Happy Friday Readers, I’m back! This week’s Fantasy is a pretty great one, if I do say so myself. Today’s Fantasy is America’s oldest surviving timber frame home: the Fairbanks House in Dedham, Massachusetts.
Built between 1637 and 1641, the Fairbanks house has weathered well over 350 years and is still around for us to enjoy and study today. Interestingly enough, we can really pinpoint the construction period for the Fairbanks house because the organization that owns the house requested a dendrochronology study to determine an exact date. For those unfamiliar with dendrochronology, it is the study of the age of a timber by counting the growth rings of the timber and comparing them to other rings formed at a known point in time. The process is most often used to date the timbers that make up a house frame. (Photos from Wikipedia)
The house is a great example of continuous New England architecture. Like many other venerable manses across our stony countryside, especially the ubiquitous connected farmsteads of the 19th century, it was slowly added onto over the years to become the house we see today. The saltbox lean-to on the north side of the house was likely added later in the 17th century. The east and west gambrel-roofed wings were added about a century later, when an extended unit of the Fairbanks family all lived there together. Both the small addition extending to the west off of the lean-to (originally built as a dairy, and later converted into the privy) and the mud room attached to the east wing were built during the 19th century. (For more information on continuous architecture, get yourself a copy of the book Little House Big House Back House Barn. Great book, you won’t regret it!)
The history of the Fairbanks house is, as you might guess, inextricably tied to the lives of the Fairbanks family. The Fairbanks family called this place home for nearly 300 years, ending in 1904 when the last remaining descendant moved away at the age of 76. Shortly after the house ceased its existence as a residence, the Fairbanks Family Association (a genealogical membership group made up of descendants of Jonathan and Grace Fairbanks, the family’s first immigrants to America and first owners of the house) purchased it and opened it to the public.
This intriguing link to 17th century New England is certainly an architectural treasure, but it continues to provide glimpses into the lives of its residents, as well, through the family furniture that’s found its way back home (or never left), and archaeological deposits around the grounds that continue to be studied. It’s worth a visit to take a moment to step back in time and experience a home that’s been a part of over three centuries of history, and was the place that eight generations of a single family called home.
Hope you enjoyed this glimpse of the Countries oldest timber frame home.