This old, leaning home sits just outside downtown Rockport and is said to be the oldest house in Rockport. The plaque on the house says it was built in 1680 by Joshua Norwood, the son of Caleb. Joshua Norwood (1682-1775) was born in Gloucester nearly 100 years before the United States was a country, but the plaque on the house means the home was built two years before Joshua was born. I would estimate the home was built in the early-mid 1700s. Joshua married Elizabeth Andrews and they had 16 children. The family apparently resided in the northern part of modern-day Rockport, in this small home for some years until it was moved by wooden barge to the current site, when Sandy Bay (downtown Rockport) saw a huge population surge with the harbor in the early 19th century. The tiny half-cape home was added onto once with the entry room at the front, but besides that, it looks much like it would have hundreds of years ago. There are a lot of mysteries about this home, so if anyone knows more, please share!
The iconic Witch House in Salem was the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin (1640–1718) and is the only structure you can visit in Salem with direct ties to the Salem witch trials of 1692. The Post Medieval English house was constructed by Nathaniel Davenport, commander of the fort on Castle Island in Boston from 1645-1665. After he left that post, he moved to Salem and began construction on his house. Jonathan Corwin, a merchant and judge, purchased the unfinished home from Davenport in 1675, he soon after finished construction of the large home. When reports of witchcraft began circulating in Essex County, Corwin was one of the magistrates called on to make preliminary inquiries into the reports. He and John Hathorne, another local magistrate, held hearings in early March 1692 in which testimony was gathered from Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne, the first three women accused of being witches. Corwin presided over all the other cases, which ended after thirty individuals were found guilty, nineteen of whom were executed by hanging (fourteen women and five men). One other man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death for refusing to plead, and at least five people died in jail. The lasting legacy of the Salem Witch Trials still draws thousands every year to Salem to learn more as to how such a terrible set of circumstances could happen. Jonathan Corwin’s grandson George, lived in the house until his death in 1746. His widow, Sarah Corwin “modernized” the old house by replacing the iconic pitched roof with a gambrel roof, more in line with Georgian design, popular at the time. The building underwent more changes when George P. Farrington, a druggist, owned altered the home and added an apothecary shop to the east side front in 1856. The Corwin House was moved back 35 feet in 1945 to allow for the widening of North Street, and at that time, a new pitched roof (a recreation of the original) was put on, restoring the building to its former glory. It has since been owned by the City of Salem, who maintain the property and open the doors as a museum.
On Doe’s Neck (now Moody Point) in Newmarket, NH, a peninsula at the terminus of the Lamprey River where it meets the Great Bay, has long been a highly desired and contested piece of land. Towards the end of the 17th century, the land here was owned by the Doe Family, who built a Garrison House here. The house was used as a defensive structure to protect those living nearby from Native American attack. The Doe family resided here until after the Revolutionary War. The saltbox building was later altered with full-length porches by later owners, to take advantage of water views. By the Great Depression, the garrison house was suffering from severe neglect, but before it was demolished, it was documented as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS).
Samuel Burnham bought an older house on this site, and added to it, creating a larger residence for his family (a common occurrence in early Colonial times). One thing he did keep was a 30-foot well within the building to supply the family drinking water. Interior wells were not common, but very useful on the New England “frontier” where attacks from Native American tribes were more frequent. In the event of an attack in town, a family could close their interior shutters, and wait them out with drinking water from their internal well.
God, I love old New England homes! Could you live in one that is older than the United States?
Valentine Hill emigrated to Boston in 1636 from England with his brother and began a successful career as a merchant and trader. In 1638 Valentine was made a member of the Artillery Company, In 1640 he took the Freeman’s Oath, and in that same year ordained as a Deacon in the Boston Church. In 1641 he was elected a Selectman serving until 1647. In 1643 Valentine received a grant of land at the falls of the Oyster River in what is now Durham, N.H. In 1649, Valentine and an associate got permission to build a saw mill on the river. Additional grants of land included 500 acres for farming. Due to issues with his businesses in Boston, he moved up to present-day Durham to manage his mills and property there. On the property, he employed “seven Scots”, who were indentured servants captured by British forces in the Battle of Dunbar, and among other industries, lumber was milled for use in the shipbuilding industry in surrounding towns. In 1649 Valentine Hill built the original homestead, a single-story house with a basement. In 1699, Nathaniel Hill, son and heir of Valentine, made a two-story addition to the house, giving the home the appearance we see today. After successive owners, the next major period of the property was early in the 1900’s, when James Frost took over the estate, completing the transformation of the grounds and turned into a Colonial Revival summer estate with extensive formal gardens, arbors and an elaborate stone wall. The property remained in the family until the 1980s, but suffered from some neglect. The house was purchased in 1997 and restored to her former glory and is now known as the Three Chimneys Inn. Interestingly, if this home can be dated with dendrochronology (aging the home based on the age of the cut timber), this home would be at least a decade older than the present oldest home in New Hampshire!
