Jabez Fitch House // 1725

Portsmouth, New Hampshire is one of the most charming towns in New England to explore by foot, largely due to its walkable network of streets and tight blocks filled with preserved Revolution-era homes. Like many other cities all over the region (and nation), Portsmouth was hit by Urban Renewal, a planning tool used nationwide to provide Federal funds to address “urban blight” and revitalize downtown cores after decades of suburbanization and loss of tax revenue. An urban renewal district for Portsmouth was its North End neighborhood, which similar to Boston’s, was home to a vibrant Italian-American population.

In 1964, federal funds were allocated to the North End project area in Portsmouth, for urban renewal. Prior to redevelopment, the North End was a mix of residential and commercial buildings, with many older houses converted into storefronts with apartments above. In the mid-1960s, the area was considered overcrowded, run down, and a fire hazard. As a result, the Portsmouth Housing Authority proposed the destruction of approximately 200 buildings, a school, and a church and redevelopment for commercial, industrial, and public use, rather than for residences. The project would displace approximately 300 families as a result. In 1968, Portsmouth Preservation Inc., a preservation organization was formed to attempt to save some of the historic building stock in the area slated for redevelopment. After bitter fighting and preservation advocacy, just fourteen houses were saved and mostly moved to an area known today as “The Hill”. This building is one of them. It was constructed around 1725 for Rev. Jabez Fitch, the new minister of the North Church in town. Fitch graduated from Harvard College in 1694 first settling in Ipswich, MA, before becoming minister of the North Church in 1724, a position he held until his death in 1746. The house was one of the few in the urban renewal area to not have been moved.

Keeler Tavern // 1713

Around the year 1713, Benjamin Hoyt built a home for himself and his family on Lot 2 of the laid out building lots along Main Street of Ridgefield CT. The building was originally a one room dwelling with a stone fireplace and no basement and was located next to the David Hoyt mansion (aka The Fountain Inn). After several years, he expanded the property by building around and above the structure, to give it the gambrel roof and size we see today. More than 50 years later, in 1769, the property was purchased by Hoyt’s son-in-law, Timothy Keeler. Timothy Keeler and his wife converted the building into an inn in 1772, just prior to the beginning of the American Revolutionary War. Keeler sided with the American revolutionaries and was active in the local militia. After the Battle of Ridgefield, British forces fired on the Keeler Tavern, because Keeler was an enemy. One of the cannons used to pummel the tavern is still lodged in a corner post of the house to this day. After later owners in the Keeler Family, the property was purchased by world-renowned architect Cass Gilbert, who turned it into his family’s summer home in 1907. In doing so, he made various improvements and additions to the building, in particular he designed a Garden House and added a sunken around the year 1910. Gilbert would also design a fountain as a gift to the town, which sits almost opposite his family’s summer residence. The property was purchased in the 1960s and has since been a historical museum.

The Fountain Inn // 1740

Located on Main Street in idyllic Ridgefield, in Fairfield County, Connecticut, The Fountain Inn provides one of the most welcoming and historical bed and breakfast experiences in New England! The Fountain Inn was built in 1740 as a “city home in the country” for David Hoyt, who showed off his wealth and stature in the young town by having such a high-style home built at the time. Decades later during the Revolutionary War, David Hoyt’s house became a part of the Battle of Ridgefield. After defeating the Colonial militia elsewhere on Main Street, British Gen. William Tryon‘s troops turned their attention to nearby Keeler Tavern, the local militia’s headquarters, which just happened to be neighbors with the mansion owned by David Hoyt, a known Loyalist. General Tryon’s troops practiced their artillery-firing skills on the building pummeling it with cannonballs, sending a message to the head of the local militia. David Hoyt formally demanded a cease-fire, as he was concerned about wayward cannonballs damaging his home. By 1790, with Ridgefield’s British influence diminishing by the day, David Hoyt finally left his Connecticut home and sailed back to England. The home was expanded and modernized over the next two hundred years until the present owners purchased the property and underwent a massive restoration of the Colonial house inside and out as their family residence. In the past year, the inn opened as the Fountain Inn so-named after a Cass Gilbert-designed fountain across the street.

Touro Synagogue // 1763

While Newport is arguably best-known for the Newport mansions from the Gilded Age, there are soooo many amazing buildings from the Colonial era, including some of the most significant and historic in the United States. Touro Synagogue in Newport is the oldest synagogue building still standing in the United States, the only surviving synagogue building in the U.S. dating to the colonial era, and the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue building in North America (for reference, second-oldest extant synagogue in North America was built in 1833, seventy years later)! Its history begins in the 17th century when the small but growing colony of Newport received its first Jewish residents possibly as early as 1658. The earliest known Jewish settlers arrived from Barbados, where they participated in the triangular trade along with Dutch and English settlements. By 1758, the Jewish population had grown sufficiently that there was a need for a house of worship. The Congregation now known as Congregation Jeshuat Israel (Salvation of Israel) engaged Newport resident Peter Harrison to design the synagogue. Harrison, a British American merchant and sea captain, who was self-tutored in architecture, studying mostly from books and drawings. By the time he designed Touro Synagogue, he had already completed iconic buildings including Newport’s Redwood Library and King’s Chapel in Boston. Construction began on the “Jews Synagogue” in 1759, which was completed years later in 1763. The building is one of the most significant buildings in America, and is open to tours where you can see the immaculately restored interiors.

