Fairbanks House (Dedham, Massachusetts)

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Fairbanks House
Fairbanks House in 2013
Location 511 East Street, Dedham, Massachusetts
Coordinates 42°14′36″N 71°10′04″W / 42.24333°N 71.16778°W / 42.24333; -71.16778Coordinates: 42°14′36″N 71°10′04″W / 42.24333°N 71.16778°W / 42.24333; -71.16778
Built ca. 1637–1641
NRHP Reference # 66000367
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 15, 1966
Designated NHL October 9, 1960

The Fairbanks House in Dedham, Massachusetts is a historic house built between 1637 and 1641 making it the oldest surviving timber-frame house in North America that has been verified by dendrochronology testing. Puritan settler Jonathan Fairebanke constructed the farm house for his wife Grace (Lee Smith) and their family. The house was occupied and then passed down through eight generations of the family until the early 20th century. Over several centuries the original portion was expanded as architectural styles changed and the family grew.

Today the Fairbanks house is owned and operated by the Fairbanks Family in America, a member-based non-profit organization, as a historic house museum. The Family Association has preserved, studied and interpreted their ancestral home and its collections for over 90 years. The house was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Floor plan, first floor

The house was built in several stages; the center portion of the present house is oldest, with a gable-roofed portion at the center. It was once a lobby-entry, hall-parlor house of two stories with a center chimney bay. The lean-to was added later, contrary to the note on the first floor plan (see image on left).

The oldest section of the house was completed by at least 1641, based on dendrochronology of several beams in the house. The summer beam has been dated to 1637, and other wall boards and beams were dated to 1638, 1640 and 1641.[1] Other American houses claiming to be older have yet to be scientifically dated, and the Fairbanks House is almost universally regarded as the oldest house in New England.[citation needed]

Exterior walls were covered with wide oak clapboards at the front, narrower oak on the west gable end, and narrow cedar on the rear. The front door was originally located to the west side of the chimney-bay, while the rear door is still located at the west end of the north wall. Original front windows included wide banks on each floor and small windows lighting the chimney bay. A well-preserved four-light window survives in the east gable end, but the north and east ends of the house apparently had no windows.

A lean-to was later added at the back of the house and, perhaps in 1641, a wing on the east side. The west wing was added around 1654. The east wing was probably added circa late 18th century, assembled from two earlier buildings elsewhere. A chimney was then built for it; later its roof rafters were raised and reused in a new gambrel roof. The next major change was the expansion of the parlor to the east, under a hip roof, and the addition of the small entry to this expanded space, probably around 1800. A new wing was added to the west side of the house, including two rooms. The last addition to the house, completed by 1881, was a privy added behind the west wing.


Jonathan Fairebanke (Fairbank, Fairbanks) came from Heptonstall in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England, to Boston, Massachusetts, in the year 1633, and in 1636/37 acquired land and settled in Dedham, Massachusetts, where he built the house on his farm land. The house is likely the oldest dwelling house in New England and the oldest house continuously owned by the builder and his lineal descendants.[2] Since the original purchase, the estate has never had a mortgage incumbrance upon it.[2] The house museum is now a well-known Dedham attraction.

The kitchen of the Fairbanks House.

Early historians claimed that the Fairbanks House was built in 1636 although more recent historians now believe the earliest part of the house was built between 1637 and 1641. One skeptic of the 1636 date points out that the house was framed with massive oak timber, and that there is no historical evidence of anyone erecting a framed dwelling house in Dedham as early as 1636. According to some family traditions, however, the frame of the main part of the house, together with the bricks and tiles and windows, were imported from England, and remained in Boston for several months before being carried to Dedham. Early 21st-century, dendrochronology testing confirms that the timbers from the earliest section of the house were felled between 1637 and 1641.[1]

The house was not built as it stands at one time, or in one year, although it is certain that Jonathan owned a house situated on the same lot by 1648. Subsequently, perhaps as late as 1654, a large addition, called the new house, was made to the original building, and was purportedly built for the occupation of his son John after his marriage. The current roof was put on during this period and has been dated to 1652-1654 using dendrochronology.[1] Later additions to the house occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries.

"It may be said quite simply that no other house of the mid-17th century in New England has survived in such unbelievably unspoiled condition. It is also extraordinary that so early a structure should preserve such a high percentage of original features. It is a veritable storehouse of information concerning the small handful of houses which survive from this early period." —Abbot Lowell Cummings, Professor Emeritus, American Art, Yale University


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Dated Buildings in Massachusetts". Oxford Tree Ring Laboratory. Retrieved 2013-05-26. 
  2. ^ a b Lorenzo Sayles Fairbanks, Genealogy of the Fairbanks family in America, 1633–1897 (American printing and engraving company, 1897)


  • Abbott Lowell Cummings, The Framed Houses of Massachusetts Bay, 1625–1725, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Harvard University Press, 1979
  • Abbott Lowell Cummings, The Fairbanks House, Boston, Massachusetts; New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002.
  • Miles, D H, Worthington, M J, and Grady, A A, 2002 "Development of Standard Tree-Ring Chronologies for Dating Historic Structures in Eastern Massachusetts Phase II", Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory unpublished report 2002/6

External links[edit]