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

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Years ago in the 1980s a friend discovered a little antique house that he coveted and longed to restore.  The lines were great but the house was fire damaged and boarded up.  The property was in the estate of a man who had owned many properties.  Dealing with this house at that time was not a priority in the settling of the estate.

Bob persevered and eventually acquired the house and carefully restored it.  He even won an award from the state for his restoration efforts.

The 18th century gambrel roofed cottage is what we fondly call a "Cape Ann Cottage".  This dwelling style was typical of what the Gloucester fishermen lived in through much of the 18th century. (See my post from last March, "The 18th Century Cottages of the Cape Ann Fishermen and Farmers").

Sadly, Bob passed away. The house was rented for years and then sold. Another family took ownership of the house.

At this time I was a Realtor specializing in antique and historic properties. I was working with perspective buyers, Susan and Eric.  Susan was a writer. Eric was a college professor and boat builder.  They were committed to living in Gloucester, America's oldest seaport.

One day Bob's little house came on the market for sale.  I wasted no time in calling Susan and Eric.  This was not the Victorian house they envisioned but I urged them to take a look; it was a very special house.  They hurried to Gloucester and without hestation purchased the house.

They have now lived there for a number of year.  Perhaps the house is a little small for them but they are perfect for the house!  They have treated it with sensitivity and care. They are a model of responsible custodians. They have become dear friends and a wonderful addition to our community.

Recently I was very touched by a piece written by Susan and published online in Boston's WBUR "Cognoscenti".  With her permission I am sharing her beautiful words with you.

This Old House: Fisherman Brown's Cottage


Susan Pollack  

Susan Pollack: "When you buy a house, do you inherit a responsibility to its history, as well?" Pictured: The author's home in Gloucester, Mass. (E. Schoonover/Courtesy)
The day my husband and I bought our house, the real estate agent gave us a loose-leaf binder with copies of maps and deeds dating back to 1735, when a fisherman named Joseph Brown built the Cape Ann Cottage.
For years we had looked at houses. We’d hoped to find a roomy, if neglected, Victorian that, with our efforts, might one day resemble one of the Gloucester houses celebrated by Edward Hopper. But “an antique?” That’s how our agent described the tiny gambrel-roofed cottage. Seeing its exposed adze-hewn beams, wide pine floorboards and fireplace, we said yes immediately.
I had lived in other people’s homes all of my adult life. Suddenly, I was not only a homeowner, but a steward of Cape Ann history. What does it mean to acquire a building with an historic marker posted on its clapboards? Does one’s responsibility go beyond keeping cedar shingles on the roof and a satellite dish off it? When you buy a house, do you inherit a responsibility to its history, as well?
The documents compiled by the agent, Prudence Fish, an architectural historian and the author of “Antique Houses of Gloucester,” made me curious about the dozen families who had owned the house before us.
Fisherman Brown was likely shorter than my five-foot eight-inch husband, or he, too, would have struck his head on the beams in my attic-like office. He and Mrs. Brown must have been agile, for the stairs are narrow and steep as a ship’s companionway. The house itself is like a ship, snug and tight. Now six rooms (it was originally four) and 1,000  square feet, it may be one of the smallest homes in town, as well as one of the oldest. It is not a good place to spread out, gather or entertain, except in the most intimate circumstances.
As writers, my husband and I tend to accrue books, papers and ephemera, a habit possibly shared by John S. Rogers, a 19th century glue manufacturer. He bought the house in 1858 and moved it several hundred feet in order to build a larger structure, which now looms over us like a cruise ship over a dory. We share our house with the presences of, among other owners, Rogers, Brown, and Zachariah Dalton, “a free black man and native of Gloucester,” and his son, Thomas. Also Israel Trask, a butcher, who may be responsible for the Federal period woodwork, and Bob Molinski, who, in the 1980s, rescued and restored the building following a fire and years of neglect. Molinski received a Massachusetts Historical Commission award for his work.
We’ve done what we can on a more limited budget. Before moving in, we hired a contractor to pour a cellar floor and structurally reinforce the wood-frame building with new Lally columns. Since then, we’ve stripped the floors, replaced rotting sills, re-pointed brickwork, and planted a traditional New England flower garden of lilacs, daylilies and hollyhocks. Soon, we will replace the kitchen’s weakened floorboards. As stewards, we’ve learned quickly: maintaining our historic cottage requires constant vigilance.
We’ve also tried to keep the prior inhabitants alive in our imaginations. Yet, sometimes I feel crowded out by their presences: I imagine Brown’s footfall on the creaky stairs, the aroma of his wife’s codfish stew brewing in a large iron kettle in the fireplace. (I do not know her Christian name, as the deeds don’t mention wives, but I think of her as Patience Brown.) Meanwhile, I picture Butcher Trask driving through the neighborhood, his cart filled with sausages, pigs’ feet and freshly-killed chickens and rabbits.
We chose to live in Gloucester because it is still a city of working people, like those who owned our house. Although the portraits of Brown, Trask, Rogers, the Daltons and Molinski do not hang in City Hall, these residents are as essential to Cape Ann’s history as the mayors in the hall’s portrait gallery.
On warm summer evenings, when we walk to the end of our street and down the 57 steps to the harbor, I think about Fisherman Brown plying these waters in a small boat with a makeshift sail. At the time, wolves still roamed this hill, and water lapped at wharves just below us. Brown lived a generation before the American Revolution and a century prior to the era of the famed Grand Banks schooners, but even then, life in Gloucester was shaped by the sea, and those who work upon it. It is a legacy we now share as the latest inhabitants of Fisherman Brown’s cottage. 

Susan Pollack
Susan Pollack is an award-winning journalist and author of the “Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Cookbook: Stories and Recipes.”


Ideas and opinions presented by WBUR, Boston’s NPR® News Station.
cognoscenti /kɒgnəˈʃɛnti/ pl. noun/ people who are especially well informed about a particular subject. Origin: late 18th century: Italian, literally ‘people who know,’ from Latin cognoscent-, ‘getting to know’


  1. Ms. Pollack's tribute to her house lets us feel the continuity of history that resides in an old house, and the resultant obligations of stewardship that imposes. After this introduction, I would love to see more of the house--has it been featured anywhere?

  2. Hi Jim,
    As far as I know this house has not been featured in a magazine. I did write quite a bit about it in my book, "Antique Houses of Gloucester".

    Thanks for all your comments and for reading my blog!