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, December 24, 2013


Some of us are always ready to go exploring.  This usually means hitting the back roads, always looking for an old house to admire or a derelict house with no particular destination in mind.  My friends and I have covered many miles and many back roads.  Our new cars have grown old with high mileage as we covered the back roads of New England.

Usually my attention is only drawn to old houses but there are exceptions.  One exception was the First Church in Old Bennington, Vermont.

One December day years ago we hit the road for Vermont.  We drove and drove admiring the landscape and toured a brick Federal.  About the time we should have been arriving home we were still looking at houses.  Nine o’clock found us in Old Bennington.  Snow was falling and the old church built by Lavius Filmore in 1806 was stunning in the snow. 

The First Church in Old Bennington, Vermont
 Next to the old church was a graveyard…the final resting place of Robert Frost.  As the snow deepened we searched for his stone.

I guess it was a little bit crazy.  We were not dressed for slogging through a cemetery in the snow when we should have been at home in Massachusetts in our warm houses.

 It was a long drive home.  Route 9 over Hogback Mountain to Brattleboro was a little hairy but the trip was memorable with the snow falling and George Winston's "December" playing in the car as we drove. I never hear that music without remembering that day.

Years later I was invited to a wedding in that beautiful church.  I was ecstatic to see it in the daylight and see the inside.  The box pews, the high pulpit and the elegant woodwork were breathtaking.   I was not disappointed.

One day my old house friends and I heard about a first period house about an hour from home that was dilapidated, unoccupied and going to be sold.  We had to see for ourselves.

We found the house.  It was quite overgrown.  It had been restored many years earlier but everything needed to be done over again.  

We really wanted to see the inside.  With a little effort a front window was pushed open.  Two of us then shoved the thinnest and most agile of the three of us through the open window. (Not me!) We then hurried to the front door and the person inside proceeded to the front door inside to open it for the rest of us.

She found the door but when she opened it she hadn't noticed that the hinges were no longer attached and the heavy door fell forward temporarily pinning  her beneath its weight until the two of us outside could squeeze through and rescue her.  

Then we had to figure out how to get the door propped back into place.  We did that but I don't even remember how we got out of the house.  I think I was too nervous to notice much about the interior.  I was too worried about getting out of there without being caught in the middle of this disaster we had created.

By the way, the house was purchased by people we knew.  It became a beautiful restoration.  I'm not sure whether or not we ever admitted to our caper but we did visit it several times by invitation.

On another trip to explore some of the hill towns of central Massachusetts we came upon a very tempting looking house in terrible condition.  We stopped and approached the front of the house to peer through the windows.  We then wandered off in different directions.

Suddenly my companion called to me.  "Come on in." she said.  

"How did you get in?" I replied.

"Come around to the back." she called out.  

So I went around to the back of the house to look for the door through which she entered.  Well, I did get in.  But I never found the door.  Why?  There was no door.  There was no back on the house!

In another adventure with a different friend also in central Massachusetts we explored a beautiful but ruined old house built about 1790 with a gorgeous front door. My traveling companion knew I had an abnormal horror of rats.  We waded through shoulder high weeds making our way around the old house.  Suddenly my friend shouted, "Pru, look out!"  as something flew through the weeds in my direction.  My heart skipped a beat.  I stopped dead in my tracks. No, it wasn't a rat.  It was a gray shoe winged at me by my so-called friend!

Another memorable wreck of a house was in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire.  Driving along a numbered highway you could see the old house off on a side road.  Over the years its condition worsened as we watched the downhill spiral of a good old salt box  house.  

One day we got off the highway and went for a closer look.  The house was wide open.  We entered the house and it appeared that mayhem had taken place inside.  It was trashed beyond recognition.  Household items, some antique, were flung around helter skelter.  Pieces of furniture blocked the staircase.  It was creepy and one couldn't help thinking that someone had gone mad in there destroying everything possible.  It was a disturbing scene.  I believe the house is no longer standing.

