Time Will Tell

As the daughter of the manager of technical planning for the Apollo lunar landings, I grew up on space and all things innovative and cutting-edge and neoteric.

Our family lived in an “ultramodern” home designed by Oren Thomas, a modernist architect who also designed “The House of Tomorrow.” Everything was about the future. We even drank Tang.

And yet, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by antiques and artifacts.

About seven years ago, while looking online at Ipswich, Massachusetts real estate, I came across a home that listed the date as 1634.

How could that be? That was only 14 years after the Mayflower arrived!

I had to see it.

My husband was skeptical but at last he acquiesced.

We were told that it wasn’t the original house, and eventually we learned that the 1634 date came from the date of the deed, which was based on the land grant, which was, in fact, dated 1634 (and listed on the first page of the historic Ipswich town records, dated April 20, 1635).

Whatever its age, the house looked like it would be an awfully big adventure. So we decided to buy it.

In our restoration, we began to probe and scrutinize hundreds of years of construction materials and we started to realize that 1634 was not far off from the actual date, which we believe was probably about 1640, but almost certainly no later than 1646, for several reasons.

First, the structure is framed with white oak, and in 1643 the Ipswich “Seven Men” (later called the “Selectmen” and now called the “Select Board”) required a special license for the felling of white oak, as it was so valuable, especially for shipbuilding (because it is waterproof, or, you might say, nonporous and rot-resistant). I’ve been unable to find any reference to a special license granted for the felling of white oak, to the Shatswells (who held the deed for hundreds of years). If no special license was granted, this should indicate that the timbers used to construct our home were felled before 1643. I’d be curious to know what other surviving historic homes in Ipswich might also be framed with white oak, and whether there are records of special licenses for white oak for those homes.

Second, a historian for Ipswich has noted corroboration of the Shatswells living here, on our parcel, by 1646, based on, “a series of court records at that time.”

Let’s Look at Some White Oak

Here are some close-up photos of our white oak summer beam (which was stained brown at some point in the past). Note the adze marks:

The photo below shows detail from the mortise and tenon joinery of a white oak post and beam, near the center of the house, on the edge of our kitchen. Note the four hand-hewn pegs on the left, and the carved Roman numeral II; vertically, on the right, and horizontally, on the left:

The Roman numerals were carved to help puritan carpenters keep track of which piece went with what. That is, they used the carved numerals to match the posts to the beams.

These are details from a beam we uncovered in the southeast:

The following photo shows detail from a gunstock post near the southern* corner of our home:

*The post and beam, pictured above and below, may have been part of an addition to the house, added at a later time.

The adjoining beam still bears some very early paint or some type of tint:

Here are markings from a water-sawn rafter we discovered on the second floor. Note the Roman numeral VIII:

Last night I awoke with an epiphany.

I realized that, while my childhood was filled with ideas about outer space exploration, for me, owning this house has become an exploration of inner space.

Houses this old are valuable, not simply for their historical and cultural significance.

You could say that these houses are portals to another time dimension. They are full-scale, intact artifacts, which contain vibrations from a world that no longer exists. In fact, beneath a floor, we discovered what appears to be a mud and stick chimney, which was likely the first heat source for the Shatswell family, and it likely dates to around the time of the land grant, which was 1634.

To move such a house would be to lose the scientifically priceless archeological matter beneath it and around it.

To lose such a house would be to lose a scientific treasure which, we can imagine, if left unaltered, in the future, might provide answers about the early English colonies in the New World.

And, who knows. Perhaps, someday, if it survives, such a house could even give us some answers about the nature of time itself.

*Updated February 25, 2021

I recently noticed that our address is listed on Wikipedia, 11th in the table of oldest buildings in the United States (of the 17th century), with the following description:

“Shatswell Planter’s Cottage, Ipswich, MA, 1646 C, Residential: Currently located on the property at 53 Jeffrey’s Neck Rd where it was moved in the twentieth century from another location: originally located at 88-90 High Street [where it was] the earliest of the three First Period structures on the site, dating to before 1646; House is believed to date from 1646.”

It says that the “House is believed to date from 1646” and we believe this is fairly accurate, if the “house” to which it refers is our house. In fact, we believe our house dates to 1643, or earlier. However, the table specifically references the “Shatswell Planter’s Cottage,” which was moved from our address to Jeffrey’s Neck. So something is amiss.

