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

Friday, February 21, 2014



Have you ever thought back to things you admired as a child and what a favorable and long-lasting  impression they made on you?  In retrospect do you say to yourself, “How could I…?

Way back during the 1940s my best friend at the time, Susan, and I decided to create a playhouse in the second floor of their garage.  We had set it up nicely when her mother decided she had her own plans for the space and asked us to move.  

After getting permission to use a single car garage at my house we planned a moving day.  This meant lining up the boys in the neighborhood with their wagons (we called them carts back then) to load up our stuff and transport it some distance up the street from her house to my house.

Here we really settled in.  A pair of army cots made twin beds.  An oak Victorian commode fit nicely between the beds.  A mounted deer head from the attic hung above the commode over a window.  My wooden table- top Bendix radio sat on top of the commode.   A huge spool made a round table encircled by four orange crate chairs.  We painted them white and I think there were yellow daisies on the top.

It got better.  A porcelain sink was propped up with a hole in the wall for a drain pipe.  (No running water.)  An old doorbell was hooked up by one of the neighborhood boys.  It ran on a dry cell battery and was rung by pressing a piece of tin from a can against a screw head.  The piece de resistance was a galvanized cooler from Susan.  It was probably the first cooler anyone had ever seen.  Since this was still the era of the iceman, we got chunks of ice delivered for our cooler/refrigerator as the ice truck passed through the neighborhood.

When there was a rummage sale on the town Common we were there with our pennies.  I bought a tiny bowl and pitcher to take back to the playhouse. The pieces had panels of flowers interspersed with scenes of lovers in beautiful outfits. I loved this little set.  Was it a tiny wash bowl and pitcher or was it an individual creamer and sugar?  I still don’t know.
Tiny bowl and pitcher from a rummage sale in the 1940s

We also made and sold dolls’ hats to raise money.  We then went to an auction and bought a box of dishes.  This included a small set of blue and white Delft style dishes with windmills made in Japan.  I also remember an old glass cruet in the box.

During the summer I traveled around with my mother and her friends to antique shops.  That is how I found a plate to match the bowl and pitcher.  The antiques dealer told me it was Dresden.  At that point I knew I just loved Dresden. (Meissen)

Plate from New Hampshire antiques shop in the 1940s also

Recently, I attended an auction.  At the pre-sale viewing I noticed a pair of similar Meissen  shallow bowls but passed right by them.  Late in the auction they came up for bid.  When there wasn’t any response from the audience there was a little coaxing from the auctioneer. Suddenly, up shot my hand!  “I love those bowls,” I thought,  My companions just looked at them with indifference.  “Doesn’t everyone like these?” I thought.  Of course not!  Meissen is very elegant. It’s not something that is wildly popular these day, at least not in my circles..

Nevertheless, I was the only bidder.  I won and brought the two shallow bowls home.  Next I dug out my three pieces from long ago to admire my little collection.
Auction, November, 2013
Companion piece, auction 2013
In reality it is hard for me to be objective about them because I don’t want to let go of the memory of thinking they were so beautiful. Nor do I want to admit that they are not something that I would covet today.  Or maybe I just don’t want to admit that I had a ten year old's taste when I was ten years old!

For better or worse, the new pieces have joined the old pieces and will all be together in my cupboard.  If having 5 pieces makes it a collection, then, I have a new collection.  Maybe it’s being stubborn and not wanting to give up on something...a fond memory.  Or maybe it’s defensive loyalty to old choices.  Whatever the case may be or whatever the explanation,  impressions formed in childhood die hard!

The same goes for houses.  There were houses that impressed me when I was young.  One such house was the local historical society house in my hometown.  It was a brick Federal.  When revisited with a friend a few years ago she looked into the parlor and said, "Now I know where your taste comes from!"   And in retrospect she was right.  It never had occurred to me that the "look" I love was etched into my subconscious brain way back then.

Narragansett Historical Society
I think it also depends on how old you are, too.  For example, I don't like bathtubs on legs or black iron kitchen stoves or matchboard wainsccoting.   People who are younger than I am think they're cool.

No matter how old we are, childhood memories and experiences are the foundation for what we admire years later because early impressions are lasting and really do die hard.