Then there was the house in southeastern New Hampshire.  It was a stately three story house built in the Federal period that had been empty.  We stopped and peered in the front windows admiring the rooms and the woodwork.  We moved from window to window looking inside and then went around the corner of the house.  Here we stopped abruptly.  Parked in the back yard were at least four cars.  Someone lived here. They were at home!  We ran for our car and got out of there as fast as possible as my friend's young daughter reported that she had seen sleeping bags on the floor.

Not all our experiences have been quite so crazy.  Sometimes we would head out and just sort of drive aimlessly until an idea took shape.  And it usually did.

Such was the case one day when with no destination in mind we turned onto a dead end road where I knew there was a great house.  We found the house and paused in front of it.  The house was occupied by monks one of whom came outside and invited us in to see the house.  It was one of the most beautiful Georgian houses and our chance to see it was a most positive and rewarding event.

Another positive impromptu tour was in the Town of Phillipston.  I remembered a beautiful house that was restored many years ago.  We found it and once again were invited inside for a tour.  This, too, was memorable.

Once while out on a hot summer day  "rubber necking" with a friend while looking at houses we stopped for ice cream cones.  We then proceeded to the end of a dead end road staring at a house.  We didn't see the bump until we hit it.  The result was that we were both now wearing ice cream all over our faces!

By the way, pictures of my traveling companions and the houses we entered are deliberately omitted to protect the not-so- innocent!

Over the years I have taught classes  for Realtors on selling antique and historic houses as well as many slide presentations all over the area.

One day as I stood at the check out counter in the market a lady I didn't recognize at the end of the line burst out with, "That's the lady that almost caused me to have a car accident.  Since hearing her speak I have been driving around looking for big chimneys."

I probably inherited this urge to see old houses from my  mother who was following old roads looking for old houses early in the 20th century nearly 100 years ago in a horse and buggy and old maps!.

One story she told was stopping at an ancient and seemingly abandoned  farmhouse on a dirt road way out in the country.  The house was wide open so she walked in.  Suddenly an old man with a long beard appeared at the top of the staircase and asked what she wanted.  Thinking quickly she responded that she was looking to buy eggs.  He then directed her to the next farm where eggs were sold.  She beat a hasty retreat and hurried home...without eggs.

The Christmas season reminds me of the year my friend and I decided we had to go to Paris Hill, ME for their Christmas house tour.  We left Gloucester on an unseasonably warm December day.  The sun was bright, grass still green and we were wearing light jackets.  We were in great spirits.

As we crossed from New Hampshire to Maine in the blink of an eye we were in a terrible snow squall.  Cars were careening off the road in every direction.  We crept along until we saw a sign for Kennebunk and knew we had to get off this road.

We had a friend who lived in a wonderful restored 18th century gambrel cottage on the river so we made our way there and took refuge for a couple of hours in this charming house until the snow squall passed and everything was back to normal.

We proceeded north once more until we got a little beyond Portland.  We caught up with the storm!  Being determined, we forged ahead thinking we would at least get as far as New Gloucester and stock up on herbs from the Shaker colony there.  I didn't occur to us that they were closed for the winter.

Oh, well.  We were now within shooting distance of Paris Hill so we forged slowly onward.  The snow stopped and at 4:00 PM we pulled into South Paris.  The house tour ended at 4:00  but we drove up the road to Paris Hill anyway.

What a sight!  The new fallen snow blanketed everything.  Candles glowed in all the windows.  It was the most picture-perfect sight imaginable.  We drove all around this village with peeks inside the lighted houses. After soaking up the wonderful scene we headed back down the hill to South Paris and the long trip home.. We missed the house tour and in our tour around the village we had not seen one single human being in Paris Hill!  All were tucked into their warm and cozy houses.

I urge you all to explore but stay out of trouble, try to keep your eyes on the road when driving, check the weather report before leaving home and don't get caught trespassing!  Old houses can be dangerous!





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  2. Taking certain chances is part of the adventure of exploring old houses, but as you point out, it is best to err on the side of caution. A while ago I wrote about an old house in Fair Haven, Connecticut that while I had permission to enter, proved to be dangerous indeed.