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

Sunday, February 8, 2015



One of the most valuable and rewarding experiences of my life was my role in the restoration of the Capt. Moses Jewett  house in Ipswich, MA built in 1759.

The opportunity to be part of this team effort came right out of the blue. It was a first for all of us.

I thought I knew a lot about antique houses but this house presented challenges that I had never had to think about.  It required lots of homework and lots of concentration researching the chain of title and the genealogy of the family that built the house.  It called for trips to Stawberry Banke and Sturbridge Village to see how they did things not to mention an investment in books on related subjects.

What started out as an idea to renovate the house, then sell it and make some money wasn’t entirely successful.  Did we make any money?  No!  Did we lose money?  A little.  Was it worth it to me?  Absolutely!

At the end of the day I knew more about the construction, the period, the history of the neighborhood and so much more than I ever would have without having gone through this restoration experience.  The high visibility of the project lent credibility to our group as knowing a thing or two about old houses.  

The experience has paid off in so many ways both tangible and intangible.

Sometime after this project was history I decided to write about the adventure with all the pros and cons and decision making. 

The years have passed and I have not having done anything with this story.  The photos are ageing. In fear of losing it I decided to post it on my blog with all of the many, many photos taken along the way.  It will be posted in installments over a period of time. 

It is the story of the red house that you see at the top of the page when you open my blog.    

Since this house was restored quite a long time ago the requirements might be quite different now.  It might be even more challenging today with the expectations of buyers relative to kitchens, appliances and bathrooms and large open spaces.  Or perhaps it is best to avoid the latest trends when serious restoration is taking place. I'm not sure how we would have dealt with today's demand for stainless steel and granite.  Personally, I would still lean toward a more conservative approach as being the more appropriate way to go.  I would still want to accommodate the house and not succumb to fads. And most importantly I would still not want to do anything that couldn't be reversed.   The most humble house these days has a glitzy kitchen and elegant bathrooms but after all, this was and is a country farm house. 

The story is called “The Old House at Ipswich Village”.




Prudence Paine Fish


Names on a Mailbox
Jewett History
Day One
Decisions! Decisions! Accommodating an Old House
Crews and Consultants
The Frontispiece of a House
The Cellar Attic and Systems
The Colonial Kitchen
Modern Amenities…Kitchen, Baths and Laundry
The Dining Room
Restoring the Parlor
Reclaiming the Master Bedroom
The Bubble Gum Room
Rear Rooms on the Second Floor
One Bedraggled Barn
The End in Sight
Party Time
Incidents Along the Way
The Furniture
Buyers at Last
Post Script



In 1971 my family consisting of my husband, Dick and three children; Nancy, Rick and  Bob; a dog named Cinnamon and I moved from Connecticut to a new house in Newburyport, MA.  It wasn't new in the sense that it was newly constructed.  It was actually built in 1800. The adventure of living in a 14 room Federal period mansion on High Street at the time of Newburyport's rebirth was exciting, to say the least.

Love of old houses was not new to me but I had never lived in an antique house.  I just knew this would be fun.

We still owned our second home in Lanesville on Cape Ann, (a small village that is part of the City of Gloucester) and continued to spend summers there. That meant countless trips back and forth between the two houses. Lanesville to Newburyport is a fifty minute trip.

It was a lovely drive.  I could not complain and I never tired of it.  Past the antique shops of Essex I drove, on to the farms of Ipswich and South Village Green, then passing the Common in  Rowley and the Newbury marshes until I crossed the Parker River marking the entrance to Newbury's Lower Green. Next came the Upper Green. I finally arrived on beautiful High Street.  There was always something to look at. The trip included frequent detours around Ipswich to look at the old houses and absorb New England at its best.  I loved it all.

One house always caught my eye.  It sat by itself midst overgrown fields, shabby, with an aluminum awning above the front door.  A rickety barn, barely upright, was holding on for dear life at the end of the sweeping driveway.  In better days someone had painted the construction date of the house prominently on the chimney.  It said 1759.  It was a landmark; a very run-down landmark.

