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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


I guess it is inevitable that in a community that is pushing 400 years old that much has been lost.  For example, John James Babson's History of the Town of Gloucester, circa 1860 states that in  years past there were about 350 gambrel cottages of a story and a half that were home to the Gloucester fishermen and farmers.  Now even though they are not as old as the first period houses there are fewer than 60 remaining and some of them are merely fragments.
This is a watercolor from around 1890 depicting the last days of
a Cape Ann Cottage, the vernacular houses of the  Cape Ann fisherman.
Original watercolor is at the Cape Ann Museum.
That means that the first period houses that are even older would have an even higher attrition rate.

Also, you will notice that over and over I describe the houses as being of plank frame construction.  Most of the first period houses on Cape Ann are of plank framed construction. (vertical two in thick plank sheathing) It has gradually become apparent to me that nearly all of these house ARE plank framed construction.  This is said to be found in areas with sawmills available.  However, plank framing in the first period is parctically unique to Cape Ann.


Last year a stereo view photo of a Gloucester house appeared on eBay .  Someone called it to my attention. I didn't purchase it but I did download it to my computer and the Cape Ann Museum did purchased it for their wonderful collection.

The old house in the photo was clearly on its last legs.  I had never seen such a dramatic picture of a distressed old house.  At the same time one could peer inside the house and observe some details.
This is the former home of Sylvester Eveleth (pronounced Everleigh) in its scenic location on the water.
The house was the Eveleth House overlooking the water at Presson's Point on Little River in West Gloucester.  It had an overhang in the front as well as overhangs on the sides.  According to all reports picnickers used to go over there in boats to enjoy the setting and the old house.

I believe this house to have been almost a twin to the Davis-Freeman house built in the same area about 1707. (see previous post)

Notice the double overhangs on the gable end wall and vertical plank sheathing indicating plank frame construction.  The chimney had long since fallen.


The old Dolliver house originally stood on Main Street in the heart of the city.  At the time it was built there was no commercial district as there was in later years.  It was surrounded at a time when the fishing industry took off and this became the center of business and fishing activities.  The house was called the oldest house in that part of Gloucester.  The Dolliver family was an old family who contributed much to the City.

The house was located about where Gloucester Music is today.
The Dolliver House before demolition, even before
the diner.  Notice the overhang on the left gable.
This house was also of   plank frame construction and had an overhang on the gable end as appeared in many of the first period houses of plank frame construction. 

In the twentieth century a diner was moved into the front yard obliterating the house from the street. Eventually the diner was removed and taken to Danvers about 20 miles away where it is still operational.

.This diner in Danvers was originally in the front yard of the
Dolliver  house on Main Street in Gloucester.  The name is
obscured beneath the bunting.
Sometime around 1940 (I don't have details available) there was a deal made for the Red Cross to take over the house and restore it for use as their regional offices.  Things were going along well until the idea was turned down at the Federal level and the deal was dead.  I'm not sure what the urgency was to get it out of there but it was demolished.

Unexpectedly, a few years ago, a Dolliver descendant from South Carolina saw my book on Gloucester houses and wrote to me, sending wonderful photos from inside and outside which I shared with the Cape Ann Museum.

An old newspaper clipping had described a McIntire fireplace mantle in the house.  (McIntire was the wood carver of the Federal period in Salem, MA who created the beautiful houses and furniture found there.)  One of the photographs I received confirmed the presence of what appeared to be a McIntire mantle surrounding a front room fireplace.  The newspaper of the day reported that a local man took the mantle from the house to install in his own house.  I would love to know where it is and if it still exists!
A Federal mantle in the style of McIntire,
the wood carver of Salem
The photos also showed some wonderful furnishings as well.


At 96 Prospect Street in Gloucester there was a little first period house of plank frame construction built around 1718-1720 when Prospect Street, originally known as Back Street became the route to the Harbor from around the green where farmers had settled.  Now fishing had taken on new importance and the people from the old neighborhood either moved to the busy harbor or traveled there frequently over the path called Back Street.

The Steel house at 96 Prospect Street before being moved.
After the first period the little house was enlarged to become a fairly large gambrel roofed Georgian.  The original house was still there, swallowed up inside.

A relative who was a housewright lived there around 1800 and replaced the front staircase with a pattern right out of Asher Benjamin's handbook, The Country Builder's Assistant.

 This staircase was very graceful and very modern at the time in this old house.

Staiccase right out of Asher Benjamin's
Country Builder's Assistant.

In the 1890s a later descendant wanted to build a new double house on the site of the old house.  The old house was moved to quite a distance to Fair St. and became two apartments.  Eventually it was sided and finally ready to be discarded to redevelop the lot.

This is the large double house built by the Steeles in the
1890s after the removal of the old house to Fair Street
When it was opened up there was evidence of casement windows, plank frame construction, a great summer beam, all from the first period not to mention lots and lots of unpainted feather edged vertical sheathing from the second or Georgian period; then the lovely staircase from the third of Federal period. Not to suggest that the condition of any of it was lovely. It was not.  Ravages of time and too many tenants had left their mark on this once nice house.
Gunstock corner and brace from corner
of the plank framed house.
A salvage man took the old doors, floorboards, sheathing and whatever he could get, then left the house cannibalized to be bulldozed and hauled off in dumpsters.

Cannibalized house
Before it was entirely removed Ann Grady from Historic New England photographed it and took samples back to Boston so that at least a record of the house would remain.  The full story is also in my book, Antique Houses of Gloucester.

This is not a Gloucester house but I am sliding it in here for several reasons.

The first is that I have alluded to it several times and referred to the fact that it is considered the oldest timber framed house that is still standing in North America.

Front of the Fairbanks house.  Notice the extremely steep roof pitch.
The other is that I wanted to share with you the two antique oil painting that I have found over the years, one of the front and one of the back of this house.  I feel very fortunate to have these paintings from another time when the scene was pastoral.  It is now near a very busy street with constant traffic.

Quite a few years ago I found an oil painting of the Fairbanks house, a house which particularly interested me as the most distinguished first period house.  It was very pleasing .  On the stretcher I was able to find a partial label for an artist' supply store in Boston in business during  the 1870s.  It isn't always easy to photograph a painting when the camera wants to use the flash and I can't remember how to turn the flash off!
Fairbanks house from the rear with the dramatic lean-to roof.
The other painting I found this summer at a flea market.  I thought it was the Fairbanks house but it didn't look just right.  Then I realized it was the front of the house seldom seen while most views of the house are from the back to feature the long, low lean-to roof.  I am very pleased with it.

The old Fairbanks house from the front.
There was an 1880 date on the stretcher of this one.  So even though neither painting is artist signed I have at least been able to date them approximately.  Believe me, the setting and land surrounding this house is entirely different today.

Anyway, I love both paintings and like that they record the house with the peaceful look of a Hudson River painting.

As always, for reading.


1 comment:

  1. So enjoying your blog and being able to read these wonderful stories on these old homes.
    Gloucester is fortunate to have you as a willing custodian of stories for there town.