Jethro Coffin House // 1686

Here it is… The oldest house in Nantucket! The Jethro Coffin House dates to 1686, and when it was built, Nantucket’s English population totaled several hundred, and the native Wampanoag outnumbered them by at least three to one. The home was built seemingly as a wedding gift from twenty-three-year-old Jethro Coffin (1663–1727) to his new sixteen-year-old wife Mary Gardner (1670–1767). The marriage merged two of the old Nantucket families and was built on Gardner family land out of lumber transported to the island from Exeter, New Hampshire, where Jethro’s father, Peter Coffin, owned timberland and a saw mill. The First Period house has small windows of small panes of glass as the material was shipped from England at high cost. The large central chimney would heat the entire home on cold winter nights. Mary and Jethro sold their Nantucket dwelling to Nathaniel Paddack in 1708 and moved to Mendon, Massachusetts, when Jethro inherited property there. By the late nineteenth century, the house was abandoned (for some time it was used as a barn) and had fallen into disrepair. A Coffin family reunion held on the island in 1881 renewed interest in the property and off-island members of the family bought the old Coffin House. The Nantucket Historical Association acquired the house in 1923, and four years later, Historic New England), commenced an extensive reconstruction in an attempt to return the house to its historic appearance. It remains a location of pride for residents and visitors to the island to this day.

John Palmer House // c.1683

In 1682, John Palmer acquired a small piece of land in Marblehead, soon after building this First Period home. The house is said to have framing timbers made of English walnut, salvaged from a sailing vessel off shore, with one timber formerly a mast and still displaying rope marks. The house was willed to his son after his death, who built a larger home soon after nearby. This house was “modernized” with double-hung windows which likely replaced the smaller, diamond pane casement windows typical in homes of this period.

Atherton Farmstead // c.1840

This beautiful farmhouse in Cavendish, Vermont is located along a winding dirt road and has ties to one of the town’s original family’s. A home was built here in 1785 and changed hands numerously over the first few decades of its existence. The farmhouse that was built also served as a tavern for travellers along the newly laid out Wethersfield Turnpike. It is possible that the cheap land and rural character of the new town was appealing to some, but reality away from true commerce may have made many sell the farm after a few years, which could explain why the property was bought and sold so often early on. The property was purchased by Jonathan Atherton, a Revolutionary War veteran, farmer, surveyor and lawyer, who acquired large landholdings in Cavendish. In 1821, Jonathan Atherton was sued in court by his neighbor, Jedediah Tuttle for beating Tuttle’s wife Lydia. In order to finance the bonds, Atherton mortgaged all his real estate in Cavendish to his brother Joseph, and Elihu Ives, Jonathan Atherton Jr.’s father-in-law. Atherton St. lost the case and had to pay a fine. The property was eventually inherited by Stedman Atherton, the youngest son of Jonathan, who seems to have demolished the old homestead and constructed the present home on the site. The original dwelling was also the childhood home of Henry B. Atherton, a staunch abolitionist and soldier in the American Civil War, who later served as a lawyer and state legislator for New Hampshire, and his sister Eliza (Atherton) Aiken, a Civil War nurse who has been referred to as America’s own “Florence Nightingale”. The old Atherton farmstead was recently renovated.

Folliett Lally House // 1855

One of the most unique homes in the state of Maine has to be this stunner in the small town of Farmingdale. Perched high on a hill overlooking the Kennebec River, the mansion was built in 1855 for Folliett Lally, a wealthy Civil Engineer. In 1842, Lally was hired by the U.S. Government to map out the border between present day Maine and New Brunswick, Canada. The issue arose after the Treaty of 1783 ending the American Revolution had described the northeastern boundary of the new United States, but with unclear boundary descriptions. After the Aroostook War in 1838-9, a cold war between the U.S. and Britain (who controlled New Brunswick), the long-standing controversy was ended with the Webster-Ashburton Treaty (1842). The new boundary was proposed by the King of the Netherlands, a mediator, who granted the U.S. more of the disputed area. We have Folliett Lally to thank for mapping and charting out the present northestern boundary of the United States. Now back to the house. The home was designed by Charles Alexander, a Portland-based architect. The home was sold, likely after Lally’s death, to two men, who converted the it to a double house, with entrances on both side elevations. A brick wall was run through the center of the home separating the house in half. The building was since divided up more and apparently has eight units.