The oldest home in Marion, this c.1675 Cape house apparently has interior structural elements dating the home to the earliest colonized days of Sippican Village. The tiny home was built for a member of the Ryder family around 1675, according to the Sippican Historical Society. It was recorded and noted as standing by the 1690s. The home is an example of a three-quarter cape, meaning there are two bays on one side of the front door and one on the other side. During colonial times, for economic reasons, a newly married couple could build a half-cape house with a door, two windows to one side of the door and a single fireplace heating multiple rooms. It was expected that they would expand the house to either a three-quarter house by adding a single window on the other side of the door or doubling the size of the home adding two other bays, all rooms heated by the central chimney.
One of three pre-1725 houses in South Acton, the Faulkner Homestead is the best preserved First Period house in the area and displays elements from its First Period construction date of 1707 and from the later Georgian period. The home was built for Ephraim Jones, who was one of the first millers starting what was to become the Faulkner mills located near the old homestead. The home was known as a Garrison House, built as a refuge for the settlers in times of Indian raids, but there is no record that it was ever used for that purpose. In the 1730s, the home was rented by Ammi R. Faulkner (1692-1756), who purchased it years after he moved in. The Faulkner Homestead remained in the Faulkner Family for over 300 years, when it sold our of the family in the 1940s.
This three-story wood-frame house is one of the oldest buildings in Bristol and the oldest known three-story building in Rhode Island. The home was built by Joseph Reynolds (1679-1759), a patriarch in the Reynolds Family, who later built the Reynolds-DeWolf House I featured previously. The house is five bays wide and three deep with the roof extending lower to the rear, giving the house a classic New England saltbox appearance. Joseph built this house, and also operated a tannery and gristmill on his land. The home is nationally significant as during the ownership of the house by his son Joseph II, Marquis de Lafayette occupied the north parlor chamber. Lafayette was a general in the Continental Army and was responsible for the defense of Bristol and Warren from September 7 to 23, 1778 during failed military operations to drive the British from occupied Newport. The home was added onto and altered in 1790 to give it the current design, with Federal detailing. The home remained in the Reynolds Family until 1930.
One of the oldest extant homes in the country is this home in Beverly, Massachusetts constructed around 1679, one hundred years prior to our country’s founding. John Balch was born in Bridgewater, England in 1579! He and his first wife, Margaret, were part of a group sent to New England by the Dorchester Company to establish a fishing industry. The Dorchester Company first landed in Weymouth in 1623, then moved north to Gloucester in 1624, but the settlement there was not successful. When the company was recalled to England, the Balches, and a small group known as “The Old Planters” stayed in Massachusetts and moved south to Naumkeg, now Salem, in 1626. At this point, modern day Beverly was a part of Salem. John Balch first gained title to the land here through the “Thousand Acre Grant” in 1635 and apparently was living on this property by 1636. His house was small – built a story and a half high – one large hall on the main floor plus a loft upstairs. He chose a site on a hill that looked down on the nearby Bass River, where he had easy access to salt marsh and to his pasture land and orchards. By the 1670s, the home needed to be enlarged and was to the current configuration, later additions were added as housing demands changed. The Balch Family owned the house in to the early 20th century and the home was acquired by William Sumner Appleton, founder of Historic New England (who arguably did more for historic preservation in New England than anyone). He hired Norman Isham, a popular preservation architect, to evaluate the house. After finding original rafters in the attic, he recommended that the back lean-to be ripped off and the southern half of the house be dismantled (see historic photo before restoration). In 1932, the property was gifted to the local historical society, now Historic Beverly who maintain the house to this day.
This stunning house was built in 1694, possibly with structural members from an earlier parsonage, by Beverly’s first minister, Rev. John Hale (1636–1700). Hale is now best remembered for playing a significant part in the infamous Salem witch trials in 1692. Hale’s theory was that demons impersonated the accused and appeared in their forms to the afflicted. He probably most likely changed his views about those executed for “being witches” due to the fact that his own wife (the second one) was accused as being a witch, though never prosecuted. Hale served as the minister of the First Parish Church of Beverly (last post) until his death. This home, just a short walk to his church, was the finest in town at the time. The house featured numerous additions and alterations over its time including the gambrel section added in 1745. The Hale House remained in the family for 12 generations, and was eventually gifted to the local historical society, now known as Historic Beverly in 1935. It now operates as a house museum.