The Fairbanks House: oldest wood-frame house in North America

image from: http://www.flickr.com/ (by: Elizabeth Thomsen)

image from: http://www.flickr.com/ (by: Elizabeth Thomsen)

I’ve covered some really old houses here on House Crazy – but none as old as this one (at least not in North America!)

The Fairbanks House  in Dedham, Massachusetts was built between 1637 and 1641 it was kept in the same family until it became a museum in the early 20th century.

Now THAT is preservation!

image from: http://www.fairbankshouse.org/

image from: http://www.fairbankshouse.org/

The oldest part of the house slumps down from the chimney as though heaving a great sigh under the weight of the many centuries it has witnessed.

The central chimney must be really well made (or well-maintained), because in a lot of old houses I look at, the chimney is the point of slump which drags the rest of the house down toward that central point.

image from: en.urbarama.com

image from: en.urbarama.com

But this is not just any old house. This is the oldest known surviving timber-frame house in North America!

Here’s a historic photo, probably taken in the late 1800′s:

image from: http://www.historic-details.com/

image from: http://www.historic-details.com/

By the 1940′s the big tree out front was gone…

image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/ (by:  Stanley Mixon - Library of Congress)

image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/ (by: Stanley Mixon – Library of Congress)

The home was built by Puritan settlers Jonathan Fairebanke and his wife Grace. It was passed down from this original family for 8 generations.

The age of the house (some 360+ years) has been verified by dendrochronology testing.

image from: www.planetware.com

image from: www.planetware.com

The central portion of the home – with the steeply pitched roof – was the original structure. It was added onto over the centuries as the family grew.

image from: "American Architect and Building News", 1881 - via Wikipedia

image from: “American Architect and Building News”, 1881 – via Wikipedia

The gambrel roofed portions of the building are newer (late 18th or early 19th century), but still relatively old.

image from: freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com

image from: freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com

Here’s another view of the original portion of the home…

image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/ (by: Swampyank)

image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/ (by: Swampyank)

The  decision was made not to attempt to restore the house to its appearance at any  one period of time, so the Fairbanks House today provides detailed evidence of  the many different time periods of its construction and use.

- from: http://www.fairbankshouse.org

image from: www.boston.com

image from: www.boston.com

The age and condition of the house is really quite breathtaking. The images of it - both recent and historic - are mesmerizing.

image from: http://thomaskruegerfamily.wordpress.com

Today the Fairbanks house is preserved as a historic house museum by the Fairbanks Family in America, a non-profit organization founded by descendents of the original family. This association has been in existence for over 100 years. The last Fairbanks family member to reside in this house was Rebecca Fairbanks (1827-1908). She moved out in 1904.

The following interior pictures were taken in May of 1940:

The first image is the 1st floor parlor in the 18th century addition…

image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/ (by: Stanley Mixon - Library of Congress)

image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/ (by: Stanley Mixon – Library of Congress)

The photos below were taken in the original center potion of the house…

image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/ (by: Stanley Mixon - Library of Congress

image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/(by: Stanley Mixon – Library of Congress)

The oak structural beam pictured above was pinpointed by dendrochronology testing to have been felled in the winter of 1637/38!  The ‘house nerd’ in me finds that fact insanely thrilling.

image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/ (by: Stanley Mixon - Library of Congreee)

image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/ (by: Stanley Mixon – Library of Congress)

The Fairbanks House is open for public tours between May and October. For us house crazy people, this just might be the ultimate bucket list destination.

image from: www.fairbankshouse.org

image from: www.fairbankshouse.org

I simply LOVE this house – slumpy roof and all!

~~~

Sources:

http://www.fairbankshouse.org/index.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairbanks_House_(Dedham,_Massachusetts

19 Responses to The Fairbanks House: oldest wood-frame house in North America

  • Deborah Billings says:

    Once again I’d like to thank you for all the hard work and creativity you put into this website. Finding a “new” old house is a highlight of my day. I would like to touch this old house. Out here in Wyoming our oldest houses (cabins) don’t even come close to the 1600′s. And when I was lucky enough to travel in Europe I realized that “old” was a relative term indeed . Houses/castles are old only when you are speaking of the 1200 or 1300′s, I found it amusing when a “new” wing was put on in the 1800′s. One of my favorite old houses is in your neighborhood – the Miramount Castle in Manatou. There’s something compelling about its history and how it just sort of rambles in and around the hillside. Thank you again, Deb

    • housecrazy says:

      Thanks Deb – the Miramount Castle in Manitou Springs is high on my list of places to tour… I drive by it often, but I don’t want to subject the place to my little kids, so I am waiting until I have the chance to visit sans children. It is said to be the most haunted house in the area!

  • Sue says:

    The slumpy roof is intriguing as it looks like it is going to cave in any minute. I like the old fencing too. Love looking at this and it helps me to see how people lived in the past; what luxuries they did not have, what they valued. I noticed the larger than normal brick floor surrounding the fireplace which makes sense for daily living and keeping warm. How great to be from a family that handed down a house over the years.

    • housecrazy says:

      The slumpy roof both intrigues me and stresses me out, because, yes, it does appear to be near collapse! It defies logic (and gravity) that it has stood this long. Part of the distinctive charm of the old gal.

  • Jill T. says:

    This story makes me happy! The Fairbanks family that preserved their home through numerous generations and now as a museum are truly great people! I’m glad they didn’t restore it to any one time period. Those changes over the centuries have become part of the fabric of the house history! Thanks for the post!

  • Jill T. says:

    P.S. This is too cool not to share! I posted your link on facebook.

  • Hello Sarah.
    As a “well-seasoned” builder of many types of homes including conventional stick-frame, earth-shelter, timber-frame and re purposed (as you know) and as the owner of an “old” (1842) 3-brick thick home and as one who adores old hand-hewn/mortise and tenon barns….I would have loved seeing, first-hand, how the various portions of this home were bulit from start to finish. It is difficult, if not impossible, to understand and therefore appreciate the massive amounts of time and labor that were employed. In my mind… this house should be considered a “shrine” to those whose blood, sweat and tears went into its creation.
    I tip my hat to them for bringing it to life and salute you for bringing back to our our attention.

    Thank you Sarah,
    Paul

  • Jim L says:

    Wow…and I thought my 1847 home was old. The Fairbanks House was already a “young” 200 when mine was constructed! Thanks for sharing such great pictures!

  • Betty Abeyta says:

    This house is phenomenal. Thank you for sharing those pictures. I wonder how badly the floor is slanted inside?

  • James says:

    I own and live in a third quarter of the 18th century house that is said to be the oldest house my county here in NC, but nothing like that. A house in Edenton has recently been declared the old house in the state, and it is only dated to 1718. Virginia has some 17th century places, but lots of their from that far back are brick.

  • James says:

    Talking about the sloping roof lines, I showed a picture of my place once to a contractor from Raleigh. She took one look at it and burst out laughing, there’s not a straight line anywhere. She was shocked that this was my first home purchase. Not her idea of good starter house.

  • Toni P says:

    In all the pictures of the roof, it looks about the same. I wonder if it’s constructed that way on purpose. And since the chimney seems to be straight and intact, there must be a reason for that roof.

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Sarah Felix Burns

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