In 1690, Richard Gardner Jr. (1653-1728) received the land and dwelling house from his late father Richard Gardner (1622-1688) who was born in England and settled in Nantucket by way of Salem upon his death. The primitive, First Period home was occupied by subsequent generations of the Gardner family, and altered and expanded to fit the growing needs and wealth of the family. By 1840, the house was owned by George C. Gardner, a whaling captain and descendant of Richard Gardner. The original home was located on what is now Lowell Place, just off Main Street, and the Gardner Homestead was converted to a carriage house for the more modern George Gardner Home. By 1927, Ms. Gladys Wood purchased the deteriorating and heavily altered structure, and moved it to its current location on Main Street. Ms. Wood hired architect Alfred Shurrocks, who summered on the island and was restoring the Jethro Coffin house nearby, to restore the former Gardner Homestead, but this one was all based on conjecture and historical precedent. The home looks much like a 17th century saltbox and has stood the test of time.
first period house
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.
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.