Friday, February 14, 2014


Philemon Warner, Jr

The post is a continuation of the previous story of the ancient Warner house on Mineral Street in Ipswich.  This second post tells the remarkable story of the Warner houses occupied by this family in Gloucester.

Meanwhile, back to the Warner family and Philomon Warner, the blacksmith, who left Ipswich for Gloucester. The Warner family settled right in the center of what is now the modern business district on the corner of Main and Pleasant Streets,  the location of the new Bank Gloucester.  His blacksmith shop was just down the street from his house.

I am presuming that his house probably burned in one of the several devastating fires that occurred here during the 19th century when the business section of Gloucester was devastated by at least two terrible fires when Main Street was pretty much obliterated.

Elder Philomon Warner died in 1778.  He is buried in the ancient First Parish Burial Ground, one of the oldest buriel grounds in the country, with this long epitaph. The title "Elder" meant that he was an elder of the church.
The grave stone of Elder Philomon Warner
Elder Philemon Warner's stone reads: "Here rest in hope of a glorious Resurrection the Remains of Elder Philemon Warner who for many years discharged with Fidelity to the Public & Reputation to himself several important Offices both in Church & State. Industry & Fidelity in his calling, Honesty & Integrity in his dealings, Sincerity in his Profession & Humility in his Deportment were the ornaments of his life & the Doctrines of the Gospel which he firmly believed & on which alone his Hope was founded were his support in Death. He was born Jan 7, 1698 & died April 14th, 1778. AE 81. In faith he died, in dust he lies. But faith foresees that Dust shall... When Jesus with..." 

 Philemon Warner, the son, built his Gloucester house in the mid 18th century right behind his father's house, a short distance back from Main Street on a side lane now know as Pleasant Street. There is some record that even this house received damage during one of the fires so it's easy to believe that this is when the father's house disappeared, being right in the path of the fire.

Elder Warner's house had a gambrel roof as did most of the houses built in the Harbor Village in the mid 18th century.  And like most of the houses in this part of town and frequently throughout New England, it faced south.  In this case it faced the water of the inner harbor on the south, not because of the view but because of the southerly exposure.

Here is the Warner house in Gloucester when it was intact and looking like many other fine houses in the
neighborhood dating to the mid 18th century.  This photo is from the Cape Ann Museum collection.
Over time the house became a back to back duplex.  Since the gable end of the house faced Pleasant Street, the new division led to two deeds with the property line running with the ridgepole of the house.  A new front door and yard were created on the north side for the second household.  This arrangement prevailed until just after the turn of the 20th century.

At this time the left or south side of the house was sold. What happened next must have stunned the residents on the north side of the house and probably the entire community.  The new owner, a printer, tore down his half of the old house!  The north side of the house stood there with it other half  missing.  In its place the printer built a brick commercial building and attached it to the side of the more than one hundred and fifty years old Warner house.  Now the old half of the Warner house bulged out of the side of the new brick building like a strange wart.

Here is what is left of the Warner house after half of it was removed and left it attached to
a new commercial building.  This photo is also from the collection of the Cape Ann Museum.

That was not the end of the dismembering of the old Warner house.  The first floor eventually became a commercial space.  Its strange appearance was further exacerbated when it became a Christian Science Reading Room with huge plate glass windows located on a 20th century angled, somewhat modernist  facade. Part of the old fencing seems to have become a balustrade on the new flat roof.

At this time there is a mostly new first floor with a slanted facade
beneath the overhang,  The roof balustrade seems to be the
original fencing from the former front yard.
Now all that was left of the old Warner house was one quarter of a gambrel roofed house sitting atop  the modern addition below and looking as though it was clinging for life to the side of the brick building next door.

