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.
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.
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.
The 2nd oldest house in Saugus, the Boardman House, was built in 1692, just 72 years after the pilgrims landed in Plymouth. The Boardman House is an example of early New England architecture that exhibited exposed and decorated structural carpentry, and that evolved from English Post-medieval architecture transferred to New England by the early settlers. Built in 1692, the home is considered a hall and parlor plan, consisting of two rooms at each story separated by a stair hall at the front and by a massive central chimney at the rear. Sometime between 1692 and 1696, the rear lean-to kitchen was added to the house, creating the Saltbox roof.
Built by William Boardman, a carpenter, the home remained in the family until 1911, when it was purchased by a developer. The original 300-acre farmland was sub-divided and sold through the centuries after William’s death in 1696 at the age of 38. In 1913, the local community, concerned that these changes spelled certain destruction for the old house, appealed to William Sumner Appleton, founder and corresponding secretary of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now Historic New England, and the purchase of the house was finally negotiated in 1914. Over the next year, Appleton had the foresight to purchase eight additional small lots surrounding the house, allowing it to stand in a comparatively open space and setting it apart from the close-set houses that eventually sprang up in the immediate neighborhood. The Boardman House is now one of a few 17th century house museums in the region.