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

Monday, August 7, 2017



Right off the top let me assure you that there are very few places that tell you what color to paint your house.  You probably won't ever have to deal with that although I can't make that promise. Paint is cosmetic and I don't believe in dictating color.  I would like to say that regulating color is a myth but you would probably tell me that in some places it is real and I would believe you.  

First of all there are two kinds of historic districts and it makes a difference which one you live in or in which you might buy property.  

A National Register District is a Federal District.  Buildings in the area are designated as contributing to the district if they are truly important or non contributing if they are newer or insignificant in some way.  

Inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places is not based solely on age or condition.  Other qualifications are not architectural but based on who lived there.  Did someone famous or important in some way live there?  Other qualifying criteria can be linked to an important event in history that took place there and distinguishes the house.

In spite of these designations there are no rules governing the National Register District and no restrictions whatsoever on any of the buildings.  You can tear them down unless there are other local regulations that prevent that.  So just being in a district does not restrict a homeowner whatsoever.

Many times I have heard people state that they would never live in a National Register District because you have to open your house to the public one day per year.  That rumor persists! I have heard it over and over.  It simply is not true and never was.

Another but more stringent form of historic district is a local historic district; an area or neighborhood determined by the city or town in which you live to be significant and it does come with restrictions.  

This means that if you are going to alter any exterior part of the house that can be seen from a public way you must go before an historic district commission for approval before the local building inspector can issue you a building permit.  This is much more serious oversight than what comes with living in a National Register District.  But remember it only pertains to the exterior including the front facade of the house and maybe the sides if they are visible from your street or another street in the area. 

If you already live in a local district or yearning to buy a particular house in the district you need to be accepting of the fact that there is another layer of  supervision over your house.  The requirements are not that restrictive but if you have a "don't tell me what to do" attitude toward property ownership in it may not be the best place for you to settle in.  

On the positive side living in a local district insures you that your neighbors are under the same supervision and covenants and nothing terrible is going to change that will bring down the value of your house or deteriorate the neighborhood.  Living outside the district leaves you much more vulnerable. Personally, I would love to live in an historic district protected from disastrous changes in the area.  

So before you make a decision to move into a local historic district here are some of the things that will be expected of you.

Improvements or changes can be OK.  But a general rule of thumb is that if you replace any parts of the exterior know that you will probably have to replace them with like materials which in many instances will be wood.  Again, remember that this does not pertain to the entire exterior but only what is seen from a street.

If your house was adversely treated before the district was designated you will not be forced to change anything.   However when you do decide to correct and upgrade you will have to do it appropriately.

Big items are siding, windows and doors.  If you bought the house with vinyl siding or older aluminum siding or asbestos you will not be forced to remove it.  If you do remove it  you will either restore what is underneath  or replace the exterior with wood clapboards or shingles, whichever would have been on your house previous to the siding.

Windows should be restored.  Replacement windows such as vinyl windows with snap in grids have no place in the historic district and cheapen a house whether it is in a district or not. Homeowners have been sold a bill of goods by window companies, lumber yards and building supply houses. Original windows, sometimes with wavy glass can be restored.  Rotted sections  can be replaced as needed, glass can be replaced pane by pane or the whole window re-glazed.  Windows and doors can last for hundreds of years. They really can. A replacement window has a life expectancy of 20 to 30 years! Wood window sash that are working properly and have a good storm window inside or outside, are just as energy efficient as an unattractive replacement window that you will have to replace again down the road. If the neighbor's kids throw a rock that breaks your replacement window it cannot be repaired. You will have to buy a complete new window at great expense.

Nothing is prettier than a small paned, true divided lite window with individually set panes of glass. When the sun reflects off the old panes set at slightly different angles or perhaps old enough to be wavy these "eyes" of the house speak volumes.  Please don't even consider relegating them to the dumpster in exchange for an inferior replacement even if your house isn't in an historic district and even if it isn't antique.

Doors in an historic district without a doubt will be wood.  Repair the door if possible or replace it with a similar wood door.  

Synthetic materials like vinyl or fiberglass are never going to be appropriate.  Don't even think about it.  You will waste your time if you live in a local historic district and try fight for approval of these materials.  The same goes for steel doors which do not even come close to being acceptable and eventually rust out.  

There isn't much room for exceptions.  If the commission goes out on a limb because they feel sorry for you it is the beginning of the end for the district.  How can you turn down an applicant who points a finger at a neighbor who got away with an inappropriate change?  There has to be a level playing field with no exceptions.

For most admirers of old houses there is more beauty in a shabby but honest house than in a neat,and tidy house wrapped in vinyl with the hollow eyes of replacement windows with or without grids.

If you are already living in a district you are well aware that there are rules and regulations governing your house.   If you anticipate doing work on  your house first have an informal conversation with the local commission to get input and a feel for what  you can do before you invest money on an architect or purchasing new materials. When you do approach the historic district commission in your community come armed with photos or samples of the materials you wish to use.

If you are thinking of buying a house in a local district and are resistant to the regulations think twice about living there and don't put yourself in a situation that will be contentious.

One  common myth is that  historic districts have control over color.  Perhaps some of the older districts were overly restrictive but most districts don't address color and they shouldn't.  Color is cosmetic.  It is somewhat temporary and will eventually be changed and therefore not anything worth getting too upset about.  Color doesn't physically damage a house.  

Landscaping is also exempt from control.  The covenants can change from town to town and from one part of the country to another.