John Sullivan House // 1740

John Sullivan was born in nearby Somersworth, and studied law. He settled in Durham to practice law in 1763, and purchased this house in 1763 (it was built in 1740 by Reverend Hugh Adams). It served as his home for the rest of his life, and is buried in the family cemetery nearby. Sullivan was a vocal opponent of British rule in the colonies, and was elected to the First Continental Congress in 1774. In December of that year he led a raid on Fort William and Mary in which the colonial militia seized munitions stored there. He was appointed a brigadier general in the Continental Army in 1775, and served through the American Revolutionary War. He participated in the Siege of Boston, and was captured by the British in the 1776 Battle of Long Island. After being exchanged, he served in the Battle of Trenton, the Philadelphia campaign of 1777, the failed attempt to recapture Newport, Rhode Island, and the 1779 Sullivan Expedition, in which the Iroquois, who had largely sided with the British, were driven from upstate New York. Sullivan’s actions and barbed personality made him enemies in Congress, and he resigned from the army late in 1779. He returned to New Hampshire, where he served as Attorney General 1782-86, and as President (the office now known as Governor) 1787-89. He chaired the state convention that ratified the United States Constitution. His home was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1972, the most prestigious designation (more than listing on National Register of Historic Places). I encourage everyone to read his Wikipedia page, he was a fascinating and polarizing early Revolutionary, that I personally did not know about until researching.

Burnham House // c.1682

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?

John Carter House // c.1765

The simplicity and proportions of old Georgian houses are just so pleasing to me. This c.1765 home was built before the United States of America was even a country, a fact that always boggles my mind when doing research on buildings. These four walls have survived numerous wars, pandemics, families, and storms, and will continue to do so for (hopefully) hundreds of more years in the future. This Canterbury house was built for John Carter (1708-1776) and his family, which included a wife and over 10 children in all. The house retains its double-width doors, 12-over-12 windows, central chimney (though likely reduced in size), and stone foundation.

Loring-Greenough House // 1760

One of the oldest and most significant homes in Boston is the Loring-Greenough House on South Street in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood. The house was constructed in 1760 for Joshua Loring (1716-1781), a Commodore in the English Colonial naval forces, who sought retirement from military service at this house on the outskirts of Boston. His life as a distinguished member of the Colonial gentry came to an abrupt end with the bitter factionalism of the incipient Revolution, made worse by the fact he was appointed as a member of the governor’s council by Governor Thomas Gage, a position which made him so unpopular that he was reportedly attacked by mobs. A popular story recounts that, asked by an old friend what he would do when faced by a choice between remaining loyal and supporting the popular spirit of revolt, Loring replied “I have always eaten the King’s bread, and always intend to.” Immediately after taking this position as a Loyalist and aligning with the King of England, Loring was forced to flee, with his family, to the safety British-occupied Boston. He was denounced by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress as “an implacable enemy to their country” and later fled to Nova Scotia, before living out the rest of his life in England, where he received a royal pension until his death. The Loring property in Jamaica Plain was quickly taken by Revolutionary forces and was used as a hospital during the siege of Boston. After the Revolutionary War, the property was confiscated by the state in 1779 and sold at auction to private owners.

Anne Doane, a wealthy forty-year-old widow, bought the Loring estate in 1784, in anticipation of her marriage to lawyer David Stoddard Greenough (1752 – 1826). Four generations of their descendants lived in the house until 1924, when the house and the small surviving plot of land on which it stands was purchased by the Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club, saving it from demolition. The members, all women, were following the example of earlier ladies’ associations, which had saved and begun to restore such historic sites as Mount Vernon and Monticello. The Loring–Greenough property is still owned and operated by the Tuesday Club, which offers tours on Sundays and other programming and events throughout the year.

Elijah Locke House // 1739

John Locke (1627-1696) settled in New Hampshire about 1640, arriving from London. He was a farmer and carpenter, and reportedly built the first church in New Hampshire. He was also a Captain in the local militia, who was constantly at odds with the people who’s land they were usurping. While working the fields at his homestead in Rye, he was killed by a native person, likely as a retaliatory attach. The attacker was soon after shot by his son, who was helping his father at the time. This Georgian home was built by John’s grandson Elijah in 1739 on family land; the date is found incised on one of the original roof beams inside.

Robert Haskell House // 1713

In 1712, Robert Haskell married Mary Leach in Manchester, where their first son, William, was born in 1713. Soon after, Haskell bought from his grandfather the 50-acre parcel his family owned since 1688 and built a home for his new family. The couple had numerous other children over the next years at this property overlooking the ocean. Upon his death in 1776, Robert left two-fifths of his real estate, including his “dwelling house and barn,” not to his first-born William, but to his second son, Paul. He also left one room in the house to his daughter Ruth, who apparently lived there into adulthood. The home remained in the family until the 19th century when the home was willed off in halves as the eastern and western portions. Late in the 19th century, the land was sold and subdivided to allow building lots all around, the Haskell House now sits on less than one acre of its former 300 acre parcel. The home is a great example of a modified Georgian house, which was added onto over time.