Samuel Jones House and Leg Grave //

Samuel Jones Jr. was born in Hillsboro in 1777. His family was among the first to settle in that town in the 1770s. Jones married Deborah Bradford in 1799, and the couple soon settled in Washington, New Hampshire that next year. Samuel ran a tavern out of the new family house which was built around that time. When he was 27 years old, Jones was helping a friend hoist and move a building on logs, when his leg became was caught and crushed by the building. His friends brought him to his house where he laid on a table awaiting a doctor. This occurred in the days prior to knowledge of anesthesia so his friends and neighbors treated him with whisky or rum. When the leg was removed they decided it should have a “proper burial” so it still rests with its marker in the old cemetery in Washington. Samuel survived the amputation and later moved to Boston, where he worked at the Customs House and later moved to New York where the rest of his body was buried upon his death in 1851.

Israel L. Spencer House // c.1855

The Spencer family emigrated from Braintree, England to America in 1638, with Thomas Spencer settling in Hartford, Connecticut in 1640. Thomas Spencer Jr., the second generation in Connecticut moved to modern-day Suffield in the 1670s. Generations later, Israel L. Spencer (1833-1887) became a businessman and politician, later being employed at the First National Bank in Suffield, continuing the family’s legacy in town. Mr. Spencer had this Italianate house on South Main Street built for him and his family. Israel’s son Charles L. Spencer grew up in the home, later following in his father’s footsteps becoming the president of the local bank. Sadly, the home has seen better days, hopefully it can be restored and maintained in the future!

Old North Church // 1723

One of the most visited buildings in New England is the stunning Old North Church in the North End of Boston. Old North Church (originally Christ Church in the City of Boston) was established when the cramped original King’s Chapel, then a small wooden structure near Boston Common, proved inadequate for the growing number of Anglicans in the former Puritan stronghold. Subscriptions for a new church were invited in 1722. The sea captains, merchants, and artisans who had settled in Boston’s North End contributed generously to the building fund, and construction began in April, 1723. The church was designed by William Price, though heavily influenced by Christopher Wren’s English churches.

Before the American Revolution, both Patriots and Tories were members of the church, and often sat near each-other in pews, clearly adding to bubbling tensions. The enduring fame of the Old North began on the evening of April 18, 1775, when the church sexton, Robert Newman, and Vestryman Capt. John Pulling, Jr. climbed the steeple and held high two lanterns as a signal from Paul Revere that the British were marching to Lexington and Concord by sea across the Charles River and not by land. This fateful event ignited the American Revolution.

A full scale restoration of Old North was carried out in 1912-14 under the direction of architect R. Clipson Sturgis and a number of 19th century alterations were then eliminated. In this work, floor timbers and gallery stairs were replaced, the original arched window in the apse at the east end was replaced, and the old square box pews and raised pulpit were reconstructed. Additionally, the interior woodwork was incorrectly repainted white rather than the rich variety of original colors described in the early documents of the church, clearly submitting to Colonial Revival sensibilities. The iconic white steeple is also not original. The original steeple of the Old North Church was destroyed by the 1804 Snow hurricane. A replacement steeple, designed by Charles Bulfinch, was toppled by a hurricane in 1954. The current steeple uses design elements from the original and the Bulfinch version. Even with all these differences, Old North lives up to her name and stands proudly as a symbol of freedom and revolution.

Arnold Print Works – Mass MoCA // 1872

On a last-minute trip to the Berkshires, I couldn’t help but stop at the recently re-opened Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA) in North Adams. Being a huge nerd for industrial history and repurposed mills and factories, it was an absolute treat to walk through the large brick and steel buildings and wings lined with steel casement windows providing the perfect scenery for some amazing artworks. What is now known as Mass MoCA, – one of the premier art museums in New England – was once Arnold Print Works, a one time world leader in textile manufacturing with offices in New York City and Paris.

The Arnold Print Works were built on the Hoosac River near the center of North Adams. The company was the town’s largest industry during the city’s economic heyday from the Civil War until the early 20th century. The company was founded in 1861 by the John, Oliver, and Harvey Arnold, who began production of printed cloth at an existing cotton mill. At the dawn of the American Civil War, the newly formed company became flush with money due to government contracts for manufacturing Union Army uniforms. The company expanded after the war until a fire destroyed nearly all of the wooden buildings on the site. After the fire, a majority share of the company was purchased by Albert Charles Houghton, who became the first mayor of North Adams, and he oversaw the expansion and prosperity of the company, starting with new buildings of fire-proof construction.

By the early 20th century, many textile and cotton manufacturing shifted to the American South severely crippling the mill’s profits. In 1929, Sprague Electric Company moved to North Adams from Quincy, Massachusetts, and began buying the Arnold Print Works buildings. The print works moved much of its operation to nearby Adams and concentrated on a few particular products in its North Adams plant. The print works was finally sold in 1942 for just $1.9 million dollars, a far departure from its once prosperous past. The plant was shortly thereafter acquired by Sprague Electric Company.