Here’s the problem. Around 1940, a “cottage” was moved from what is now our property. That cottage became known as the “Shatswell Planter’s Cottage” although there is no scientific verification that it is the original structure.* Why was it moved? Perhaps it was because it was clearly very old, and the state was trying to run a highway along this street? Perhaps this was an attempt to keep what was perceived as the “oldest house” out of harm’s way?

Then we bought the property in 2014, not really knowing anything about the history, except that the deed is dated 1634 (based on the land grant).

But during our restoration work we discovered literally tons of materials, which could not* have been acquired for construction past 1643 (that is, white oak, which was used to frame the entire original structure of our home). *Acquisition of white oak would have required a special license, and it is highly unlikely that they would have been granted a license for tons of materials that had been recognized as extremely valuable, and which had become scarce.

We’ve also uncovered numerous other architectural artifacts, including a wall, which fits the description of “clayboard” in a historic book, in a section about homes built “around 1646.” (Described in detail in my blog entry “A Highway Runs Through It.”)

Plus we learned (based on legal records) that the Shatswells were living here, on our “parcel,” by 1646.

The Shatswell family arrived in Ipswich in 1633, bringing their young children with them. By 1646, these children were quite grown up and it is highly unlikely that the family would continue to live in cramped quarters (the “Planter’s Cottage”) when they had so much land available, and they had literally tons of white oak timbers, which could have only been acquired by 1643.

These facts, by themselves, provide very strong evidence that our home was built by 1643, which, according to Wikipedia, would make ours the 9th oldest house in the U.S. in the 1600’s (or earlier, and truly, it could be even older than 1643).

But it appears that in order to confirm the age of our home, we must commission a dendrochronological study.

Fair enough. We need to find a source for dendrochronology. (Could anyone out there recommend a dendrochronologist?)

We’d be happy to work with the one suggested by the historical commission, and we would commission a simultaneous study by an additional dendrochronological source, to cross-correlate all the results from two sources, ensuring the greatest accuracy possible. (I’d really like to find a university to consult with about this.)

And what about the Shatswell Planter’s Cottage, which was moved to Jeffrey’s Neck? We think it was built as temporary lodging, where the Shatswell family stayed while they built their permanent home, which is now our home.

*It is my understanding that NO dendrochronological study has been conducted for the Shatswell Planter’s Cottage, which is described as an “original” structure. So it is unclear to me why this cottage is considered the “oldest” structure if this detail has not yet been scientifically verified.

We didn’t start out trying to prove that our home is one of the oldest in the country. Yet based on our restoration, we now feel certain that it is; but why do we keep trying to prove it? What does it really matter?

Upon living here we realized that our home is at constant risk from tractor-trailer throughway trucks, which speed past, 12 feet from our front door, throughout every single day and night (a few usually speed through around 2 in the morning). Why do they speed here, more than the other Rt. 1A/133 sections of Ipswich? Because the bridge nearby creates an elevation that makes it very difficult for them not to speed as they descend, and very difficult for them not to speed as they build up momentum to climb.

These oldest houses are supposed to be protected by the local and state historical commissions. But those commissions will not help with these traffic issues.

It is my belief that these oldest houses are also supposed to be protected by the federal government. (I’m currently reaching out to various federal agencies, to try to understand this, and to try to get help.)

There are people in town who seem to know what has happened here, and who sympathize, but have told me, “Nothing can be done.”


I’d argue otherwise.

Because something can be done.

And listen, truly listen.

If they can send a man to the moon, then they can implement traffic remediations, which can save the oldest, most historic houses on the state-highway side of High Street.

They can save this old village. They can save these houses, which are national treasures.

They can do this.

This is not rocket science.

This can be done.

A Highway Runs Through It

If you’ve arrived at this blog after reading the “Historic Ipswich and the Massachusetts North Shore” blog (via historicipswich.org), and if you’ve read its content on the Shatswell House, then you’ve seen an old sketch of our house, printed in the Antiquarian Papers.

I have a copy of the article from the Antiquarian Papers, including the sketch of our house, with the notation: From a Drawing by Arthur W. Dow.

