Sturgis Library // 1644

The original section of this building was the second dwelling house of Rev. John Lothrop (1584-1653), one of the first European settlers who settled in present-day Barnstable in 1639. The oldest part of this structure, built in 1644 (yes you read that correctly), is possibly the oldest extant house in the Town of Barnstable. The home was constructed as 21 feet long and 29 feet deep with a chimney on the west side of the house. Perhaps John Lothrop’s principal claim to fame is that he was a strong proponent of the idea of the Separation of Church and State (also called “Freedom of Religion”). This idea was considered heretical in England during his time, but eventually became the mainstream view of people in the United States of America, because of the efforts of Lothrop. His descendants today include six former presidents, Louis Comfort Tiffany (of the stained glass fame), J. P. Morgan, Clint Eastwood, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and many more recognizable names! The house was eventually owned by Isaac Chipman in the 19th century, and he modified the house close to its current conditions, adding on numerous times.

Captain William Sturgis, a mariner, businessman and politician, who was born in the house, purchased the property in 1862 from the heirs of Isaac Chipman. Sturgis left $15,000 along with this property in a trust to be gifted to the people of Barnstable for a public library. The library opened in 1867 in his honor, with 1,300 books. As the old Lothrop House is incorporated in the building, it makes the Sturgis Library the oldest building housing a public library in the USA. A great claim to fame for this town!


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.

Joshua Norwood Cabin // c.1680

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!

Judge Corwin House – The Witch House // 1675

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.


Doe’s Garrison // c.1690-1938

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).

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?

Ryder Homestead // c.1675

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.

Whipple House // c.1680

Hamilton, Massachusetts was first settled in 1638 and was originally a section of Ipswich known as “The Hamlet”. The first recorded land grant in the Hamlet was Matthew Whipple’s farm, dated 1638. On this land, the old stagecoach road (now Bay Road) connecting Newburyport to Boston was laid out through his and his brother’s land in 1641. A descendant of William (also named William) built this home along the stagecoach road in around 1680, likely operating it as a tavern for weary travelers. In 1712, Matthew Whipple IV and his brothers John and James petitioned the Town of Ipswich for the right to establish a church in the Hamlet, and succeeded. By 1800, the home was occupied by the Brown Family, with Capt. Daniel Brown occupying the home as a postmaster and tavern-keeper. Over the years, the home was “modernized” giving it Georgian double-hung windows, replacing the historic diamond pane casement windows. The home was eventually restored to its 17th century appearance and sold for an estimated $2 Million.

Hubbard-Brown House // c.1670

One of the oldest extant homes in Essex County Massachusetts is this stunning First Period home in Hamilton. Reverend William Hubbard (1621-1704), arrived to New England in 1635 at the age of 13, soon after graduating among the first class from Harvard College in 1642. As an adult, he was one of the earliest ministers in the town of Ipswich, was given a grant of land which included some 1,500 acres in what is now the town of Hamilton (later incorporated in 1793). Like nearly all early settlers, Hubbard built a small house and used much of the surround land for farming. Before his death, Rev. Hubbard willed the estate to his eldest son John, who soon after sold much of the property to John Brown. The Brown family grew into the home for two centuries, constructing additions, as housing needs changed over time. The home sold out of the Brown Family in 1920 when it was purchased by a George Fitz, who began restoration of the 250+ year old home.

Ingersoll’s Ordinary // 1670

Nathaniel Ingersoll (1632-1718) was born in Salem to Richard and Ann Ingersoll, who arrived to Salem in 1629 from Bedfordshire England. Ingersoll and his family ran an “ordinary” – the 17th century term for a local tavern – which was the social center of the community of Salem Village, then an agricultural village of Salem Town. The estate even had a watch tower for citizens to watch for Native American attacks from the forest.

During the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, those accused of witchcraft were brought to the Ordinary before their initial hearings and held in an upstairs room. Originally, the hearings themselves – with accusers throwing themselves on the ground in front of the judges, screaming, and claiming to see the “specters” of the accused torturing them – were to be held in the barroom as county court sessions were. Due to the large crowds that wanted to watch the spectacle, the hearings were moved down the road to the meetinghouse (see past post), but afterwards the judges and spectators returned to the tavern for lunch and drinks. John Indian, Reverend Samuel Parris’ slave and husband of Tituba, the first accused and killed of witchcraft, worked the bar sometimes for Ingersoll, and he would show off scars on his arm to out-of-towners who passed through, bragging that he got them when he was attacked by witches. The barroom at Ingersoll’s is also where one of the accusers admitted that they were accusing and sending innocent people to their deaths for nothing but “sport.”

When Nathaniel Ingersoll died in 1718, the estate was sold and operated as a tavern through the 1700s and into the 1800s under different owners. Due to its proximity to the militia training field, it was frequented by the men who later marched from Danvers to confront the British soldiers on the day of the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The home eventually became the parsonage of the First Church of Danvers and remained as such until about 1970, when the home was acquired as a private home.