Don't put the local commission on the spot by asking permission for siding, replacement windows or steel doors.  It won't work.  Don't ask.  Not around here in New England anyway.

Living in an historic neighborhood should be a treat and something to be proud of.  But if you think you can convince those in charge to make an exception and bend the rules for things you might want to do, perhaps living in an historic district is a mistake.  If commissions were to begin making exceptions it would mark the beginning of the end of an historic district.  Everyone has to be treated the same.  If the commissions turns down your application they are not picking on you.  They are doing their job to protect the integrity of the neighborhood historic district long after most occupants have moved on.

Each historic district has its ordinances and each commission is made up of individuals with different ideas or levels of knowledge.  But for the most  part there is nothing being asked of the residents of an historic district that is unreasonable or hard to live with.  Again, don't try to persuade the commission to break the rules.  Just take pride in your house and neighborhood.  Be happy knowing that you are protected on all sides and enjoy your good fortune in being able to live in  a special place.

If you live in the New England area and have deteriorating true divided lite windows, before you throw them in the dumpster consider a call or a visit to the Window Woman of New England, centrally located in Amesbury, MA.


If you are considering replacement windows, Allison Hardy will change  your mind!

Thanks for reading.  And please think twice before you invest in replacement windows, vinyl siding or steel doors.  You will save money and your house will be good for another hundred years!


Wednesday, August 2, 2017



     This is an open letter to owners of old houses and prospective owners of old houses.  This post is about BEAMS!

     Every homeowner, especially new homeowners, take much pride in their new home ownership.  At least that is my observation.  Certainly all want to beautify their houses and in doing so express their taste as they make their new house their home reflecting their interests and style.  I can't believe that they would deliberately damage the biggest investment of their life.  They wouldn't knowingly choose to decrease its monetary value, beauty or integrity by hurting the house would they?

     So why do so many do damage to their new house anyway?

Crude brown beams in an otherwise nice room.
     It has to be because they don't know any better and are jumping on a destructive band wagon.  No one has cautioned them and so they follow so many other owners of antique houses and do as they do, like sheep.  They assume that what they are doing is restoration; clueless that they are making grave and irreversible mistakes.  Removing any of the original fabric of the house is a mistake.

     For forty years people have said to me, "Pru.  You have to see this house!  It is all restored.  You're going to love it.  The owners have exposed the beams and...."  "Stop right there", I want to scream at them.  "I don't want to see another house with exposed beams...ever!"  (unless it's first period, of course)

     From the earliest building dates in the 17th century the houses in the New World were post medieval.  That doesn't mean crude.  Early settlers brought their building style with them from England.

     From the mid 1600s until the 1720s, approximately, the time at which the earliest houses appeared, they were built with very heavy framing and this framing was exposed. This is called the "First Period" architecturally speaking.  These houses were not rough.  There were no adz marks showing.  All the edges of the beams, especially the summer beams were dressed with chamfers. There were no sharp edges.  A 17th century house would have dramatically large beams dressed with fine and bold chamfers. We call these decorated frames.

This photo clearly shows the decorated edge, (chamfer) on the summer beam.  This is a first period room
and is of the period when the framing of the house with its chamfers was meant to be seen.  After this period
the framing members of the house were carefully hidden away and not meant to be seen by human eyes.  This is
a room from Ipswich, MA removed to the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  Ipswich has the largest collection
of early houses.

     That really concludes the story of correctly exposed beams in America and it is only circa 1725! So unless your house is about 300 or more  years old don't even imagine that it ever has had exposed beams and don't go looking for them!  Perhaps some did; there are always exceptions but don't count on it.

     There are not too many houses remaining that were built before 1725.  That means there should not be too many appropriately exposed beams.  Period!  Where I live in Gloucester, MA, a town settled in 1623, there are only about ten houses remaining from the first period and perhaps as few as two date to the 17th century.

     In the first period when exposed beams were legitimate they were white washed, not left brown.  So beamed ceilings should be a rare feature.  Right?  And they should be whitewashed

      Moving into the second architectural period from let's say from about 1725-1730 to the 1790s, depending somewhat on where you live, many, many houses were built.  If there were protruding framing posts in the corners or a summer beam above, all were covered (boxed)  with smooth boards with beaded edges.  These boxes were painted the same color as the rest of the woodwork in the room. Plaster covered the floor joists above.

     After 1725 (as well as before) refinement was what builders and home owners were striving for.  Practically all woodwork was painted or would be as soon as finances, time or choices were arranged.  There are occasional exceptions  but we are talking about the norm.

   Somewhere along the way the error of exposing rough hewn beams with adz marks and rough joists became synonymous with restoration.  Nothing could be further from the truth. It is wrong, wrong, wrong

Lovely room but why the rough beams?

     The imagined necessity of exposing ugly brown overhead has caught on and taken off much like the destructive movement to get rid of your old wood window sash in order to buy cheap replacement windows that cost a lot of money and have to be replaced again in twenty to thirty years. Homeowners have fallen hook, line and sinker for these destructive fads.  When I see brown splintery beams and the underside of the second floor floorboards I want to cover my eyes.  It is painful to look at a destroyed ceiling knowing the plaster has been hauled off in the dumpster.

     Whether on the Internet or in Realtor ads it is obvious that a smooth plaster ceiling is an endangered species.This damage is evident when you see the photos of otherwise nice old houses restored with love by a caring owner with a lot of hard work and a lot of money who has not done their homework.