Arthur Wesley Dow was an Ipswich native and an internationally renowned artist and educator. He overhauled the way art is taught in the western world and made space for the vanguard. One of his students was Georgia O’Keeffe. Dow also helped found the Ipswich Historical Society in 1890.

Dow had a deep concern for the oldest houses here in Ipswich, and he drew the houses that needed to be preserved. Ours is one of those houses.

When we bought our house in 2014, we set out to restore and preserve every bit of it, not realizing how profoundly momentous this task would become.

At first we focused on preserving the interior of our house. That was the easy part. But we soon realized that it is impossible to preserve our home without being able to protect it. And it is impossible to protect it from the street where it sits, which, although thickly settled and residential, is actually a state highway. In May, 2019, we learned at the Ipswich Town Meeting that this street is also the oldest surviving colonial village. That is, its land lots had been laid out in accordance with 17th century English law, and these lots can still be seen along this street.

Nevertheless, this village – this street – is also a high-volume heavy-traffic state highway; a route filled with 18-wheeler tractor trailer trucks that, night and day, quickly pass (often speed) within a few feet from these historic houses, including our house, which is known to be one of the oldest in Ipswich. There are no speed monitoring devices or other traffic controls along our state highway village street, and so, our house, which strong evidence indicates is the oldest in Ipswich, suffers from deep stress, every day.

For example, in the center of our house, described in 1881 as “very ancient” (Antiquarian Papers), we discovered what appears to be pure ancient “clayboard” (an early First Period construction practice that used clay-coated brick to create interior walls; the concept of “clayboard” was later reimaged in wood and renamed “clapboard”). The “bricks covered with clay” building method is described in the book History of Ipswich, Essex, and Hamilton by Joseph Barlow Felt.

The photo of our clay-covered-brick interior wall, shown below, fits Felt’s description of clayboard. Note the layer of clay along the top of the photo.

Updated February 3, 2021: The discussion about clayboard in Felt’s book appears in the section entitled “DWELLING-HOUSES,” which describes features of homes built “about 1646.” I’m unaware of any other Ipswich home with a clayboard wall. It may be that no others have survived. Why has our clayboard wall survived? Our home was framed with white oak posts and beams. White oak is remarkable because of its strength and durability. However, if the other dwelling-houses were constructed around 1646 but after 1643, then white oak would not have been used as a building material, because in 1643, white oak was prohibited from felling, and could not be used in home construction. That is, our clayboard wall has likely survived because the white oak structure has helped to maintain the overall integrity of the building, for hundreds of years.

Unfortunately, many of the bricks within our early First Period clayboard wall are becoming unstable and even dislodged. We believe this is being caused by the heavy seismic vibrations and wind vibrations resulting from our home’s sad placement along the highway.

In the interest of raising consciousness around the details concerning the historical importance of our home and the others along this highway, it is necessary to document and to clarify information written about our house.

For example, an email* to me from the “Ipswich Historical Commission,” dated November 28, 2018, notes the following:

“…the First and Second Period houses chart is online at https://ipswich.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/ipswich_houses.pdf.”

However, for reasons that are unclear, that chart no longer appears to be available online. Here is a cropped image of the relevant text from that missing link, which lists the date of construction of our house as 1640:

Also of note:

