The Oldest House in America

By Scott Sidler March 3, 2014

 

Oldest House in America
The oldest house in America (The Fairbanks House)
Image Credit: Fairbankshouse.org

What is the oldest house in America? Is there any way to really tell? The answer is yes, we really can tell what the oldest house in America is…we think.

When you go back centuries to colonial times records are not quite as complete or straight forward as they are today, but there are many ways to determine the age of a structure.

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The oldest house in America is a timber frame house built ca. 1637-1641 in Dedham, MA called the Fairbanks House.

The house was built by Jonathan Fairebanke for his wife Grace Lee Smith and their family sometime between 1637 and 1641 according to dendrochronology testing. The house passed from one member of the Fairbanks family to the next through eight generations until 1904 when it was passed to The Fairbanks Family Association which continues to operate it today as a historic house museum.

On a side note, the home has never been encumbered by a mortgage in its entire 377 year history! Eat your heart out Dave Ramsey.

Fairbanks House
Image Credit: American Architect and Building News, 1881

The original portion of the house is constructed of thick oak timbers and divided into two lower rooms with two second story bedrooms and an attic all surrounding a massive central chimney. The large central chimney was a typical feature in New England homes of the period as it would radiate heat throughout the home during the brutally cold winters.

Even back then there was insulation. No it wasn’t fiberglass batts, but rather wattle and daub which is a mixture of clay, straw and lime. This filled in the spaces between the timber frame as in English Tudor style homes.

Like most really old houses, the Fairbanks House has been added on to many times over the last four centuries. Several small additions were made in the 1680s and a rather large addition in the 1790s. Despite these additions the home has remained largely unchanged and is a truly amazing example of life in these centuries past.

If you’re ever in Dedham, Massachusetts make a point to stop by and see this spectacular example of early American vernacular architecture that has stood proudly through every part of American history, even before it was America.

 

 

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10 thoughts on “The Oldest House in America”

  1. “Typical east coast Anglo-centric view of the world.” Wow, kinda harsh.
    Scott, you may have to follow the lead of St. Luke’s Church, which is described as the oldest continuously in use, English-speaking brick church in British North America. A little clunky, but accurate. //en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Luke%27s_Church_(Smithfield,_Virginia)
    And while I’m being Virginia-centric, as a proud daughter of the Old Dominion ?, the Adam Thoroughgood House was once thought to be the oldest brick house in America, 1632, but further research has dated it as 1720. Ah, well. ?
    Discovered your blog this morning, searching for info on dormers. I’m going to subscribe now – thanks!!

  2. Wow, love this blog! And what is even more exciting is that I am a descendent of the Fairbanks!! I almost fell over when I read about the history of this house, I knew of its existence, but had no idea the house was this well known!!!

  3. I just started reading your blog several months ago(and love it)and came upon your article on the Fairbanks Family Home in Dedham Mass. I very proud to say that I’m part of the 11th generation. Just a clarification, they don’t claim to be the oldest or the first, but the oldest wood-frame house still standing, as far as they know. And, I agree, it’s definitely worth a visit.

  4. Interesting article, I would love to visit the Fairbanks House if only to see the original part of it with the oak structure. I wonder how the insulating technique would work today?

  5. Typical east coast Anglo-centric view of the world. There are large numbers of still extant structures in the Soutwest and Florida that considerably pre-date this newcomer. There are two Pueblos (Acoma and Taos) that have been continuously occupied since around 1000BCE. The Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe dates to 1610. There is a house in Santa Fe whose foundations have been dated to 1200.

    1. I figured someone would call me on that. 😉 there definitely older structures in America than the Fairbanks House, but I wanted to keep focused on a typical home. Most of the indigenous buildings were used as housing for groups, tribes or other purposes not a single family home. Your point is well taken though.

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