It became a curiosity.  It was even written up in Preservation Magazine, the publication of the National Trust on Historic Preservation.  Each issue of this magazine contained  an example of outrageous alteration in a monthly column called "Yikes!"  So what was left of the Warner house became nationally publicized on the Yikes page of Preservation Magazine . We now sometimes refer to the house as the "Yikes house" and friends always know just what house we're referring to

After the Christian Science people closed their doors the house was sold for private residential ownership. The new owners turned the space, including the intact rooms on the second floor into an  unbelievably stunning  home with a tiny, secluded garden in the rear; all right in the heart of the city. There are even two remaining working fireplaces left from the old house to give the space a period charm.  It is a magical space.
To the throngs of shoppers that pass the front of this building daily there is no hint of the serene, secluded and gracious living space that lies beyond the threshold of that recessed front door.  Once inside the hustle and bustle of the city is left behind in the peace and quiet of this special dwelling.

The old house clings to its brick neighbor.
Even a small storefront filled in the small yard that had existed on the northerly half of the  house so that this inner city block consisted of an unbroken line of contiguous buildings

These buildings are now in the very heart of the central city.  Passersby don't always look up but when they do this fragment of an 18th century house surprises them.  What they see is truly one of the curiosities of Gloucester, America's oldest seaport.
Every inch of space has been developed.  This samll store front occupies what
was once what was left of the tiny front yard of the right hand side of the duplex.
Once again, the old Warner house was threatened when a fire devastated the newer brick commercial building that is attached to the old house.  The Deacon Warner house had a very close call but was saved while only the shell remained of the brick building.  Valuables, particularly art work, in the Warner house along with the cat, were rescued as helping hands from the Cape Ann Museum located diagonally across the street hurried to carry possessions to the nearby museum where they were out of harm's way.
Attached brick building burns
The brick building has been rebuilt and the Deacon Philemon Warner house is intact, (if you can call 1/4 of a house intact) and the drama swirling around this house for two hundred  plus years has abated. Stability has been restored on Pleasant Street.
Commercial building now rebuilt after a devastating fire.

In spite of so much turbulence, two out of the three early Warner houses are miraculously still standing and providing extremely attractive and comfortable shelter to their occupants.  They are the ultimate survivors!

Thanks for reading.


Thursday, February 6, 2014



This post will be in two parts beginning with the earliest Warner house in Ipswich and then following the family as they take up residence in Gloucester on Cape Ann where they continued to be blacksmiths and built more houses.

The Town of Ipswich refers to this house as the Ephraim B. Harris house, named after the man who moved the ancient house to his land in the 19th century and added onto it. For this post, focusing on the Warner family, we will refer back to its beginnings on Market Street and call it the Warner house.

The Warner family was a family of blacksmiths.  In the 17th century they made their home in Ipswich. Their house was located on what is now Market Street just about where Bank Ipswich is located today.  It was probably a one cell house, having one room down and one chamber above with a big chimney at one end with a small entry.  It was probably a typically modest house for the period like many others.  This very early house stood at this site until the 19th century.  Some say it was built in 1696.  This may well be correct.  

At this time the house was moved by a builder, Ephraim B. Harris, to the corner of Mineral and Central Streets. Central Street had not been laid out so that the address of the house was on Mineral Street, an early street originally called Baker's Lane, and remains so today at 22 Mineral Street. The gable end of the house faces Mineral Street with the formal front door facing High Street and the back door facing Central Street.  Actually I believe Abner Harris located the house in his own back yard as the house he lived in was on the corner High Street and Mineral Street.   Newer houses now separate Abner Harris's homestead from this house.
Original back of the Warner house faces Central St. with the more formal Greek Revival front door on the other side facing the newer infill houses. The door
itself is Victorian

In the new location  an addition was made to the old house with a Greek Revival front door and staircase. To the left of the new front entry were two new rooms, one up and one down with fireplaces in a new chimney for a total of four fireplaces in the house.  The rooms in the early part of the house were very large, a clue to the age of the house.

Across the ceilings in the early side of the house was a huge summer bean with a flat chamfer and lamb's tongue chamfer stop.  There was evidence that the summer beam had even been wallpapered to make it disappear at a time when it was not fashionable to have exposed beams showing in the more refined rooms of the later period.

Here is the great early summer beam with a flat chamfer and lamb's tongue
chamfer stop.  Notice the heavy framing in the corner,
Holes in the old plaster offered a peek at early riven laths...short strips of oak attached with handmade rose head nails.