  • There is no evidence that “the original” John Shatswell House “burned” nor is there any reason to suggest that possibility. That is, it was the Simon Tuttle House, which adjoins, but was never identical to the John Shatswell House, that, according to family tradition, was burned. The Waters, Thomas Franklin manuscript Ipswich In the Massachusetts Bay Colony states that the family tradition of the Simon Tuttle House is that the original house (of Simon Tuttle) was burned. The John Shatswell property was deeded as of 1634, and the Shatswell family (not the Tuttle family) owned this property until the early 20th century.
  • The Tuttle House may have also been called “the Shatswell House” at some point in history, if one of John Shatswell’s sons had actually built or owned the original Tuttle house (which burned and was rebuilt by Tuttle), or had, at some point in time held the title to that property, also known as the Tuttle House (this may also explain the confusion regarding the May 28, 1881 article, below).
  • It would not be possible for the north end of the John Shatswell House to have been built any time in the 19th century, as architectural details of the John Shatswell house indicate it was built during the early First Period of colonial construction.
  • The May 28, 1881 Ipswich Chronicle report that in 1806 Joseph Smith took down “the original” Shatswell House may be accurate if it calls the structure “the Shatswell House” because a son or descendant of John Shatswell had held the title to the adjoining lot at some point in time (see above). Or it might be true if the “original” John Shatswell House had been a temporary shelter built around 1634, to provide lodging for John Shatswell while he built his permanent house, which we believe is our current house.  (The Shatswell Planter’s Cottage may have been another of those early, temporary lodgings.) Again, based on the numerous early First Period architectural features in our home, we believe that our house, which is known as the John Shatswell House, was built before 1646 (or perhaps before 1643), which would make it the oldest house in Ipswich. 
  • The MACRIS (Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System) is inconsistent in its references to the Shatswell House; in one listing it refers only to the Simon Tuttle/John Lord House, while erroneously conflating our address with the Tuttle/Lord House.

One thing is clear. Our house is exceptionally old; so old that its history is difficult to discern.

More than 100 years ago, Arthur Wesley Dow expressed deep concern that the historic and aesthetic character of Ipswich was being sacrificed for the sake of efficiency, and he was troubled that old houses were being destroyed and cleared away.

His commitment to protecting the historic integrity of Ipswich was as important as his devotion to the arts.

Ipswich needs him now.

Ipswich needs someone to champion its most vulnerable oldest houses; to speak publicly and bravely about the need to protect these houses from the state highway. These houses are national cultural treasures.

Currently, on our state highway section of High Street, more than 3,300 cars and an untold number of 18-wheeler tractor-trailer trucks pass within a few feet of these most vulnerable, most historic houses, at unmonitored speeds, every day.

These kinds of odds simply don’t look good. The risk for catastrophe is very high.

*Updated August 19, 2020: The same email* to me from the “Ipswich Historical Commission,” dated November 28, 2018, notes that the historian who produced the chart dating our house as 1640, also dated our house as 1690, in a different chart:


The chart above, which dates our home construction as 1690, figures prominently in the third paragraph of the narrative about our house posted on the blog: https://historicipswich.org/shatswell-house-88-90-high-street/

Noting two separate dates of construction – 1640 and 1690 – the “Ipswich Historical Commission” November 28, 2018 email expressed the opinion (a “guess”) that the 1640 date is a “typo.”

Especially noteworthy in paragraph three of the historicipswich.org blog entry for our house is that the “inventory for the house” was “corrected” in 2006.

But this “corrected” chart which is, as noted, “available on the MACRIS site,” was based entirely upon, and refers exclusively to, the Tuttle/Lord House, and it does not refer to the John Shatswell house. That is, it is a description of the building that is attached to our home. It is an inventory of the addition to our home, built at a later date (perhaps 1690). Again, it does not refer to our home. Our deed shows that our house was owned exclusively by the Shatswell family for centuries. It was never owned by the Tuttle family or by the Lord family.

Therefore, the “corrected” inventory described in the third paragraph of the historicipswich.org blog entry for our house is clearly incorrect.

Based on our research, we believe the 1640 construction date may be accurate, but not the 1690 date.

The fifth paragraph of the historicipswich.org blog entry for our house states: “The current owners of the northwest section of the Shatswell House believe that parts of the house at 90 High Street could be the earlier Shatswell House, constructed by 1646.” As a current owner, I’d like to say that we, the current owners, believe that the original framing and the original masonry remain, built out through time. That is, we believe the original Shatswell House still exists, still stands intact, and we believe it was probably built by 1640.

And, while it may be true that about our property there are “wildly varying historical records” it is probably not true that these cannot be reconciled.

The wildly varying records should be attributed to the fact that our home – the John Shatswell house – and the addition to it – are two entirely separate properties with two entirely separate deeds and two entirely separate histories. The fact that these two properties have long been conflated, and continue to be conflated, has resulted in, and continues to result in, an enormous amount of confusion. This confusion may also be attributed to the very high probability that the interior of our home was never assessed during the 1978 Ipswich Historical Commission inventory of homes.