An ugly aluminum awning capped the front door.
After absorbing this forlorn scene my eyes would always catch sight of the mailbox on the side of the road at the end of the driveway with two names painted on it.  As I drove along I would think to myself, "Did it say Orcott and Waycutt or was it Orcutt and Waycott?" until I wasn't sure any more. What funny names  I mused. I would have to look at it again the next time I drove by.  My brain went through this silly exercise with each trip.  How could two names on one house be so alike but different.  Were these families related?

Fast forward to 1981.  Ten years had passed.  I had now embarked on a new career in real estate working in Ipswich, drawn to that town by the early houses.  Living in Newburyport  had advanced my interest in old houses, my knowledge and my research skills.  By this time I was living year- round in Lanesville.

One day, without warning, two associates in our office, David Martin, my manager, and Tony Watters came into the office and David said, "Ya know that old house up toward Rowley with 1759 on the chimney? Well, Mr Waycott died and it is for sale to settle his estate.  Tony and I are thinking of buying it and fixing it up on spec.  It has six acres of land.  Want to go in with us?"

What!  Me?  That Waycott-Orcutt house?  Tell me more!
Tired old house with date on the chimney and Greek Revival door surround.
The only one living in the house was Wayne Orcutt.  The house needed a lot of work but it was only $79,000 with all that land!

There must be potential in this deal, I thought.  So I agreed.  The three of us added another partner, Vernon Martin, and put the old place under agreement.  Our lawyer explained that in the case of an estate settlement the property goes to the highest bidder. Even with a signed Purchase and Sales Agreement the estate is not bound.  Another buyer could come in with a higher offer at the last minute and it would be all over.  We must close as quickly as possible.  There were other interested buyers.

We looked the house over.  Yuk! Everything smelled like mildew.  Was it the hay that had been banked around the foundation for so long?  Was it the network of streams running around the cellar floor?
Tattered curtains at the windows
Tattered curtains and pulpy wallpaper made the rooms depressing.  The furnishings were overstuffed, mostly nondescript and decrepit.  The fireplaces were covered.  There was one miserable bathroom upstairs with a claw foot tub and a half bath downstairs in the lean-to.  Neither was worth saving. The lean-to was tipping away from the house!  The windows were rattling and in collapse.  There were radiators and an old, heavy gas and gas stove dominated the kitchen.  And we mustn't forget the barn. There's nothing more depressing than an unrestored antique house.  In the process of restoration " it gets worse before it gets better".

A very shaky barn
All in all, it was the perfect picture of a run down old New England farmhouse and we were naive buyers.  What we lacked in smarts we made up for with enthusiasm.

The closing was set for the first week in September.  Fall would be a nice time to work on the house. We were on our way.  On that day in 1981 my relationship with the Waycott-Orcutt place (I finally got it straight) began.  Nearly a third of a century has passed and the relationship continues.  It has more than forty years since I first became fixated on a dilapidated old house with a past, a future and strange  names on a mailbox, and more than thirty years since my knowledge of old houses was seriously tested and the greatest learning experience of my life about to begin.


While nervously awaiting the closing there were  plans to make and things to do.  My first stop was the Registry of Deeds in Salem where I researched the chain of title back to Moses Jewett.

The Jewett farm was originally the Muzzy farm.   The homestead house was near a great  spring on the Egypt River.  It was an isolated location way off the highway although it is possible that the road at that time ran closer to the house. Muzzy moved  to Newbury to the vicinity of present day Marlboro Street, formerly called Muzzy's Lane.  Today that location is in Newburyport. Muzzy sold his farm of about 100 acres to Joseph Jewett who was already a landowner of note in 1654.

When Joseph Jewett died in 1660-61 his estate included a new house and barn. Each generation that followed further divided the land.  The next generation living on the land was Jeremiah Sr., then Jeremiah, Jr., followed by Aaron and finally Moses, the builder of our house, at least the second if not the third house to be built on this large farm.

In 1741 Moses Jewett married Abigail Bradstreet, the "girl next door", or more accurately the girl from the next farm.  They had ten children, five girls and five boys.  During the Revolution Moses served in Gloucester with a horse troop protecting Gloucester Harbor. His son, Aaron went with him.