A nice old house from the 1830 until they did this.   Ugly ceiling
unpainted mantel, stripped and urethaned floor,  and bricks
surrounding the firebox that should have been parged.
Unfortunately rooms that look like this are everywhere and they
should not be considered restored

 Save the integrity of your house and do your pocketbooks a favor.  The worst plaster ceilings can be saved.

    If you live in an antique house and still have plaster ceilings, for Heaven's sake, leave those plaster ceilings alone!  Rough beams belong in the barn.

This concludes the rant that has been percolating in my mind for some time.  You will all probably think of exceptions, I can think of some myself, but don't dwell on them.  They are few and far between.

Thanks for reading and thanks for putting up with my tirade.  Everywhere I look lately at what I think should be a lovely old house I am disappointed when I find that the house has already fallen prey to the ceiling wreckers.


Sunday, July 16, 2017



This is an amazing and convoluted story of an interesting 19th century family and the adventures of their heirloom soup tureen.
The Victorian Soup Tureen

On February 1, 1869 Herbert Small of Boston married Sarah Elizabeth Morton of Newton called Lizzie.  They were married in Boston.  He was the son of Samuel Small, a manufacturer of black keys for pianos, and Ann (Morley) Small.  Sarah was the daughter of William Morton and Elizabeth (Kurtz) Morton an affluent couple from Newton, MA.
Herbert Morley (1844-1935) and Elizabeth Morton Morley (1843-1929)
Within a few years with the help of a loan from William Morton this young couple moved to the village of Baldwinville in central Massachusetts, in the town of Templeton, where Herbert Small built a paper mill on the Otter River. He also built a large Italianate house on a hill overlooking the mill that ultimately had 14 rooms for their growing family of five boys.

The Morley house in Templeton, MA in the village of Baldwinville.  That interesting roof on the left is the well house.

Five Morley brothers.  My mother's husband,
 Sumner, is at the bottom.  (1886-1920)
This somewhat well-to-do family was extremely intellectual.  Mr. Small graduated from Amherst College in the 1860s.  Their house was home to a large library. They were active in the community and the children were well educated.  All attended Goddard Seminary in Barre, Vermont and most went on to Tufts becoming professors and teachers.  They were home schooled in their earlier years by teachers who lived with the family.  As the children grew older they traveled to Europe frequently with their father.

Strangely enough, in the 1890s Mr. Small decided to do away with their last name: Small.  He decided that he would take his mother’s maiden name: Morley.  So the entire family kept Small as their middle name but took Morley as their surname. Some say they changed their name because all being well over six feet tall didn’t appreciate being called Small.  Others said that the name Morley had more cache and that is probably more like it.

This move confused many who thought Mr. Morley had taken his wife’s maiden name: Morton, and concluded that he was so hen-pecked that he was forced to take her name which was really not the case although the rumor persisted. But their last name became Morley and not Morton.

My mother who had moved to this village to teach the second grade.  She soon fell in love with the youngest son, already a widower, whose young wife had died in a terrible train wreck in Bridgeport, Ct. in 1910. By this time (1914) the Mortons in Newton had died and  with the children grown Herbert Small Morley and his wife went to Newton to live in the Morton’s commodious house leaving the big house in  Templeton (Baldwinville) for my mother and her new husband to live in.
My mother with her second grade class, about 1913

The Morton house at 119 Cedar Street in Newton, MA.  Demolished in the 1930s for a subdivision.
Sadly, only five years into the marriage my mother’s husband died suddenly but she was able to stay on in the house for many years before remarrying. She ultimately came into possession of numerous items some of which were inscribed with an “S”, possibly wedding presents for the Smalls in 1869.
In my childhood I was very much aware of the big Morley house, now unoccupied but a perfectly intact example of an 1870s Italianate house, a time capsule with all the furniture, appointments and decorations still in place. My mother, being the only Morley relative left in the area became caretaker of the house for her former in-laws.  Frequently she would take the big brass key to the double front doors off its hook and would go to check on the house with me in tow.  In that way, although very young, I became acquainted with this great place as we moved through the house from room to room making sure everything was in order.

In our dining room was an item of interest perhaps dating to the marriage of Herbert and Sarah Elizabeth.  It was a large silver plated soup tureen.  The finial on the lid was a cow and the handles on the sides of the tureen were cows’ heads.  It was a product of the Reed and Barton silver factory and quite a curiosity to all who saw it, made at a time when there were silver items for every possible use. There were many figural pieces with animals or birds as part of the design. But a cow of all things takes the cake.
The handle on the lid of the tureen was this cow!
It had another distinguishing feature.  At some time in the 19th century a Morley maid had placed the tureen on the back of the big black kitchen stove to keep the soup warm.  But at that time silver plating was done on brittania or similar soft  pewter-like metal.  It was inevitable that the heat from the stove would melt the pedestal base of the tureen leaving it warped and wobbly with a rather big piece missing and that is exactly what happened. The tureen remained unsteady on its base for all time.
Badly damaged pedestal under the soup tureen
Ultimately the tureen came down to me and went with me to Connecticut, then back to Massachusetts to our next house in Newburyport.  In Newburyport it was not on display but stashed in a closet.  Although buried deep in the back of the closet it was not overlooked by burglars who took it along with a great deal of much better solid silver.  The loss was great.  It probably was a disappointment to the thieves to find out that the big tureen was not sterling and could not be melted down for money.