While largely leaving the building exteriors as they were, Sprague made extensive modifications to the interiors to convert the former textile mill into an electronics plant. Sprague physicists, chemists, electrical engineers, and skilled technicians were called upon by the U.S. government during World War II to design and manufacture crucial components of some of its most advanced high-tech weapons systems, including the atomic bomb.

[Outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment, Sprague was a major research and development center, conducting studies on the nature of electricity and semi-conducting materials. After the war, Sprague’s products were used in the launch systems for Gemini moon missions, and by 1966 Sprague employed 4,137 workers in a community of 18,000, existing almost as a city within a city. From the post-war years to the mid-1980s Sprague produced electrical components for the booming consumer electronics market, but competition from lower-priced components produced abroad led to declining sales and, in 1985, the company closed its operations on Marshall Street.] (Mass MoCA History)

The complex sat vacant briefly before the Williams College Museum of Art, led by its director, Thomas Krens—who would later become Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum—advocated for a museum space for contemporary art that would not fit in traditional art galleries. The nearby Arnold Mills seemed like a perfect, yet daunting task to repurpose. Bruner/Cott Architects of Cambridge were hired to repurpose the mills and oversee the massive adaptive reuse project which today totals nearly 300,000 square feet of galleries and art venues.

Three Sisters Lighthouses // 1892

The first lighthouse station for Eastham, known as the Nauset Beach Light Station (nicknamed The Three Sisters), was completed in 1838. The name Nauset, which came from a local Native American tribe, formerly referred to the fifteen-mile stretch of Cape Cod from what is now Brewster almost to modern-day Truro. The lighthouse station actually consisted of a group of three lights atop 15-foot high brick towers located on a bluff looking over the Atlantic. Even though there were three lighthouses, the station was staffed by only one keeper up until 1867, when the position of assistant keeper was added. The assistant lived with the head keeper and his family in the station’s one dwelling (talk about cozy)!. The Lighthouse Board in 1873 noted the inadequacy of these accommodations in a report stating, “The dwelling-house should be enlarged, or a small cottage built for the accommodation of the assistant keeper, as the building now occupied is entirely too small”. Congress allocated $5,000 in 1875 for a keeper’s dwelling at Nauset Beach, which was erected in 1876.

After the relentless Atlantic Ocean brought the three brick towers to the brink of disaster due to the eroding land under them, in 1892, three new towers were constructed thirty feet west of the originals along with a brick oil house. The replacements were constructed of wood so they could be readily moved if the need occurred again. By 1911, it was determined that there was a need for only one lighthouse (as three could get confusing), and two of the three lighthouses were auctioned off, the third was attached to the keeper’s house. The two towers (minus their lanterns) were sold in 1918 to the Cummings family of Eastham for $3.50. The family moved the two towers to a nearby location and joined them together as a summer cottage called “The Towers” on Cable Road. In 1923, the smaller wooden lighthouse was retired and replaced with the current Nauset Light. In 1983 after much uncertainty as to their future, the National Park Service united the Three Sisters in a park, just west of their original location for history geeks like us to enjoy!

Peregrine White House // 1663

This first-period saltbox house was built for (and likely by) Peregrine White (1620-1704), who is known as the first child Pilgrim born in America as his mother gave birth to him on the ship the Mayflower. William White and his wife Susanna are believed to have boarded the Mayflower as part of the London merchant group, and not as members of the Leiden Holland religious movement. The Mayflower departed Plymouth, England in September of 1620. The small, 100-foot ship had 102 passengers and a crew of about 30-40 in extremely cramped conditions. By the second month out, the ship was buffeted by strong winds, causing the ship’s timbers to be badly shaken with caulking failing to keep out sea water, and with passengers, lying wet and ill. This, combined with a lack of proper rations and unsanitary conditions for several months, attributed to months of despair and uncertainty. On the way there were two deaths, a crew member and a passenger, but the worst was yet to come after arriving at their destination when, in the space of several months, almost half the passengers perished in cold, harsh, unfamiliar New England winter.

As an adult, Peregrine settled in what is today known as Marshfield, MA, and he was active in the local church and served as a deputy of the town. He and his family lived in this home which was later altered with larger windows and Georgian detailing. The remainder of the home’s history is somewhat unclear, but by 1947, the home was apparently moved by a Robert C. Leggett in three pieces to Tremont Street in Braintree, MA. The reason is not clear as well, but it likely was to save the structure from demolition. It is unclear how much of the original house from White is left and how much was added over the years.