Planning the Future of Donald McKay’s House

Planning the Future of Donald McKay’s House

Historic Boston is working with the East Boston Museum and Historical Society and the East Boston Community Development Corporation to undertake a preservation and re-use feasibility study for restoration and re-use of Donald McKay’s House for museum and other public uses.  Thanks to the City of Boston’s CPA program, the CDC and Museum were recently granted historic preservation funds to acquire the house from its long-time owner, Ralph Vertuccio.  

Donald McKay (1810-1880) is a legend in maritime history as builder of the fastest clipper ships on the world’s oceans in the 19th century, but no place is prouder of his achievements than the neighborhood of East Boston, where McKay lived and on whose harbor’s edge he built his great ships.  

McKay built his Greek Revival period house at the top of East Boston’s Eagle Hill in 1844 and lived there until he retired to Hamilton, Massachusetts in 1869.  McKay’s shipyard on the East Boston waterfront produced more than 60 ships of various types, including the iconic Flying Cloud and Sovereign of the Seas, the latter of which was clocked as the fastest sailing ship ever built.  

Much of the first floor’s interior is authentic to the 19th century, and while the exterior of the house has experienced some changes, in form and detail, it retains much of its original character.  Over the years, a wrap-around porch has been removed and the building’s wood clapboards covered with asphalt shingles.  The site also includes a barn structure.

The house also reflects East Boston’s strong associations with immigration. Owned by the Vertuccio family for nearly 80 years, it is a place from which to interpret the story of the 20th century Italian immigration through to today’s fast-growing Central and South American community.  McKay, also an immigrant, was born and brought up in Nova Scotia.  

To learn more about the McKay House, read the Boston Landmarks Commission’s 1977 study report for the site’s designation as a Boston Landmark.  Stay tuned for more on the future of the historic East Boston house.