Fast forward to somewhere around 2010.  As usual I attended a Sunday flea market with a friend.  My friend purchased a large doll house and we had to pick it up in my wagon.  This necessitated driving through the crowded flea market very slowly and cautiously.  The aisles were filled with pedestrians and shoppers.

Suddenly, much to the surprise of my passenger friend, I slammed on my brakes, shoved my car into park and jumped out.  On one of the tables was a soup tureen!  And it had a cow finial!  I knew that if it had a melted pedestal it was mine...and it did!

The unsuspecting dealer said, “Have you ever seen anything like that before?”  “Yes”, I replied.  “It’s mine.”  Perhaps I wasn't very tactful but he was not at all gracious about this. I ended up paying him $35.00 for it.  He was not happy.  I never thought that he was the thief and he wasn’t.  He had obtained it from an antique “picker” named Brian.

After some searching I located Brian, the picker, from Hampton, NH who told me that he made it a habit to stop by a scrap metal shop in Amesbury, MA where they would sometimes set aside things that came in that were of interest and that is where he found the tureen sitting on a shelf.  This scrap yard was less than five miles from where it had been stolen more than thirty years previously. 

It was in bad shape, dented and tarnished, no doubt left in a cellar or barn to be kicked around when the thieves found out that they couldn’t turn it into cash.
The melted pedestal on the tureen.

Off went the tureen to a repair and replating shop.  At great expense it was brought back to life.  But what about the damaged pedestal?  To repair that ancient damage would cost several hundred dollars more.  All agreed that the wobbly base was part of its history; part of the story, and that I should leave it alone and that is what I decided to do.  They did attach a small round leg to stabilize it a bit but that is all.  It won’t tip over but it still wobbles.
The restored soup tureen. Shining but still wobbling!

A year later at the flea market someone told me that a man named Brian was looking for me.  I found him along with his wife.  It was the picker who had rescued the tureen from the scrap yard the year before.

These wonderful people presented me with a coffee table book; the history of  Reed and Barton silver.
The history of Reed and Barton silver
Best of all in the book was a picture of the tureen.  They were so happy to have played a role in finding the tureen.  It was a great contrast to the dealer who was such a sore loser than he hasn't spoken to me since although I see him nearly every week at the flea market.

From the pages of "Sterling Classics:
The Reed and Barton Story", Taunton, MA 1998.  The decorative band
around the middle is more ornate than mine but
out of the same mold!

As I polished the Morley soup tureen, circa 1870s, I thought about its history and how it found its way back to me.  It had been gone so long that even my now middle aged children didn’t recognize it or remember when we had it on display in our Connecticut house. They were too young and it had been too long ago.

Not so for me.  I remember it in my childhood in our dining room and later in my own dining room in Connecticut before it came with me back to Massachusetts and the house in Newburyport from which it was stolen. 

I will never know where it was for the intervening years but I know it was not very far away.  Now it is in my dining room in Gloucester…safe and sound but not worth nearly as much monetarily as I paid to have it fixed!!  I had to make it right and I’m glad I did.  There are some things on which you just can’t put a price tag.

After polishing the tureen and other items I decided to continue this Sunday afternoon settling down
comfortably with my lap top to record the story of my soup tureen. 

Sarah Elizabeth Morton Morley
I hope you find the story of the tureen's recovery as remarkable as I think it was.  When you lose something I don't believe you ever stop looking.  This time I was lucky but excited to have it back.

Now if I could only find the impressive leather cased fish set with fork and fish slice so beautifully engraved by Farrington and Hunnewell of Boston or the matching leather cased soup ladle,  also from the shop of Farrington and Hunnewell; or the eighteen Boston silver serving spoons, mostly from Newell Harding that came to me from my father's family or the twelve 1830 coin teaspoons in their original box and tissue paper and monogrammed with an H for Howard from an old house in East Templeton now torn down and replaced by a convenience store.  The list could go on and on. Unfortunately, I'm sure their fate was to be melted down.

It is doubtful that I will find anything else but I will never stop looking.    You never know.

Thanks for reading,



Morton Street, from Mill to Homer Street, 
is marked on the 1 848 map, though the 
location is that of the present Cedar 
Street. The street was probably William 
Morton's private driveway. Both Morton 
and Cedar Streets were accepted by the 
City in 1908.
 Mr. Morton's estate described in King's 
Handbook of Newton as a "gothic villa" 
was just north of Cedar Street. He sold 
ten acres of the estate to local 
speculators in 1 847 with the following 
restrictions: "that there shall not be built 

The Victorian parlor in the Newton house.

Monday, June 26, 2017



The Pillsbury-Dickinson House, Georgetown, MA,  Circa 1700

From the 17th century many families from England settled in New England where they established homes and families and put down deep roots.  Many of the names of the early settlers still prevail in Rowley and in all of the other towns that originally were part of the vast area referred to as "Ould Rowley".  As time went on they built their homesteads.  Many family members remained in that part of Ould Rowley that is now Georgetown, Groveland or Byfield.  

An early settler in this region was Rev. Ezekiel Rogers who claimed the land between Newbury and Ipswich.  This tract of land extended all the way to Andover and included Bradford.  His plantation, as it was called, was established in 1638.  Previously Rev. Rogers was pastor of the church at Rowley, Yorkshire, near Hull.

