Lore and legend: The oldest houses in the tri-town
Cape cottage or colonial, the tri-town's earliest houses became the blueprint for the village houses that sprung up behind them.
All of the houses were raised when all three towns were simply "Rochester." Marion and Mattapoisett's independence days were more than a century in the future.
In fact, America's Independence Day was barely a dot on the horizon when the houses' final boards were nailed. The United States of America wasn't even a vague idea. The houses' builders considered themselves English. The area was a young English settlement with ties to the King of England.
Some of the houses were built without nails, or with the help of oxen. Most were farming homesteads. When pausing in front of the houses' doors, it's not hard to imagine generations of colonial farmers, military officers and ladies in long skirts at the windows or in the yards.
The historical societies of each town have conducted surveys on their oldest remaining buildings in the past; Mattapoisett and Rochester's surveys were carried out in 1998, while the Mattapoisett Historical Society conducted theirs in the 1980s.
What history (and secrets) did the surveys reveal about the oldest surviving house in each town?
James Stewart House, 119 Dexter Lane, Rochester
Rochester's oldest house was estimated to have been constructed around 1685/1686—only six or seven years after the town of Rochester itself was founded.
The house was constructed at the tail end of King Philip's War, the last major push by Native Americans to oust colonial settlers. The war took place mainly throughout Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts.
It's not certain who built the two-story colonial. What is known is that it remained nearly unchanged until the 1980s, when plumbing, heat and electricity were installed in the house.
Original house owner James Stewart recorded the birth of his first son Jonathan in 1687, and according to Rochester's Historical Society, there is no record of James Stewart living anywhere else in town. The birth of his son may indicate that the house was built before Jonathan arrived.
21 Main Street, Marion
Marion's oldest house is possibly the oldest remaining house in the tri-town; it may have been built before the town of Rochester (which it would, at the time, have belonged to) was even officially incorporated.
The tiny cape-style house was built for a member of the influential Ryder family around 1675, according to the Sippican Historical Society. It was recorded and noted as standing in the 1690s. The Sippican Historical Society also possesses three maps which record the property in 1852 (the year Marion officially separated from Rochester), 1879, and 1903.
Beyond that, little else is known. The earliest ownership records of the house in the Marion Assessor's Office date to 1933.
According to Sippican Historical Society member Judith Rosbe, the house is important, "not only because it is Marion’s oldest surviving home, but also because it typifies the town center’s most widely represented and historic residential style, the Cape Cod cottage."
Capt. Jabez Hammond House, 37 Mattapoisett Neck Road
The Capt. Jabez Hammond House is recorded as being built in 1730, but may have actually been built in 1699.
Jabez Hammond descendant Ken Engler, of Ticonderoga, NY, pointed out that the house may have been built by Jabez Hammond’s father, John. Engler noted references to the house in a genealogy book, “A History and Genealogy of the Descendants of William Hammond of London, England,” written in 1894 by Dr. Richard Hammond.
The book notes that John Hammond “settled in the Southwesterly part of the present town of Mattapoisett where about the year 1700 he built the ‘Old Hammond House.’”
It is unclear if the “Old Hammond House” and the Capt. Jabez Hammond House are the same, although a photograph provided in the book is remarkably similar.
Current owner Joanne Collyer was surprised to learn the house’s longevity. “I knew it was an old house, but I didn’t realize it was the oldest one in town,” she said.
The Capt. Jabez Hammond House was originally a homestead farm. Capt. Hammond himself was born in 1699, and reportedly had a commission as captain from the King of England—either King George I or George II.
It is believed, but not confirmed, that Capt. Hammond sheltered a number of political refugees at his house during the French and Indian War, which was fought between 1754-1763.
Acadians were, in the 18th century, the descendants of French settlers in the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, the Prince Edward Islands, and Nova Scotia.
When the French and Indian War began, British soldiers in Canada suspected the Acadians of being pro-French. As a result, around 11,500 Acadians were deported from their home, out of a total of about 14,000.
Although Capt. Hammond himself moved to South Reading, VT in 1782 (aged 83 at the time), the house he raised in Mattapoisett still stands.
Do you have any further information about any of these historic houses? We'd love to hear from you! If you'd like to add more information to the story or have any interesting facts to share, email Editor Andrea Ray at email@example.com or call 774-766-7706.