Business and Labor

6 of the Oldest Houses in New England

To make a claim for the oldest houses in New England inevitably invites controversy. The region has plenty of very old houses, but few of them survive intact. Some took several years to build. How does one date them, then: From the start of construction, or completion?

Some very old houses have been remodeled over the years. One in Rhode Island burned down during King Philip’s War, while a wealthy pop star restored and modernized another. One is the oldest stone house; one is the oldest timber frame house.

The New England Historical Society has surveyed the field of oldest houses, and we’ve come up with six that have valid claims as the oldest in each state. We realize some may beg to differ….

Henry Whitfield House

Henry Whitfield House

Henry Whitfield House

The Henry Whitfield House in Guilford is claimed to be the oldest house in Connecticut and the oldest stone house in New England. You can find it at 248 Old Whitfield Street, down the street from the town green.

It was built in 1639 for Puritan minister Henry Whitfield, a descendant of Geoffrey Chaucer.

The first settlers of Guilford began building the home in September 1639, shortly after they arrived. They started too late in the year, and they only finished the great hall and north fireplace. They completed the house in the summer of 1640 with the help of the Menunkatuck Indians, who carried stone from nearby quarries on barrows.

The walls measure nearly two feet thick, held together with mortar made of yellow clay and crushed oyster shells.

Henry Whitfield, his wife Dorothy Shaeffe Whitfield and their nine children lived in the house. The Puritans also used it for religious services before they built their church, as a fort and as a meetinghouse for Town Meeting.

In 1660, Roman Catholics used the house as a chapel.

The house was remodeled in 1868 and opened to the public in 1899 as Connecticut’s first museum. It was restored in 1902-04 and in the 1930s

Today the Henry Whitfield House is a museum. For more information about visiting, click here.

John Bray House

John Bray House

John Bray House

The John Bray House in Kittery qualifies as one of the oldest in Maine because it was built on the site where wealthy shipwright John Bray first built a dwelling in 1662. He also kept a home in England.

The current house, a 2-1/2 story wooden frame building, was probably not built before 1720. Parts of the original house were incorporated into it. It’s set on the south side of Pepperell Road (Maine State Route 103), on a site overlooking the Piscataqua River.

Daryl Hall of the pop duo Hall & Oates bought the house in 2008 and restored it, saving it from destruction. He later sold it for $1.6 million.

Hall saw an ad in the Newtown, Conn., Antiques and Arts Weekly, that said the house was up for auction. He sent his architect to look at it. Then he sent his assistant to buy it. After 15 minutes of bidding, he owned it.

Hall restores antique houses as a hobby. He restored houses in London and Upstate New York.

The Fairbanks House

Fairbanks House, photo courtesy Library of Congress

Fairbanks House, photo courtesy Library of Congress

The Fairbanks House in Dedham, Mass., is said to be the oldest timber-framed house in North America. Jonathan and Grace Fairbanks, Puritans from Yorkshire, England, had the house built for themselves and their six children. Tree ring dating confirms the Fairbanks built the house in the late 1630s and early 1640s. English carpenters from East Anglia built the house, which never had a mortgage on it.

The house passed down to the Fairbanks family through eight generations, and the Fairbanks family still owns the property. One of Jonathan and Grace’s descendants, Charles Warren Fairbanks, served as Teddy Roosevelt’s vice president and had a city in Alaska (Fairbanks) named after him.

The Fairbanks family frequently holds reunions in which they dress in Puritan costume.

Yale professor Abbott Lowell Cummings wrote "No other house of the mid-17th century in New England has survived in such unbelievable unspoiled condition."

The Fairbanks House, now a historic house museum, opens May through October. For more information click here.

Richard Jackson House

Richard Jackson House

Richard Jackson House

The Richard Jackson House, New Hampshire’s oldest, sits across the Piscataqua River from the oldest house in Maine. Located at 76 Northwest St. in Portsmouth, Richard Jackson built it in 1664 in the English style, but Americanized with an extravagant use of wood.

Richard Jackson, a mariner, farmer and cooper, outlived his two sons, dying in 1718. The house was divided in 1727 among his daughter-in-law and her children. Five generations of men named Nathaniel Jackson owned and occupied the house from 1727 to 1897.

The fifth Nathaniel Jackson bequeathed the house to his daughter, Mary E. Jackson and her son, also named Nathaniel. They rented the house to an African-American couple, Clarence and Belle Tilley. She was believed to have come to New Hampshire via the Underground Railroad. The house in 1924 was sold to William Sumner Appleton, founder of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England). He allowed Belle to continue living there.

He restored the property, removing modern modification and replacing the windows with leaded diamond paned windows typical of the era. Appleton’s restoration became the basis for Historic New England’s preservation philosophy of keeping generations of changes intact.

The public may now visit the house, a museum. For information about visiting, click here.

Stephen Northup House

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In 1645, Stephen Northup came from England at about the age of 15, and in 1660 he started building the house now at 99 Featherbed Lane in North Kingstown, R.I.

He first lived in Providence, where he served as town sergeant in 1660. Five years earlier Providence Town Meeting granted him 25 acres. Since he sold land in Providence in 1662, he probably finished the North Kingstown house that year and moved into it.

Most of the original house probably burned in King Philip’s War (1675-76), along with everything south of Providence.  Northup then rebuilt the house, possibly with parts from the 1660 building. Additions were made around 1712 and 1850.

The southwestern portion of the home is original to the 1660 building standards with additions made around 1712 and 1850. The present home may have portions of its current form rooted in the year 1660.

Northup married, had six known children and lived until at least 1687. He built the first dam at the Gilbert Stuart home, according to a family researcher. The Northups owned or operated the gristmill there.