Rogers requested of the General Court a tract of land between Ipswich and Newbury which was granted.  The settlement was begun in the spring of 1639.  The area was referred to as the "new plantation".  The house that is the subject of this story was located in the Byfield Parish of Rowley but as the large tract of land was further subdivided into new towns this house became part of the newer town of Georgetown.

The present owner of the house has owned it for nearly 40 years and throughout this time has carefully preserved the old house.  There has been no attempt to make it look brand new, an approach that has cost many old houses its best and original fabric.  The Dickinson-Pillsbury house has escaped the "gut jobs" that so many early houses have fallen prey to in recent years.  There are no granite counter tops or phony beamed ceilings.  The exposed beams are original.  Likewise, no brick has been uncovered unless it is original.  The owner has studied every aspect of restoration and preservation and has adhered to rules of integrity.

The Pillsbury -Dickinson house in horse and buggy days.
Having escaped many of the alterations that have become fads in recent years, this house remains intact and retains as much integrity as humanly possible.

The house, the Dickinson-Pillsbury house, c.1700, is on the National Register of Historic Places and the following taken from their report supports the integrity mentioned above.

See National Register report below.

The Dickinson-Pillsbury house retains First Period integrity of location, design, workmanship, setting and feeling to a high degree in its surviving frame and simple features and fittings.  During restoration, the archaeologist owner did not remove early paint from the plaster walls or ceilings, nor the soot blackening the ceilings over the fireplaces.
The way to the barn
In addition, the house retains many simple fittings -wooden latches and pegs, hardware, cupboards and a shelf hung from the 
back of the chimney with wooden hangers - which combine with the unaltered finishes to more accurately portray the feeling of a First Period farm building than most of the houses surveyed.
The large cooking fireplace in the original great "hall.  19' x 19'

Front entry with closed staircase.
The very simplicity of the interior is probably representative of the great body of simple First Period farmhouses now lost to us. The analysis of paint and plaster evidence on the walls and ceilings may yield information important to our understanding of this type of building.  The unusual piecing of the 
right end girt is also worthy of future study.

The Dickinson-Pillsbury house is a 5 bay wide 2 1/2 story, central chimney structure with clapboards on the front and shingles on the sides and rear wall. There are hewn overhangs on the front and at the left gable end. The house began as a single cell 2 1/2 story structure to the right of the chimney bay. , The left-hand rooms were added within a generation. The ell projecting from the rear right-hand end was attached 1856.


This simple farm dwelling has escaped major remodeling over the years and retains much of its original First Period construction and finish. The growth of the house is visible primarily in the attic.  Abbott Lowell Cummings has found evidence of brick nogging in the walls up to the window sill  which confirms accounts in early family records.The owner found evidence during restoration that the original windows were of the type in which sills and headers were let into the studs. 
The large parlor, the second stage of the house.  Ceiling was always exposed.
The stylistic similarity of the two halves of this clearly two-stage house suggests that it was enlarged relatively soon after its initial construction. In the right hand room, the substantial hard wood
longitudinal summer beam has a flat chamfer with plain, coved (semi-lamb's tongue) stop at the outer wall and full lamb's tongue stops at the chimney girt. Joists are spaced 20-21 inches on centers. The chimney girt is covered with a box which has a crude quirked bead along the edge. 
The hall chamber

The house is important for its association with Paul Pillsbury, who purchased the house in 1801-2. Pillsbury was a prolific inventor who patented in 1863 a corn sheller which stripped the kernels from ears of corn. The principle behind his bark mill is still used in mills made today. He also invented the first shoe pegging machine, which was used in his house in Georgetown.

There is more!  

In 1856 a small cape was moved to the lot and attached as an ell at the right hand side of the house up against the oldest end of the dwelling.  It is more Greek Revival but offers more rooms and a back staircase to the second floor.

Here is one of the 1856 rooms in the ell, used
by the present owner as a breakfast room.

Here is the back entrance through the 1850s part of the house.
With landscaping and stone walkway it is particularly pleasing.

The back door of the house enters
into the 1856 section of the that was added.

A short distance from the house is a commodious 18th century barn!   It could be suitable for horses.
In addition there is a garden shed, perennial gardens.
Garden Shed 
Foxgloves near the barn.
The chain of title to the house is not clear.  Paul Pillsbury, the first of the Pillsburys to own the house, was actually a descendant of the Dickinson's so that although there is a different name it is still in the same family.
It has been called the James Dickinson house.  James Dickinson died in 1698.  Here is the inventory of his estate.  It is not clear whether he lived here or whether it was built after his death by his son, James.

By 1704 the house belonged to Samuel Dickinson, son of James.  Perhaps it was Samuel who added the early second stage of the house which is still clearly in the first period with a decorated frame.   He also acquired land from his brother, George, and his mother, Rebecca Dickinson Dresser, formerly the wife of James Dickinson, deceased.

This Samuel had a son, Samuel, Jr.  The house descended down through the Dickinson family until Samuel Dickinson's daughter,Sarah, married Parker Pillsbury in 1774.  This couple had a son, Paul Pillsbury, a significant inventor.  Paul made the old Dickinson-Pillsbury house his home.

Paul first invented a corn shelling machine and then a bark mill.

Next he invented  a machine for cutting shoe leather and a shoe peg system which revolutionized the shoe industry, so important in Essex County.  He was nicknamed "Peg" Pillsbury.  Pegged shoes became the standard for shoe construction and Paul Pillsbury made machinery for making the pegs which he sold throughout the area, the center of the early shoe industry.

