J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, June 07, 2012

Jacob Osgood’s House Today

I’ve been writing about the death of James Otis, Jr., in Andover at a house owned by the Osgood family. That house still exists, and is listed on this Andover Historic Preservation website maintained by the town library. It describes the house and its history:
Isaac [Osgood]’s fourth son, Jacob, inherited the property and was a wealthy and highly respected farmer. He served in Nicholas Holt’s company during the Revolutionary War and was friend and host to James Otis, the patriot lawyer and orator. Otis spent nearly two years at the Osgood farm recuperating form a head injury and was killed here by lightening [sic] in 1783. Osgoods occupied the house until 1849; of the following owners the most historically significant has been Wadley Noyes, who kept an inn and tavern here from 1853-1863.

The awkwardly composed design reflects its centuries of architectural growth. The original building consisted of four rooms built around a central chimney; Isaac Osgood is thought to have added the eastern part of the house (making its L shape) and the northeast corner wing. The pretentiousness of this status-conscious owner is reflected in the buildings dignified window cornices—uncommon in Andover—fine pedimented doorway, large windows, and hipped roof.
A Boston 1775 reader alerted me that house has also become the focus of a local controversy as the current owner has stored large piles of trash bags on the property. After two items in the Andover Townsman in early February pushed for action, the town board of health found evidence that those heaps were endangering the public and ordered them removed. In April the board of health went to court to enforce that order. The photograph above accompanied one of those February articles.

In May a Boston Globe article linked the problem to compulsive hoarding, a behavior that appears to be receiving extra attention lately because it’s so telegenic. Whether or not that diagnosis has anything to do with the property’s current situation is another question. But there’s some historical irony in the house where James Otis, Jr., went to recover from one mental condition being linked to another.


Drunk History Guy said...

As a direct descendant of the Osgood family in Andover, I was unaware of this situation. While the history involving Otis is remarkable (I had never heard this story!) it is such a shame to see the state of the Osgood house. Is this house not protected by the Andover Historical Society? Imagine the wealth of treasures on that property - what a shame!

J. L. Bell said...

A lot of Massachusetts historical societies are private entities, and even for governments historic-preservation laws are quite varied. For the use of a historic property, as opposed to architectural alterations, there are probably even fewer limits on the property owner. So a resolution of this situation depends on the owner, the town, and perhaps folks with bigger resources (i.e., dollars).

Charles Bahne said...

Scanning the various newspaper articles about this house and its condition, I don't see any references to the house's historic significance -- as far as they're concerned, it could be a rundown 1950s tract house. This blog posting appears to be the first recent mention of the house's historic value. Let's hope that this post will raise awareness of its history, and will encourage calls for its preservation. Otherwise, I fear that the town board of health might call for the house's demolition as a nuisance. And of course another danger for an abandoned property is the risk of vandalism, arson, or even accidental fire.

Hemlock Bob said...

Thank you so much for the series on Otis. He's long been one of the characters from this era that's fascinated me and I know the historical information on the man and his life is limited. It's always refreshing to read new material/thoughts. 'Tis a shame, the condition of the Osgood house today.