Stephen Northup’s great-grandson, Capt. Henry Northup, who freed his slave Mintus in 1797. Mintus took Northup as his last name, and had a freeborn son, Solomon Northup, the subject of the Academy Award winning film 12 Years a Slave.

Stephen Northup also has a descendant in Stephen Douglas, who famously debated Abraham Lincoln and lost to him in the 1860 election for U.S. president.

The Northup House now belongs to a private owner.

Mooar-Wright House

Mooar-Wright House

Mooar-Wright House

The oldest house in Vermont – or at least the oldest continuously occupied house -- is believed to be the enigmatic Mooar-Wright House in Pownal, the far southwestern town in the state. No documentation exists of its early ownership. According to local legend, the house was built as a tavern by Charles Wright in 1762. Others speculate Dutch settlers built the house thinking it belonged to the New York colony.

People sometimes call the house the Defoe-Mooar-Wright House. Some historians believe John Defoe, a Loyalist imprisoned in 1776, built it. He escaped and fought on the side of the British at the Battle of Bennington. Patriots captured him again, but he escaped again to Canada. Other historians believe Charles Wright built the house in 1765.

The house has a Dutch frame around a typically English layout. In 2009, the Rev. Gregory Dickson bought the house intending to renovate it, according to the Bennington Banner. Its previous owner, Margaret Lillie, used part of the house as a law office. Both belong to the Pownal Historical Society.

Members of the Mooar family are the last owners anyone in Pownal can remember. They visited the home in the summer during the 1950s.

Photos: Henry Whitfield House By Dmadeo - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6013719; Stephen Northrup House By Swampyank at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20434112. This story was updated in 2019. 

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Alan Perry

    July 10, 2016 at 9:09 am

    I lived about 300′ from the Jackson House for 25 years in the old “Christian Shores” neighborhood of Portsmouth, NH. Back then I spoke to some older locals, who recalled a tradition of sledding down the roof’s back side during winters in the early-mid 20th century). Must have been a challenging climb up!

    • Bruce Blanchard

      July 13, 2016 at 4:13 am

      You must have run into Fred O’Conner who said the same thing. He lived behind the Jackson House.

    • June Saxon

      August 1, 2016 at 7:42 pm

      When I was in the fourth grade at the Whipple School in Portsmouth our class toured a lot of the old homes. I also remember hearing that story about the Jackson House and how they would sled down the back sloping roof during the winters with a lot of snow. Our class went inside the house and it was about 1950.

  2. James Wermuth

    July 21, 2016 at 3:43 pm

    I invite the authors to come to Newport, RI. Here you will find not only the White Horse Tavern but also my residence. Francis Coggeshall AIA, architect for the Newport Restoration Foundation assess the structure before I purchased it. His assessment was that it dates to the early 1680’s albeit a work structure with stables, hay loft…. I saved it from the 1969 “redevelopment” and converted it into a reasonable domicile.
    Indeed it has a long history of being moved, the roof burned off…, it remains a gem with many great features.

  3. Peter Becker

    July 22, 2016 at 10:22 pm

    There is a 1921 house on South Main St in Hingham.
    Still occupied at last word!

    • Joyce Robbins

      November 4, 2017 at 11:12 am

      Why did you choose to overlook the houses of Stratham? Andrew Wiggin’s house for starters. The Wiggin clan began with Captain Thomas Wiggin on Great Bay in 1629.

  4. Carol Palmer

    August 3, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    Also around 1637, Richard Smith, an original settler of Taunton in Plymouth Colony, established a trading post at Cocumscussoc and, according to Williams, “Put up…the first English house…in Nahigonsik Countrey.” It is thought to have been a grand house that was, possibly, fortified: thus the name Smith’s Castle.

    http://www.smithscastle.org/planning-a-visit-1/

  5. Carol Palmer

    August 3, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    I made a typo on the website. it should be
    http://www.smithscastle.org

  6. sean taylor

    November 18, 2016 at 10:33 pm

    is there any information on the loomis homestead or the loomis-chaffey college?

  7. Brian W

    February 12, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    Hi my name is Brian,i have just joined the site, just love these old buildings they look like the houses where i live in Essex England, i must say i have not come across a roof that slopes as much as the Richard Jackson House, “Great House” we call these type of houses clapper board houses is it the same in New England?
    It looks a Great site so i am going to have a look around Regards Brian.

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  9. Sean Collins

    October 26, 2017 at 4:01 pm

    I can’t understand why my grandmothers house is not listed. It was built in 1701

  10. Elaine Cook

    November 4, 2017 at 9:58 am

    The Osgood house was on Amesbury then dismantled and moved to Dover Mass! My husband lived there when he was young so we went to Dover to see it! It was gone and they were building a new house on the spot!

  11. Joyce Robbins

    November 4, 2017 at 11:10 am

    Why did you choose to overlook the houses of Stratham? Andrew Wiggin’s house for starters. The Wiggin clan began with Captain Thomas Wiggin on Great Bay in 1629.

  12. Marjory Gomez O'Toole

    November 4, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    I’d love to see all historic houses called by the names of the men and women who first lived in them or by just the last name. Perpetuating the custom of the “John Doe House” ignores the existence of half the people who have come before us.

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  16. Linda Eastman

    October 6, 2019 at 12:52 pm

    My aunts house should be included. It was built in 1636. It was moved from its’ original location on Post Rd., Westerly to Old Lyme Conn. in the 1970’s. There is still a monument at the site in Westerly in front of what is a Friendly’s Restaurant on Post Rd. It was called the Gavitt House.

  17. steve Clemence

    October 8, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    I can’t believe they left out the Clemence Irons house. What’s up with that ?

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