Now the long-time owner of the Dickinson Pillsbury house has relocated to a smaller in-town house and the old Dickinson house is on the market for the first time in forty years.  It is a rare house and a rare opportunity for the purist to discover the practically untouched house of their dreams.

Although very authentic the house has all the conveniences of a new house.  It has a real kitchen, 2.5 bathrooms, and 21st century comforts.  Sitting high on a knoll, it is further protected by almost nine surrounding acres.

The Dickinson-Pillsbury house just might be the authentic first period house you waited years to find. If you would like to know more about this property please leave a comment for me and I will put you in touch with the owner.

And, by the way, the asking price is $649,900, not bad for a large antique house, acreage and antique barn!

It's waiting for you and ready for occupancy.
An historic door yard



My blog has centered around antique houses of Gloucester, Massachusetts and some beyond recalling stories of other old towns in Essex County.

In the many months during which I have neglected my blog I did submit some stories to a local blog site called "Enduring Gloucester".

Here is one of my submissions from a year ago as I reminisce about coming to my house in the 1940s as a little girl for my summer vacation not knowing that I would ever own it or live here year 'round.   
This house is now one hundred and fifty four years old.  I never thought of it as being antique because it didn't have a big timber frame and it didn't have fireplaces for heating and cooking so in my opinion it wasn't much of an antique.   Now I think perhaps I should rethink my definition of antique house. It is an old house!

My introduction to this house was happenstance.  My mother was concerned about my summer cold that would not go away.  I was a preschooler when she took me to a doctor whose diagnosis and remedy was this; "She has hay fever.  Send her to the seashore."

So that is how I was suddenly shipped off to spend time with my mother's friend in the seaside village of Lanesville, part of the City of Gloucester.  And that was the pattern every year from then on.  

Now the house is mine and coming here to cure  hay fever, the best thing that ever happened to me. No one ever mentioned that the ragweed to which I was allergic likewise grows here in abundance! That little detail was never mentioned and never reared its head to spoil my summers in Lanesville.

Here are my recollections of those long ago summers at the sea shore posted here on June 26, 2017 after having first been  posted on ENDURING GLOUCESTER, June 29, 2016 just about a year ago.


Children on the Beach. Edward Henry Potthast (1857-1927)
Children on the Beach.                                Edward Henry Potthast (1857-1927)
The Boston and Maine trains played an integral role in my summer vacations in Gloucester.  Trains seem to have played a memorable role in the lives of many of my generation.
1Pru - Train Depot
Each summer my mother and I would take the train from my small hometown in central Massachusetts to rendezvous in Boston at North Station with “Auntie” with whom I would spend my long awaited summer vacation days in Lanesville and Folly Cove.
While in Boston we shopped at Jordan Marsh and Filene’s for a new bathing suit for me and a new dress and shoes for the first day of school in September.  Then if I was lucky enough we might visit Jack’s Joke Shop before riding the subway back to North Station and the Rockport line at Track 2. There I would say good-by to Mother and board the train to Gloucester with Auntie. In the early years engines were formidable, behemoth locomotives belching clouds of black smoke, later replaced by streamlined diesels.
2Pru - Train
My happy anticipation grew as we left the cities of Boston and Lynn behind and approached the Salem station.  At that point in our journey the lights were turned on in the passenger cars.  I knew what that meant. We were about to enter the tunnel.  How exciting that was to a four or five year old!
That event was followed by a sharp change in scenery.  After leaving the Beverly station there were glimpses of big houses, and blue ocean water.  And what was that funny sounding station…Montserrat? That stop was followed by Beverly Farms and Pride’s Crossing; then Manchester with sail boats in the harbor.
After passing the Lily Pond and the West Gloucester station, none too soon for me, the conductor would call out, “Gloucester, Gloucester.”
As we alighted from the train the familiar sights, sounds and smells left no doubt that we were really in Gloucester. Auntie and I then proceeded out to Washington Street to wait for the bus with me sitting on my suitcase in front of the Depot CafĂ© to wait for those big orange buses of the Gloucester Autobus Co.  We must watch for the bus that said “Lanesville, Folly Cove.”  That was very important. 3Pru - Orange busHeaven forbid that we get on the wrong bus!
While impatiently waiting on the sidewalk I stared at the big house on the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and thought it was quite wonderful.  It was almost new then.  It is still wonderful but, like me, showing its age.
The landscape soon became more and more familiar.  As the bus made its way along Washington Street, Auntie, always a teacher, pointed out the old Ellery house and, on the opposite side of the road, the big yellow Babson house.  The construction of the rotary, Route 128 and the A. Piatt Andrew Bridge were still a distant idea.  Little did I know that these historical landmarks pointed out to me as a child would be so important to me as an avid preservationist many decades later.
Way down the road we traveled under the Riverdale Willows, saw the abandoned Hodgkins Tide Mill and crossed the causeway to Annisquam.  After a few more miles we passed the Consolidated Lobster Company at Hodgkins Cove. I was told with a slight tone of disapproval that their lobsters came from Nova Scotia and not as good as our Ipswich Bay lobsters.  Our lobsters would come from George Morey at Lanes Cove.
Shortly thereafter we went down one last hill and there was Plum Cove and the sandy beach!  Oh happy day! We’re almost there.
After stops in Lanesville the big orange bus traveled down Langsford Street until it approached Butman Avenue and Ranta’s Market.  It was extremely important to pull the overhead cord at just the right moment to tell the driver we wanted to get off, not too soon and not too late.
From there it was a short walk with Auntie dragging my suitcase (without wheels of course) up Butman Avenue to Washington Street after which it was downhill to Auntie’s house. The magic of my summer vacations was about to begin.
Every day was filled with fun at Plum Cove or Folly Cove.  Cloudy days were fun, too, with hikes through the woods on the Rockport Path to the Paper House in Pigeon Cove, picking blueberries, walking to Dogtown or a bus trip to Rocky Neck.  On Rocky Neck there was a wonderful shop that I loved called the La Petite Gallery.  Other trips to Bearskin Neck or shopping in downtown Gloucester filled the long summer days.  One trip to downtown each summer always included a stop at Gloucester’s vast City Hall so Auntie could pay her taxes.
It was with great sadness that at the end of August the trip by bus and train was reversed.  I huddled by the window hiding my face so no one would see my tears.  Next summer was such a long way off.
Every detail is forever burned in my brain.  Little did I know that Gloucester would become my permanent residence and that I would be living in Auntie’s house or that my children and grandchildren would also know the magic of summer in Lanesville.
Little did I know that in the warmer months I would be standing in the now so- called 1710 White-Ellery house, no longer across the road from the old yellow Babson house.  The ancient house is now located behind the Babson house and here is where once a month  in the summer I tell  visitors about the construction of the house and explain to them how it was moved across the road in 1947 to save it from demolition as Route 128 became a reality..
And that is where I was on the first Saturday in June as another summer on Cape Ann begins.  
(And that is where I will on the first Saturday of every month through October meeting and greeting people who have an interest in a three hundred year old house.)
Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


