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Brookline, Massachusetts

The Dutch House

This Dutch-styled residential building was originally a cocoa company's World's Fair showpiece. 

Just past some fairly ordinary single-family houses and apartment blocks sits a building that would look far more at home in a well-preserved section of Amsterdam than it does in its Boston suburb. This is the so-called “Dutch House,” a whimsical, but convincing copy of a 16th century Dutch town hall (the 1591 Franeker Town Hall in Friesland, to be exact), now residing at 20 Netherlands Road in Brookline, Massachusetts.

The Dutch House was built in the United States, but not in Brookline. It hails from Chicago, where it was constructed by the Dutch Van Houten Cocoa Company for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (a.k.a. World’s Fair). Van Houten was an early mover and shaker in the commercial chocolate industry, pioneering a process that employed alkaline salts to create a cocoa that was more soluble in hot water or milk and not too bitter. By the late 19th century, Van Houten’s cocoa business had expanded to the United States, and their Dutch House exhibition hall advertised their wares at the 1893 Chicago fair. Visitors could sample and sip hot cocoa inside, and they could also visit several other rooms done up as a kind of museum of old Dutch interiors and decorative arts. According to a contemporary report, “the whole picturesque interior [was] increased by the costumes of the serving girls, who w[ore] the curious coiffures of the different districts of Holland.” 

One fair visitor, Captain Charles Brooks Appleton of Brookline, Massachusetts, was evidently so enamored with the Dutch House that he bought it from the Van Houten company and had the whole thing dismantled, shipped, and then re-built in Brookline at its present location. As you’ve probably already guessed, Netherlands Road was subsequently named for the house, which is in private hands and undergoing substantial restoration as of 2015.

The Dutch House is one of several 1893 World’s Fair buildings that were transported elsewhere after the fair came to an end and still stand today; these include the Maine State Building, now at the Poland Spring Resort in Maine, the Pabst Pavilion, on view at the Pabst Mansion Museum in Milwaukee, and the Norway building, which was part of Wisconsin’s now-defunct Little Norway museum from the 1930s through 2012 but is presently slated for a return to Big Norway (a.k.a. the actual Norway).

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