About Me

Growing up in a small New England town with a mother who was an antiquarian it was inevitable that I would be exposed to old things. After graduating from UMass/Amherst I lived in Connecticut, taught school, married, and raised three children in suburbia. A move to Newburyport MA renewed my interest in all things old. This background has now evolved into research, writing, consulting and all the things I love to do.

Prudence Fish

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


This year, as in many other years, I will enjoy my Thanksgiving dinner in the perfect setting; a red 18th century country farmhouse.  You already know the house.  It is the red house that you see at the top of my blog.
Moses Jewett House, 1759

No, it is not my house.  It is the Moses Jewett house located in Ipswich Village near the Rowley line.

Built in 1759 it is the oldest of a string of Jewett houses along this old post road, all of them old and all representing different generations of the Jewett family.  One or perhaps two even earlier houses are no longer standing.  The location of the very earliest house is known.  It was quite some distance from this house near the Egypt River and a spring..  There has been a suggestion that perhaps another house existed closer to this one but I am not aware of any concrete evidence.

My acquaintance with this old house goes back to the 1980s when I was a partner in a restoration project involving this house and barn.  It was intended to be just a quick fixer upper but as soon as we owned it we knew it was a serious antique and that we had to do it right.  With that revelation we watched our profits fly out the window. In fact we each lost a small amount.

Was I sorry?  Not at all!  This experience of uncovering, evaluating what we had, and making the decisions that were necessary to be made taught me more about old houses than I could possibly know without having gone through this experience. We started out as spec buyers but this exercise in preservation turned us into restoration purists.

We did make some mistakes but looking back I think we did fairly well.  The project was complicated by the fact that we were going to sell the house and tried to keep in mind the various scenarios for appealing to a cross section of buyers.

One of our best decisions was keeping the kitchen and the first floor bath/laundry in a lean-to that was 19th century but not very significant.  This kept the old part of the house free of modern intrusions.  We kept a small upstairs bath where it had always been rather than rip out walls to change it.  Sometimes accommodating the old house can mean eliminating the idea of extravagant bathrooms and kitchens. As you know by now, I am always talking about accommodating the house instead of trying to make the old house accommodate extravagant kitchens and baths or anything else when it means ripping out walls and original fabric.

The house had an exterior door in the Beverly jog that was not going to be used.  The laundry and first floor bath were planned for the other side of the door. Our solution was to leave the door intact.  The wall on the inside was sheetrocked and plastered and no evidence of this door remained on the interior.  We gained the wall space we needed but the door is still there if sometime down the road someone has another plan for this space.  In other words, what we did is easily reversed.  No original fabric was lost or even jeopardized.

Several floors had to be replaced.  The original floors were painted as they had long been but we stained the floors we replaced knowing that refinished pine floors are popular and would appeal to some buyers, while the old worn floors with paint would be acceptable to another group of buyers.

We ripped out one terrible looking ceiling before we were stopped in our tracks by our contractor,  That's when we found out that all of those ugly, peeling ceilings could be saved without loss of any more original plaster.  Initially I thought the ceilings resembled lumpy oatmeal.  They were so rough I never dreamed they could be saved. (Important lesson learned.  Don't rip out the plaster and  lath.  It is original fabric.  It CAN be saved!)

One of the mistakes that is a common mistake is leaving the hinges and thumb latches black.  These should have been painted to match the woodwork and made to disappear.  They shouldn't stand out..  Black hardware is "phony colonial" but that's what we did! I know better now.  Never again!

The new windows should have had heavier muntins.  We knew this but it just wasn't in the budget.

So now, many years later I think we had remarkably good consensus among ourselves.  I believe that many of our decisions were tough decisions and I still feel good about most of the things we did.

Anyway,  we sold the house to people from New York City looking for a taste of New England.  This house was perfect; just what they were looking for. The closing was conducted at a big table in front of the fireplace in the old kitchen with a fire burning.  This was followed by a trip to the Registry of Deeds to record the deed.  This was hardly the traditional closing taking  place in a lawyer's office!

Huge cooking fireplace in the old kitchen
For me, it has worked out well.  I have been a very frequent guest back in the old house ever since.  My family is not nearby so the owners always make sure I have an invitation for holidays if they know my family won't be around.  In addition to holiday dinners a small group of friends has celebrated  New Year's Eve in the old house ever since our buyers took up residence.
Elegance in the old house for New Year's Eve

 Often there are others in attendance that have no idea that I had anything to do with the restoration.  So I quietly listen to the reaction of newer attendees who are in awe of the ambiance of this house decorated for the holidays with fires in the fireplaces, especially the fireplace in the old kitchen that approaches ten feet in width.

It seems as though this house was built just for the holidays.  It is the quintessential Currier and Ives "Home to Thanksgiving" kind of house.

The host

                                                     Meanwhile, Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers wherever  you are. Looking at the statistics it appears that many of you are reading this blog from distant lands around the world. May your holiday be a good one !

"Home to Thanksgiving"  Currier and Ives, circa 1860
Thank you for visiting.  Look for new photos the day after Thanksgiving.  This year's pictures will be added to these old photos from years past.



Late afternoon sunshine.  Thanksgiving 2013

Inside was warm and cozy as dinner was prepared

Unfortunately I ruined the photos of the big fireplace with blazing logs.  Sorry!



  1. What a beautiful house and restoration. How lovely for you to be able to return periodically.
    Happy Thanksgiving from across the pond.

  2. I can not remember how I found your blog but I just wanted to say how much I enjoy each and every post. I am a love of old homes and the idealistic preservation of them. Thank you!

  3. I love the Thanksgiving 2013 picture of the "red house". Thank you for sharing. I think I want to live there next! ~Christine