*Updated November 5, 2020: The update posted above, on August 19, 2020, addresses commentary about our house as it appeared on the historicipswich.org blog as of August 19, 2020, and does not address any modification or updates that may have been made to that blog following that date.

A New Look at an Old House

What is new with our old house in Ipswich, Massachusetts?

My husband John and I have started reaching out to members of the academic community and to other professionals in the historical community to help us date our home, which is very old. It is a “First Period” house.

Although we are not yet certain of the actual date of origin, we believe it is the original Shatswell House, which is known to have been built by 1646.

Our house was built from white oak.

Why is it significant that our house was constructed from white oak?

In 1643, the town “Seven Men” (the selectmen) passed a rule requiring special permission for the felling of white oak. A written certificate for this license to cut white oak would have become a matter of public record after 1643. To my knowledge, there is no record of John Shatswell having received permission to fell white oak. This would indicate that he obtained the white oak to build our house before 1643.

Based on this, along with the extensive architectural and archaeological discoveries we’ve made during our restoration, we must consider the strong possibility that our house was built before 1643.

cabinet for blog

Pictured above is some paneling we uncovered, which includes an extremely old cabinet.* It resembles paneling found at the Philip Call House (Circa 1659), located up the street.

*Notes: The cabinet had no hardware when we uncovered it. The hardware in the photo is not original to this building; I’d found it in my travels and it seemed to fit the space. The molding above the paneling appears to have been added later.

The Shatswell family was recorded as living on our deeded parcel of land by 1646.

Our deed dates to 1634, as it is one of the oldest Ipswich land grants, recorded April 20, 1635. However, this does not indicate that our house originates to that date. We do know with certainty that the framing of our house, which still exists, intact, was constructed from white oak in the 17th century, during the first period of colonial construction, but we don’t yet know the actual date of origin.

In order to determine the correct date, we’re planning to utilize various methods of scientific analysis, including a dendrochronological study. 

Regardless of what may happen, it is important to remember that there are very few 17th century homes still standing in this country. All of these First Period houses are handmade works of art, wrought through extraordinary perseverance and endurance.

These homes are national treasures, which need to be protected. They need to be protected in order to be preserved.

Again, please allow me to elaborate. The historic homes on our street in Ipswich especially need to be protected. This bears repeating.

Why do these homes need protection?

Many years ago, our street (the oldest village in America) was designated as a traffic corridor to accommodate the merger of Route 1A with Route 133 (two Massachusetts state highways).

This means that, day and night, some of the largest 18-wheeler tractor-trailer trucks on earth speed within a few feet of some of the oldest and most fragile houses in America.

There are currently no protections in effect for these houses in the event of a 99,000-pound, 65-foot 18-wheeler accident, such as a collision, jackknife, tire blowout, or roll-over. These massive trucks also repeatedly shake First Period houses. Let’s agree that this should not be happening.

Not only that, but this Route 1A/Route 133 traffic corridor is also a walking route for many, many school children, who literally must walk alongside a highway, with some of the largest trucks on earth driving only inches away.

I brought my traffic concerns to the attention of the Ipswich Select Board in February, 2018. Nearly a year later, the speed limit on our street was lowered to 25 MPH, which would be a dramatic improvement, if that lower speed limit was being continuously monitored and enforced, but it is not. The town simply does not have the ways and means to provide constant monitoring of this street, which is the oldest continuously inhabited village in America; yet this street also has some of the worst kinds of high-volume and heavy-truck traffic known to any city in America.

Hmmm. Let’s see. We’ve got some of the largest 18-wheeler trucks on earth speeding by some of the oldest (and therefore most fragile and most historically significant) homes in America. What could go wrong?

Why is the state of Massachusetts unable to protect this oldest surviving American village and the First Period homes within it? My understanding is that the determination of need for traffic controls depends upon statistics based on the rate of accidents on a street. Apparently our old village has not yet experienced enough horrific accidents to deserve protection. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe this old village is being magically protected by the spirits of those Puritans who hand-built these homes nearly 400 years ago.

But maybe not. Maybe a horrific accident will happen within the next five minutes. Maybe tonight. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next week. Maybe not. But maybe.

To live here is to live with fear and apprehension. Disaster feels imminent. As we live so close to the street, we cannot tune out the sounds of careening cars and screeching tires and 18-wheeler horns and constant near misses and shaking posts and beams.