This photo shows just a little of the early riven lath holding the original plaster.
Riven lath is short strips of oak attached with rose head nails. The summer
beam is rough with bits of wallpaper, whitewash and old paint.
Many years passed until the house entered the 20th century.  At this time a family consisting of a widow with children, lived in the house until eventually only one member of that family was left living here.  She had very limited means and the house became run down. This lone occupant lived on the second floor.  The house was an eyesore surrounded by chain link fencing. Behind the house, almost on the property line, was an enormous tree.  It was a really huge tree.

In 1997 when everyone thought spring was just around the corner there was a surprise April Fool's Day snowstorm.  At the height of the storm down came the big tree right on top of the house threatening to sever the house into two parts.  The occupant was sitting in her second floor kitchen.  Her life was only spared by the huge oak frame, specifically the summer beam, of the old house which stopped the downward momentum  of the great tree right over her head, saving her life.  Rescue crews carried her out without even her slippers on her feet never to return as an occupant.  I regret that I do not have a photo of the huge tree hanging over the house.  It was an unforgettable sight.

This is the upper side of the house facing High Street with a formal Greek
Revival door and surround and crushed roof.
Now I, the old house Realtor in town, inherited the tough assignment of selling the crushed house. It took a long time to clean out the house.  Some of the neighbors demanded that it be razed.

Happily, that never happened.  A builder bought it and put the old house back together. The roof on the house had been replaced by Ephraim Harris and was not as steep as it should have been for a first period house.  With that in mind the new owner decided to gain more living space from the new attic by creating a much steeper roof. The roof had to be replaced anyway.  The pitch is now higher than it ever was but it made the small house much more livable.  After the almost demolition of the house it sold for a mere $68,000, an unheard of low price in a high priced marketplace.  After restoration it sold for $345,000 and later for $395,000 as it has been transformed from a crushed derelict to an attractive first period house.

Here  is what Massachusetts Historical Commission wrote about the house in 1978. This photo was taken at that time.

The house in 1978.  Frequently houses that are moved are placed on a
higher foundation than in their original settings.

Richard Sutton and others sold to housewright, Ephraim B. Harris, a house and land on December 30. 1820. (Book 233, Page 148).  Harris built two more houses on this land, one of which survives situated on the corner of Mineral and Central Streets.

Originally the front facade faced north, but today the principal entrance is on the south facade.  The north entry has a Greek Revival door frame, including corner blocks, recessed panels and sidelights.

This door frame is very similar to an Asher Benjamin design found in his pattern book, The Practice of Architecture, published in 1833.  The design was described by Benjamin as "suitable for a house of moderate size, or where the story is not sufficiently high to admit a fanlight over it or where a fanlight is not desired.

Harris may have been familiar with Benjamin's pattern book, and seems to have used it as a model when decorating his own house.

A definite slope in the roof and the uneven bay arrangement suggest that the house was built in two sections and Waters supports this theory.  Evidently Harris was commissioned by  Capt. Robert Kimball to build a new house on his market Street lot.  The lot was already occupied by an old dwelling house built by Daniel Warner prior to 1666.  Harris removed a portion (if not all)  of this house to his own land on Mineral Street, and enlarged it with a new Greek Revival section.  A summer beam running from girt to girt with a chamfer is a remaining first period feature in the earliest, western half of the house.  Simple Greek Revival details include the northern side."

It is not uncommon to arrive at an incorrect construction date.  The deeds follow the land and the mention of a dwelling house on a piece of land does not necessarily mean that it the same house that is on the land at a later date.  There may well have been a very early house on Market Street in 1666 but most likely not this house.

This is the Central Street side of the house which I believe was the front
in its original configuration on Market Street.

Meanwhile, the Warners made a move to Gloucester where they continued to be blacksmiths living right in the heart of the Harbor Village as the neighborhood around the harbor was referred to in the 18th century.

The Warner crest

In my next post you will read the story of their houses in Gloucester.  You are not going to believe what happened in Gloucester!  Drama surrounds the old houses of the Warner family.

Thanks for reading.


The former owner of this house after restoration, Al Boynton, has kindly left a link to his photos.  Here is the link. I think you will enjoy them.