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

Saturday, August 13, 2016



This unidentified house is not the house in the story 
but representative of the house described.

Tucked away in a New England town and down a long lane, is an ancient saltbox house.  Nobody that I knew had ever seen it other than in some long out of print books on old houses.  Don’t we all know houses that we have seen and fervently wished we could get inside?  Well, this is the house that was on my wish list.

This particular property belonged to a very protective lady who had inherited the treasure from her parents complete with all the furniture and accessories that one would hope to find in a first period house.

The house was tantamount to a fabulous museum the only problem being that it was not open to the public; not ever.  At least one hundred years ago it became the guest house on the property on which a large house had been built with all the modern conveniences of that day allowing the old house to remain untouched. By the time I was aware of this hidden treasure, it was no longer used at all, even for guests.

Everyone knew that I had studied the photos in books and would do anything to cross the threshold of this ancient, and unspoiled house.  And as luck would have it, my chance to see it materialized right out of the blue through a mutual friend.  Several others decided to tag along until there were perhaps five of us who would be experiencing this superb treat.

On the appointed day we arrived at the newer big house where our hostess lived.  There was only a path leading down to the old house some distance away.  After exiting our vehicles we went to the door of the main house.  We knocked and called the owner’s name repeatedly.  There was no response.  We stood around considering what to do next.  The owner’s car was there but where was she?

After a period of time we concluded that she was probably waiting for us at the old house so we tentatively began to proceed slowly down the path.

Suddenly the owner came racing out of the main house screeching like a banshi ordering us to get back to the house.  “No one goes down that path without me.” she admonished.  So somewhat chagrined we back-tracked while she gave us a scolding and then a history lesson about the house.

Finally the moment arrived.  She unlocked the door and we crossed that treasured threshold into what clearly would be a wonderful experience.  Before proceeding she tested us a bit with questions such as which is older, the banister back chair or the ladder back?  I passed the test with flying colors and seemed to have gained her approval a little.

As we followed her on the tour we were thrilled to be there and in great admiration of the house and its contents.  She also seemed to be warming to the occasion and eventually we ended our tour in the old kitchen with its enormous cooking fireplace.

Now our hostess was really getting into this strange party of sorts.  She decided we could sit around the huge fireplace and she would build a fire.  How long had it been since the fireplace was used I wondered with some concern.  I soon got over my doubts when I realized that sitting before this ancient fireplace in this rarest of houses was a very special event not to be taken lightly.   This would be a very memorable day memorable it was for several reasons.

Now she proclaimed that she was going to send one of us into town to buy sandwiches and we would have lunch in front of the fire.  She was clearly now having the time of her life and so were we. 

While one of our group went for sandwiches she went to her house and came back with wine.  What could be better than a beautiful fall day in New England having lunch in front of this venerable fireplace with a glass of wine?

Along the way different guests were instructed to put more wood on the fire and to take the tongs and arrange a log this way or that way.  By now our hostess was in really high gear.  The smell of the wood smoke was strong.  I was feeling some anxiety about the chimney and slipped away upstairs where it was slightly smokey to which she was oblivious.  We had been there a long time and needed to get back to our office.

That was easier said than done.  I began to have misgivings about this party.  We should leave.  My head started to pound from smoke and the tension that came from realizing that we were prisoners.  She was not ready to let us go!

I looked at my watch repeatedly.  I looked at my friends imploring someone to help.  Our hostess was in control and we had to do her bidding.  More logs on the fire; more wine in the glasses.

Finally we made our escape.  The end is a blur, a least for me.  By this time I had a raging headache.  It was all I could do to drive myself home and crawl into my bed with a full blown migraine and there I remained until the next morning.  I never went back to the office.  Completely wiped out, I was.  I don’t even remember how we dealt with the fire in the fireplace when we left.  The house is still there so nothing bad befell the house as a result of our caper.

That was a number of years ago.  Our hostess has since passed on.  The house has had dendrochronology testing proving that it was built in the late 17th century.   But there was just a little more fallout  resulting from our adventure.

A friend of mine who was a very knowledgeable old house expert was determined to see that house based on my report.  With his charm and knowledge of old houses he thought he could handle this hostess just fine.  So he found an old map that indicated the now private driveway was once an old road.  (If it was, which I doubt, it only went to that house).  So armed with the map for proof that he wasn’t deliberately trespassing and with an expensive bottle of wine, one evening he ventured down the lane.  He had mentally rehearsed how he was going to sweet talk this lady winning her over and getting to see the old house.

As soon as he reached the big house the owner came screaming out of the door ordering him off her property.  He tried to show her the map to no avail.  She finally ended the confrontation by jumping into her car and chasing him out to the main road!  So home he went with his deflated ego and with his bottle of wine which I’m sure he promptly drank.

You know the old saying, “Be careful what you wish for”?  My wish came true but I paid a price and so did my friend with his expensive wine and shattered ego.

I’m glad I got to see the house and had the rare experience of sitting before that fire in the most wonderful setting on a perfect day.  But I can tell you that I got that house out of my system and have never in my wildest dreams thought of ever going back.  One visit and one migraine was enough.


  1. That's quite an old house adventure you had, although I am glad that you did get the rare opportunity to visit the house when it was still in seclusion. When I visited old houses more often, I had unusual luck in gaining access, sometimes even when I was just walking around admiring the exterior. None of my hosts were as eccentric as your example!

  2. Prudence, what a delightful story! You have such a way of humanizing your stories which are always chock full of history. Thank you for taking the time to write this one!