Again, keep in mind the fact that the First Period homes in this traffic corridor were built in the 1600’s, long, long before a paved street ever existed, long before the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was established, and long before the Revolutionary War was even imagined. These First Period homes and this unique American village are culturally priceless to this entire nation.

Several months ago, I wrote a letter requesting help from our Congressman, Seth Moulton, who’d helped write and pass legislation to protect our Nation’s natural and historic resources.

My belief is that if any place in our Nation deserves protection, it is this oldest surviving village, which is defined by its First Period homes and its plot layouts, which are unique in this country. Because, the country might as well abandon the concept of historical preservation altogether if it chooses to forsake its oldest village.

It is my understanding that my email exchanges with our Congressman’s office have been forwarded to numerous local and state officials as well as to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.

This is an interesting, evolving situation.

I’ll keep you posted.*

* Update, December 5, 2019: On November 4, 2019, our Congressional Representative was asked at his “Town Hall” appearance in Ipswich whether the Congressional Act to protect natural resources and historic places can be used to help our street. Our Congressman responded that he’d discussed it as part of his meeting with town officials that afternoon, he mentioned the possibility of finding creative ways to find grants, and said he’s cautiously optimistic. Other than this, we’ve received no further information.

* Update, April 8, 2020: We’ve not yet received any further information. And although one might expect that the coronavirus shutdowns would have resulted in lighter traffic, the heavy truck traffic has actually increased.

* Update, August 18, 2020: We have still not yet received any further information from Seth Moulton’s office about this situation.

In the Meantime

Here are some other photos highlighting what we’ve already uncovered. I’ll plan to update this blog post with new thoughts and photos from time to time.

paneling for blog

Again, this detail resembles paneling at the Philip Call House. Notice the area on the left, where the woodwork differs. This must have been an opening to a door at one time. There is another structure on the other side of this wall. We believe that structure was an addition to our building, built at a later time.

door to the east

Here is a closer look at the woodwork that covers what we believe was once an exterior door. It faces east.

The following photo shows the dome interior of an extremely old beehive oven that we identified along the stairs to our basement.

beehive oven

Here is the face of that beehive oven, along with other sections of that mysterious hearth:


The following photograph (in our attic) shows where the 17th century chimney has been appended with newer brick. Although this section of chimney is very old, we believe that the original (above the roofline section of) chimney is still hidden – within the second floor stack – because this house started as a single-story home (with a bit of basement).

attic chimney

The following photos show some of the bones we discovered while remodeling our first-floor bathroom (which has an earthen floor, adjacent to, but apart from, the basement). These bones were in a cavity that may have been a mud and stick chimney, which could originate from the time of settlement, which would correlate to the time of the deed (1634).* My theory is that these bones were cooking refuse, and chefs living here later used that cavity as a sort of garbage disposal. (To protect the land from roaming wolves? It could have been safer not to discard such refuse in one’s yard?)

*Note: In 2016, as soon as we realized there was a man-made structure within the dirt floor, we contacted the Town Historian who came to look at it, then we sealed the space, and have not since opened it. We plan to open it again once we have an archaeologist onsite to study the structure. (There are still plenty of bones in there.)

goat skull

A very interesting goat head.

wild boar jaws 2

Some wild boar jaws.

Before recognizing a structure, we uncovered approximately 2,300 discrete bone fragments, which isn’t really as many as it sounds; some fragments were tiny. For example:

bones for example

The following photo shows the ancient hearth we uncovered in our dining room. The central bricks are attached with clay (not mortar); the bricks in the outer area are connected with wattle and daub. Although this hearth is very old, we have recently learned that it was rebuilt long ago (perhaps around 1700) and the lintel was lowered. An early, 17th century high hearth is hidden behind this one:

fireplace overall

A second-floor hearth rests upon the wooden shelf shown above; that hearth is supported by the two brick columns shown below that shelf. Before we can fully open and reveal the very early 17th century hearth, we will first need to establish a new supporting structure for that second-floor hearth.

Updated January 23, 2020

I had thought my description of this fireplace was clear, but apparently there is some confusion about it, so I’ll try to further clarify things.

The photo above shows a large fireplace we uncovered. This is the view within our dining room.

