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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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Medfield’s Peak House at 302

Every New England town has its own historic landmarks, and in Medfield, Massachusetts, one of the most recognized is the Peak House—a small three-story building with a very sharp roof.

A couple of years ago Richard DeSorgher wrote in the Medfield Patch about the disagreement over its date:
The sign, installed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1930 and located in front of the Main Street house, proclaims its construction date to be 1680; rebuilt after it was burned in the attack on Medfield during the King Philip War in 1676. [That information also appears, as of today, on Wikipedia.]

Their supporting evidence comes from state records showing owner Benjamin Clark receiving payment in relief of taxes in 1680, due to the hardships suffered with the burning of his home. With that, he was able to rebuild. This 17th-century date has the support of famed architectural historian Abbott Lowell Cummings, director of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA), who studied the house a number of years ago ... not so fast.

William Tilden, famed Medfield Town Historian and author of the History of Medfield says in his publication: “The house was burned out by the Indians in 1676, but rebuilt upon the same spot. What is called the Peak House is an addition subsequently made to Benjamin Clark’s second house, in or about 1762. After the decay of the old part, “the Peak House section” was moved about 100 yards forward towards Main Street to its present location.”
Eighty years is a lot of room for error when it comes to New World properties. I suspect that one of the reasons the Peak House was so hard to date is its curious architecture—it doesn’t really fit into any style. Tilden’s theory that it wasn’t actually built to stand on its own at first might explain that odd shape.

The Medfield Historical Society hired Dan Miles, a dendrochronologist from Oxford, and announced his findings:
Six of the Peak House’s main frame timbers were sampled and analyzed. All six timbers were found to have been felled in the winter of 1710/11 with three of the timbers being from the same tree. These test results lead us to believe that the current Peak House was built during the summer of 1711.

This date jibes nicely with the coming of age of Benjamin’s youngest son, Seth, who would have been about 24 years of age that summer. Most likely part of Benjamin’s plan to give his son his inheritance included building a separate structure for Seth in front of his own dwelling (today’s Peak House). Indeed, Benjamin did give his property to Seth upon his death in 1724.
Thus, we can feel confident the Peak House is just over 300 years old.

The Medfield Historical Society is hosting tours of its house every Sunday from 2:00 to 5:00 P.M. through 15 September. They promise, “Even in the heat of summer, the Peak House is really cool—literally!” That’s what a very high roof does for you, I guess.

1 comment:

Mark said...

The Peak House is very cool, with unusual massing. I find it interesting that most homes are dated by wishful thinking, what people HOPE their houses to be. When they're dendro'd, however, the house usually turns out to be newer than thought. In NC there was a house that was dated unofficially at c.1900, until renovations were done. They realized they had something else on their hands, and it was tested by dendro to 1718. That makes it the oldest dated house in the state:

http://news.ncdcr.gov/2013/01/16/discovery-of-the-oldest-dated-house-in-north-carolina/