1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bulfinch, Charles

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BULFINCH, CHARLES (1763–1844), American architect, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on the 8th of August 1763, the son of Thomas Bulfinch, a prominent and wealthy physician. He was educated at the Boston Latin school and at Harvard, where he graduated in 1781, and after several years of travel and study in Europe, settled in 1787 in Boston, where he was the first to practise as a professional architect. Among his early works were the old Federal Street theatre (1793), the first play-house in New England, and the “new” State House (1798). For more than twenty-five years he was the most active architect in Boston, and at the same time took a leading part in the public life of the city. As chairman of the board of selectmen for twenty-one years (1797–1818), an important position which made him practically chief magistrate, he exerted a strong influence in modernizing Boston, in providing for new systems of drainage and street-lighting, in reorganizing the police and fire departments, and in straightening and widening the streets. He was one of the promoters in 1787 of the voyage of the ship “Columbia,” which under command of Captain Robert Gray (1755–1806) was the first to carry the American flag round the world. In 1818 Bulfinch succeeded B. H. Latrobe (1764–1820) as architect of the National Capitol at Washington. He completed the unfinished wings and central portion, constructing the rotunda from plans of his own after suggestions of his predecessor, and designed the new western approach and portico. In 1830 he returned to Boston, where he died on the 15th of April 1844. Bulfinch’s work was marked by sincerity, simplicity, refinement of taste and an entire freedom from affectation, and it greatly influenced American architecture in the early formative period. His son, Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch (1809–1870), was a well-known Unitarian clergyman and author.

See The Life and Letters of Charles Bulfinch (Boston, 1896), edited by his grand-daughter, and “The Architects of the American Capitol,” by James Q. Howard, in The International Review, vol. i. (New York, 1874).