This fireplace has been analyzed (on site) by a professional mason who specializes in historic restoration. From him we learned that although the fireplace (pictured above) is very old, it was rebuilt (or you could say augmented) perhaps around 1700, based on the appearance of the brick.

This means that because the original fireplace is hidden by the rebuilt/augmented fireplace, it is not visible. Therefore, you should not compare the fireplace photo (above) to other First Period fireplaces, as this would only create confusion.

Why was the original fireplace rebuilt (augmented)? More than 300 years ago, a second floor was added to our house, and a second floor fireplace was built directly above the fireplace pictured above. This means that the fireplace in our dining room (pictured above) was rebuilt (redesigned) in order to provide structural support for the hearth on the second floor, and both hearths share the same chimney.

Prior to the second floor being added more than 300 years ago, this house had already existed, for many, many years, as a single story house (as indicated by the original, early, white oak framing).

We do plan to remove the rebuilt (augmented) section of the fireplace (pictured above) to uncover the original fireplace. But clearing out the rebuilt fireplace won’t be like cracking a walnut. It will be very difficult and very messy.

Once we have cleared out the rebuilt fireplace to reveal the original fireplace, I’ll post photographs of it on my blog. (But, in the meantime, please do not compare the fireplace pictured above with other First Period fireplaces, because doing so will only cause confusion. Thanks!)

The kitchen was a later addition to our building, yet wattle and daub was used in its construction. Here is a closeup of some wattle and daub discovered in our kitchen: 

wattle and daub

The kitchen restoration also revealed that our house started out as a “saltbox” structure.

Where the beams/joists meet the outside edge of the kitchen wall, each beam/joist tip has been cut diagonally. 

saltbox post design 1

The only reason for these diagonal cuts would be that the original saltbox roof joists along the edge of the structure were raised and leveled to become the ceiling when this addition was built. Again, we believe that the basic structure of our house (white oak framing, foundation, masonry) was created before 1643, and we think that the first floor addition located in the west (now the kitchen), and the second floor, were added around 1700.

A closer view of the diagonally cut ceiling joists; the former saltbox roof joists: 

saltbox 2

Here are some (inverted) “marriage marks” discovered in the kitchen:


The following photo shows a handmade hand-cobbled colonial shoe discovered in a wall near an old hearth:

whole shoe

Early colonists were very superstitious and believed that old shoes should be kept in walls near the hearth instead of being discarded, which would explain why this shoe was stuck inside a wall.

Here is an example of some of the Georgian paneling in one of the upstairs bedrooms. Each bedroom contains a full wall of Georgian paneling.


Although we understand that the Shatswell “Planter’s Cottage” is also very old, based on what we have already learned and discovered, we do not believe that cottage is older than the earliest core of our house. We’re hoping that archeological and other scientific studies will provide us with definitive answers.

Wrought through Time

While we’re on the subject of artifact discoveries, I’d like to share a few more photos of what was unearthed by our contractor’s tractor.

Here’s an example of a pile of pottery artifacts, freshly surfaced:

a lot to sort through.JPG

These may be the fragments of an old bowl:

fragments of an ancient bowl

Blue trees. A blue scene:

blue trees

Another blue design:

blues 2

And another:

blues 3.JPG

So many shades of blue:

shades of blue.JPG

Rant du jour…

I’m talking about the area in Ipswich, Massachusetts known as Lord Square, between the railroad bridge and donut shop. I’m worried about the heavy trucks and their damaging vibrations. I’m worried about the speed limit, which is set at 35 MPH as these trucks enter (what I’m really convinced is) the oldest village in America.*

Someone well-connected in the town told me that the best way to address this issue was to contact the Select Board and ask how we can work together to solve this problem. That seemed like a reasonable way to start.

In the winter I wrote to a Select Board member who had apparently, according to a local news article, also expressed concern about the speed limit in this neighborhood.

Eventually I wrote a memo and read it at a Select Board meeting, in February.