Moses was the captain of this troop. That is when Moses earned the title of captain.  He was not a sea captain as one would tend to think but a captain in the militia.

Aaron, the son, built his house just up the road around 1780 and succeeding generations did likewise until there was, and still is, a string of Jewett houses along that stretch of road representing the homesteads of several generations of Jewetts from the 18th to the 20th centuries.  The old house on the  Egypt River disappeared so long ago there are no records or photos.

Aaron was born in 1744.  He married Hannah Pearson from the neighborhood in 1769.  They lived in the house that Aaron built on land given to him by his father, Moses.  Their house was not unlike the house that Moses built. Both were typical country architecture of the Georgian period with large center chimneys.
The Aaron Jewett- Cate House at Ipswich Village.
In 1793 Aaron's wife, Hannah, died.  She had hanged herself in the cellar.  She was soon discovered but was too late to save her.  Aaron and Hannah had eight children.

A year later on November 8, 1794 Abigail passed away.  She was 71.  Her stone in the Rowley cemetery records this plaintive verse.

The rising morning can't assure
That we shall end the day;
For death stands ready at the door 
to take our lives away.

Abigail <i>Bradstreet</i> Jewett
Abigail Bradstreet Jewett, Rowley Cemetery
Boyington photo

Aaron and Moses both served in the Revolution.  Moses was a Captain of a troop of horse.  Aaron was a private in his father's horse troop when they marched on the alarm of April 19, 1775.  They got as far as Medford, too late for the action at Lexington.  Again on November 29, 1775 Captain Moses Jewett and his son, Aaron, now a corporal, marched with the troop of horse to Gloucester to protect the harbor.  In 1796 Capt. Moses Jewett died.  He was 75 years old.  His probate listed his occupation as "Gentleman".

Capt Moses Jewett
Moses Jewett's stone in Rowley
Boyington photo

Just prior to the death of Moses, Aaron had married Elizabeth Bradstreet from a neighboring farm. Aaron then inherited his father's house and made that his home for the rest of his life.

In addition to leaving the house to Aaron, Moses provided for his two unmarried daughters, Abigail and Betty, in an interesting way.

Aside from getting $40.00 in five years there are other items with which they were provided.  Here are some of the highlights.

Each received a feather bed, three pairs of sheets and a loom.  Also, they inherited the use of 1/3 part of the house and cellar and a privilege in the well. The house was to be kept in good repair and the garden by the well was to be kept up. Abigail and Betty could help themselves to the fruit on the trees. They could sit in his pew in the Rowley church.  Additionally, they got one cow, three cords of wood brought to the house, one barrel of cider, 12 bushels of potatoes and apples, 6 bushels of Indian corn, 3 bushels of rye each year while they remain single.  And finally they could have $100 worth of furniture.

It didn't specify which rooms in the house would be available to them.  I suspect that alterations of the fireplace in the modern-day dining room with the addition of an oven may have come about in the provisions for these two maiden sisters.

Aaron and Elizabeth (Bradstreet) Jewett had two children.  Aaron died in 1824 and Elizabeth in 1834. The former Aaron Jewett house, the one he built, became known as the Cate house.  Aaron's daughter, Eliza, had married Mark French Cate and the house Aaron Jewett built became their home.
To be continued.  Stay tuned for room restoration details with loads of pictures. 


  1. From the beginning this interesting story of the Moses Jewett house is based on meticulous historical research, which of course is just as we expected. I am looking forward to reading all of the installments.

    1. Thank you Jim. I have been hesitating because of the age of the story and just that it was a little unconventional. It is interesting to re-evaluate what we did years later and think about what was good and what we could have done differently!

  2. I too am looking forward to this story. I live way out here in Oregon, where there are not many houses that approach the age of the ones in your blog. I discovered your blog via your My Red Cape friend, and I have been reading it ever since! I find it fascinating to learn about these houses.

  3. I love this story! I'm presently restoring a house in Newburyport, that has all the mildew smells and rattling windows too. I'm doing it one piece at a time, and using a library of books I inherited from my mother, who also restored a few homes in Ipswich & Newburyport.
    I'm looking forward to read more on your project!

  4. Is this the same house at 312 High Street in Ipswich?