Abbott Lowell Cummings

Students of New England architecture, preservationist and lovers of early Massachusetts houses were saddened recently to learn of the death of Abbott Lowell Cummings, a man who had a great influence on so many people especially in my circle of preservationist friends.

After relocating in Newburyport, MA in 1971 just as urban renewal was getting off the ground, we soon found ourselves in close contact with others, like us, who had been drawn to Newburyport for its collection of decaying 18th and 19th century houses that had been languishing for years, shabby, run down but with mouth watering features and historic integrity just waiting to be rescued.

From time to time I would hear someone say something about " Abbott says....."  Who was Abbott?

I soon found out that Abbott Cummings was the undisputed expert on early houses and also Federal period houses inspired by Asher Benjamin of which Newburyport had many.

In 1979 he published his great book, "Framed Houses of Massachusetts Bay", the bible for early houses then and still the best reference book out there.  An amazing book!

As time went on and I knew he would be speaking somewhere I attended.  One memorable talk was one that he gave in the late 1980s at the New England Historical and Genealogical Society in Boston (NEHGS) at one of their "Come Home to New England"  summer programs.  The subject was "The Homes of Our Ancestors".  Tapes of his talk were sold and I played mine over and over in the car soaking up what he had said as I drove around.

Another memorable event was when my son, Bob, and I took a tour with Abbott through the Gedney house in Salem, an early mostly shell of a 17th century house of four rooms.  The tour took hours!  I left the house with my brain on overload, dizzy from what I had absorbed or tried to absorb.  How could there be so much to learn in an empty house?

Gedney House, c 1665

Interior of the Gedney House, Salem, Ma

It was there that I first heard Abbott talk about dendrochronology as he pointed out the tree rings in a girt above a doorway.  That was long before dendro became available in New England.

In 2007 I was to be involved in a rare opening of the 1710 White-Ellery house in Gloucester.  It is open on a regular basis these days but prior to this event had been closed up for many years.  I wrote to Abbott and asked him if he would come and perhaps say a few words about the house.  Much to my joy he accepted the invitation.

White Ellery new claps and cornice.JPG
White-Ellery House, Gloucester, MA  1710

He had previously been in the house in the 1950s with Alfred Mansfield Brooks, president of the Cape Ann Historical Association.  Not only did he come but he had the notes that he had originally taken when viewing the house nearly fifty years before.  He  spoke in front of a large crowd, too many to fit in the house, the rest of us listening through the open windows.

I was fortunate to visit him several times after he retired to Deerfield and discuss features that had left me puzzled.  Those visits were truly memorable events.

Lunch with Abbott Cummings in Deerfield, MA

In 1979 I bought "Framed Houses" and used it until it was shabby and falling apart but thanks to eBay I found another first edition online.  Just as I had done with the first one I asked Abbott to sign it. When he did he commented that I was the first to have worn on my original book and replaced it for him to sign again just as he had with the first one probably 30 years before.

He was 94 years old when he died and left legions of followers who relied on him as the ultimate expert.

The following is an obituary written by he long-time associate, Richard Candee.  It is perhaps the longest obituary I have ever read but there is no way to abbreviate his work and tribute to his life.

Here is the link which is probably more efficient than copying the long obituary but I hope you will read it and appreciate the legacy of this remarkable man to those of us who love old houses.  It was written by his long time associate, Richard Candee.


Abbott Cumming's scholarship and influence will always be remembered by those who knew and respected him...and there are many.


Three old timers.  Abbott Cummings,  Elizabeth Hough, benefactor of the
Sargent House Museum in Gloucester and Harold Bell, then president 
of the Cape Ann Historical Association, now Cape Ann Museum.   All
three made contributions to preservation and all now passed on. 
Pru Fish Photo  1990s


In late 2015 the City of Gloucester was threatened with the loss of several houses.  In the end one was saved, one was demolished and one was gutted to the studs and turned into condos.  

