown), all are buried in the family plot in Mount Auburn Cemetery Cambridge, MA. 

©John Gray

Nathaniel J. Bradlee
Nathaniel J. Bradlee
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