Here’s a copy of my memo:

Regarding the High Street Traffic Condition

And the Resulting Public Safety Issues

The area between the bridge by Town Farm Road and Lord Square appears to be the largest section of the oldest village in America.* If you aggregate the homes here (as listed on the Ipswich tourist map), you will discover that these homes (which have been continuously inhabited since the first period of Colonial American settlement), constitute the largest section of the oldest surviving village in this country. By including these homes on their historical map, Ipswich appears to celebrate them. These homes are extremely old, and therefore fragile. These homes are handmade and irreplaceable, and therefore priceless. And yet, these homes are at great risk, every single moment of every single day.

Of greater concern is the fact that the street – on which these priceless homes are located – is a walking route for many local school children, who are also at great risk, every single day that they walk this route.

Why are the priceless children and the priceless homes at such great risk?

There are two main factors creating these risks:

  1. Excessively High Speed Limits.
  2. Excessively Heavy Trucks (of Unlimited Weights and Lengths) Traveling at Excessively High Speeds and at Excessively High Volumes.

As a resident of this section of High Street, I’d like to invite everyone involved – the Selectmen, the Chief of Police, the members of the Historical Commission, the state representative, every parent, guardian, and teacher associated with the Middle and High School – to come here at 6:30 in the morning when the tractor trailers are speeding through – then again at 2:30 in the afternoon when the school children are walking along this street and tractor trailers are still speeding, alongside them. There is no safety here.

It does not seem that safety should be an unreasonable request. Shouldn’t safety be afforded to all children and to all homes throughout this country?

If you can handle walking around this village without being intimidated and overwhelmed by the traffic, you can see that this is a truly amazing collection of homes, each with an authentic history, each fully deserving of admiration and deep respect, as well as protection.

Ipswich has some wonderful assets. The Crane estate is awesome, but it is a reproduction. The beach is awesome, but there are many beaches in New England. This largest section of village, however, is unique; unique in this entire country. In reality, it is Ipswich’s greatest land asset. And yet, if the traffic situation here cannot be calmed, then it would probably be in the best of interest of the town to remove these homes from the historic map, because tourists are being placed in peril whenever they walk along this street.

Let the historians value this place for its history. I’m an artist. I value it for its intrinsic aesthetic qualities, and for the expression of perseverance and intense determination it must have taken to create. And yet, so much could be destroyed at any moment, simply by a sleepy truck driver and the wrong turn of a wheel.

What can be done to remedy this dangerous situation? Here are some ideas:

  1. Define the Issue. The town needs to establish accountability for safety. If safety cannot be provided by the town because of state highway issues, then the town needs to work with the state to help the state understand what is truly at risk here.
  2. Issue a Comprehensive Ban on Large Trucks. The importance of this should be obvious. A single out-of-control tractor trailer truck could, at any moment, result in loss of life and/or loss of ancient historic artifacts, all of which are irreplaceable and priceless.
  3. Install three-way stop signs at Lord Square (to stop the traffic entering High Street, preventing excessively high speeds heading toward the high school).
  4. Install a stop sign at the base of the bridge by Town Farm Road. This would require vehicles to stop before entering the village and it would disallow motorists to maintain high speeds throughout the village. A “stop ahead” sign could also be placed ahead of the bridge, to alert motorists that they will need to stop and should therefore lower their speeds while on the bridge. The great width of the bridge seems to encourage motorists to believe they are on a super highway instead of entering an historic village, which is a densely populated residential neighborhood, packed with children.
  5. Lowered speed limits. 20 MPH should be the maximum allowed.
  6. Installation of steel or stone barriers along the street, to protect pedestrians and homes.
  7. Speed bumps placed along the street.
  8. Electronic speed signs and police patrol, provided either by the town or by the state.


Alas, there have been no safety improvements since then; in fact, the dangerous situation appears to be getting even worse.

*I actually do think this is the oldest village in America but I’d been trying to base my argument on the tourist map we received from the Visitor’s Center. (That tourist map does not appear to be correct. But that’s another story. Another rant. Stay tuned.)

Updated August 10, 2021: In January, 2019, the speed limit on our street was lowered to 25 miles per hour. For a few days, there was much less speeding. Then motorists must have figured out that the speed wasn’t being monitored, because rampant speeding resumed. And about six months ago, the speed limit across the street, near the intersection of Town Farm Road, was suddenly, inexplicably increased to 35 miles per hour. Students have continued to walk this route to and from school, right alongside heavy trucks. My sense of dread continues.