Gloucester is America's oldest seaport; a small city founded in 1623 where preservation should be paramount.  Peabody, a short distance away, is a tired industrial city with less to preserve.  A significant building, one that was familiar to me, in Peabody was also threatened with demolition.

The following story is taken from a piece I wrote at that time and submitted to Enduring Gloucester, a local blog, (enduringgloucester.com) some of which I will repeat here along with a follow-up.  The date was October 13, 2015.


We accept the fact that Gloucester is America's oldest seaport but it is easy to take this distinction for granted.  In addition Gloucester has a rich history in the art world.  The list of painters who came to Gloucester, drawn by the scenery and the special light, is a who's who in art.  Throw in the history of the granite industry, the uniquely ethnic neighborhoods and last but not least, the architecture.

Switching gears, let's talk about the City of Peabody.  Peabody?  Of all the towns and cities on the North Shore what's so historic about Peabody?

The City of Peabody was separated from Danvers and was the scene of leather workers and tanneries.  The tanneries are mostly gone and although that city is proud of its history few would compare it to Gloucester on any level.  It is a city of malls, old factories, busy highways and a central square that is sometimes under water.  Above all it doesn't have a harbor and any comparison to Gloucester, Le Beauport, would seem to be ludicrous.

Although Peabody doesn't have much going for it compared to Gloucester, in one respect it has Gloucester beat hands down.  Here's why.

In the late 1890s J. B. Thomas built a house for his grandson.  He spared nothing to create a beautiful house smack dab in the middle of the city on the corner of Main Street and Washington Street.  It also had fabulous carriage house in the rear not to mention an enormous and beautiful old beech tree in the front.

The Thomas family lived in the house for 15 or 20 years before selling it to the O'Sheas.  It then became known as the O'Shea house until sold around 1970 and converted into a furniture store.  After the furniture store owners retired the house was sold to a social agency.

In recent years the house has fallen on hard times and was foreclosed.  Bank owned, it was available for sale.

In a scenario that is far too familiar, a developer from our own City of Gloucester eyed this high visibility site for redevelopment and negotiated to purchase it.  He made it known that his intent was to demolish the old house.  He was so taken with the site he had not, according to reports, even looked at its wonderful interior.  This is when the story takes a remarkable turn.

Unlike Gloucester, this community, Peabody, has a demolition delay ordinance and has had one since 1986, more than thirty years ago.  It was invoked in an attempt to save the O'Shea house. But when  the City realized that the delay was not long enough to be effective the city council boldly extended the  ordinance from 90 days to one year, 365 days, to buy more time, a lease on life for the old house in question.

The trend is for longer delay periods as towns where demolition delay has been tested understand that in order to be effective, longer delays must be enacted and are addressing this finding. Meanwhile, remember, Gloucester doesn't even have a demolition delay ordinance, still rolling out the red carpet for developers who care little for the historical value of the properties they would demolish.  

(Newburyport, a most beautiful nearby city, has found out the hard way that developers gutting their beautiful Federal period mansions for condo conversion leaving them a pretty shell with all of the original interior fabric, destroyed or scrapped.  They are just now recognizing and assessing their loss.)

Determined not to lose this historic house, the City of Peabody, led by the mayor and supported by the Peabody City  Council, made a second bold move.  They announced they would take the house by eminent domain!  The house will be saved and it will be interesting to see what happens next.  The City can potentially recover their fair market value purchase price and will have the option to sell it with preservation covenants or easements to protect it into the future.  This is what anyone caring about the house hopes will happen.

Perhaps eminent domain is a tool that Gloucester should invoke from time to time when a historic building is in jeopardy.  How is it that  Peabody can take such a decisive seep while Gloucester languishes totally vulnerable with no demolition delay and only a tiny historic district?

Who would think that Peabody would have the foresight and courage to act so decisively?  Why is Gloucester so indifferent?

Is it because Peabody has so much less to save that they are galvanized into making such a bold move?

Regardless of what motivated them, I say, "Kudos to Peabody"  May they lead by example!

June 20, 2017

I wrote the above story on October 13, 2015.  Having heard no more about the O;Shea house I moved on and did not follow up.  This morning's paper and the following article jolted me into the realization that I had taken for granted that the house was safe.

The developer, Michael Corsetti, who happens to come from Gloucester, is suing the City of Peabody saying that his civil rights were violated when the City took the property.

Here is an unbelievably exquisite property now in the hands of a developer who is is determined to win this battle with the City of Peabody although he has no credentials and no background in preservation.  He is typical of the developers such as those that have attacked the City of Newburyport to convert historic properties into money makers for themselves and then move on. When preservation easements are ignored they offer the community a sum of money to compensate the community in lieu of having respected the history, architecture or even the covenants on the property.  This trick has worked in some instances.

It is a sad state of affairs and I hope Peabody keeps fighting this callous developer tooth and nail.

For more details here is a link to the updated newspaper story published today, June 20, 2017.


Also, related to this sad story is the piece I wrote in this blog called "Why Are You Gutting This House" October 13, 2016, exactly one year after the O'Shea house story.  This piece addressed what was happening in Newburyport, a city that has a lot to lose.

Each community has its sob story recounting the loss of special properties.  It is not an easy problem to solve but demolition delay and preservation easements can help.  These historic towns and cities need to employ all the tools available to slow down the destruction of antique and significant properties.

Good luck to Peabody!