The Fascinating History Of America’s Oldest Surviving Timber framed House

The Fascinating History Of America’s Oldest Surviving Timber framed House


With its gabled roof, oak clapboards and vast
central chimney, the Fairbanks House looks to have come from another world. But in reality, it’s been here longer than
any other building around it – almost 400 years, in fact. According to experts, it’s the oldest house
of its kind in the United States, and it has the history to prove it. When European settlers first arrived in America
in the 16th century, they encountered a wild and inhospitable land. In fact, many of the first colonies ended
in disaster, as supplies ran out, disease decimated their populations and clashes with
Native Americans escalated into all-out wars. However, the settlers persevered, and by the
time that the Mayflower arrived with its cargo of English Pilgrims in 1620, a number of colonies
were already thriving across the modern-day U.S. And despite difficult conditions, those passengers
established the Plymouth Colony in what is now Massachusetts. Eight years later, the Massachusetts Bay Colony
was founded, and settlers in their hundreds began arriving in New England. And even though they hoped for a fresh start
on the other side of the Atlantic, many of their practices – such as the houses they
built – remained reminiscent of the world that they had left behind. One of these settlers was John Fairbanks,
a Puritan from Yorkshire, England. In 1633 Fairbanks arrived in the Massachusetts
Bay Colony along with his wife, Grace, and their six children. And after spending three years in the settlement
at Watertown, they decided to relocate. Along with a number of other families, the
Fairbankses founded the settlement of Dedham, Massachusetts. There, they acquired land amounting to 12
acres and set about building themselves a home. But rather than rely on his own amateur building
skills, John decided to employ master craftsmen to do the work. Beginning in 1637 the craftsmen constructed
a timber-framed home for the Fairbanks family. Originally, it was a two-story property with
a gabled roof and a large chimney in the center. Outside, the building was clad in oak and
cedar clapboards, while the front door led directly into a lobby. Whilst the home was relatively modest to begin
with, John was a man of some means. Apparently, his trade was manufacturing spinning
wheels, and these vital pieces of technology were in high demand. And as the Fairbanks family’s fortunes grew,
so too did their Dedham home. Although the first stage of the house is thought
to have been completed in 1641, the Fairbankses continued adding to their property over the
years. At some point, extra space was created with
the construction of a lean-to towards the back of the building. Then, a new wing was added to the eastern
side of the home. In about 1654 the Fairbankses added a west
wing to their home. However, it was to be the last addition that
John himself would oversee. Fourteen years later, the head of the family
died, leaving the house at Dedham to John, his eldest son. A successful businessman like his father,
John grew the family’s fortunes and eventually purchased another house in nearby Wrentham. When John died in 1684 his two youngest sons
– Joseph and Benjamin – inherited the house at Dedham. And while Benjamin took a share of the attached
farmland, Joseph moved into the family home. For two generations, the property was passed
down through the Fairbanks family, until one son decided to let his brothers buy him out. By then it was 1755, and the house came into
the ownership of Samuel, Israel, John and Ebenezer Fairbanks. But Ebenezer soon bought the shares held by
his brothers, making him the sole owner of the property. And it was during this period that some of
the most significant alterations took place. Beginning towards the end of the 18th century,
a series of modifications were made to the Fairbankses’ house. First, another wing was added on the east
side, followed by an extension that created a larger parlor. Then, a new wing was constructed on the west
of the property. Back then, the Fairbankses were prosperous,
and luxurious additions such as wallpaper adorned the house. But as Ebenezer grew older, he handed responsibility
for the house over to his son – and the family’s fortunes began to wane. Without his forefathers’ talent for business,
Ebenezer Junior soon found himself in debt. Sadly, it was around this time that the Fairbanks
received another blow. Jason, Ebenezer’s younger brother, was found
guilty of murdering his sweetheart Elizabeth Fayes. And when he was sent to the gallows in 1801,
it caused a scandal that would haunt the family for many years to come. With the decline in the Fairbankses’ fortunes,
the elaborate additions to the family home drew to a halt. As time passed, in fact, the only concession
made to modern living was a privy, installed in 1881. Aside from that, the house remained stuck
in the past, without luxuries such as electricity or running water. By that time, the house had passed to the
female line of the Fairbanks family. After Ebenezer’s wife Mary died, her three
daughters inherited the home. And when they passed on without any children,
a niece, Rebecca, took over ownership of the property. Eventually, in 1904 she was forced to leave
for good. That wasn’t the end of the story, however. In 1905 John’s descendants formed the Fairbanks
Family in America organization and purchased the property, turning it into a museum. Today, it is open to the public, giving visitors
a taste of life in a bygone age. And every year, members of the family return
for a reunion in their ancestral home. Over the years, many different rumors have
emerged about the old house. They included the claim that parts of it were
imported from England when John and Grace first arrived on American shores. However, analysis of the property’s wooden
beams has determined that the earliest parts date from 1637, a year after the Fairbankses
arrived in Dedham. Despite this, the Fairbanks House still enjoys
a singular claim to fame. As the oldest timber-frame home in the United
States, its long and colorful history has earned it a designation as a National Historic
Landmark. And hopefully, this status will ensure that
it remains for many more generations to come.

9 thoughts on “The Fascinating History Of America’s Oldest Surviving Timber framed House

  • Thanks for posting as so many old homes have been left to rot and fall in – from large to small so many dot the US and most no were near as old or with such a rich history – in our nations

    Hope to stop in someday and see it first hand

  • I wonder what kind of wood was used to build it? …….It sure is a hardy timber to have lasted that long…… and still going strong!

  • I live in an old French farmhouse, but sadly all records were destroyed during the Second World War. I would love to know more of its history. I love old buildings. When I come across a really old place, a house, a church, a castle, I just have to put my hand on it! If walls could talk, heh?

  • My 11x great uncle is Jonathon. His brother George was executed in 1627-ish in Halifax via gibbet. And his great x8 granddaughter Alice Millet (Elizabeth Fairbanks is her grandmother) is my great great grandmother so I’m an Edmondson right now (she married Harri Edmondson) but it’s cool to know I am a direct descendent of him. I only just found this out recently. So it’s nice all this info is available!

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