Refurbished Colonial Buildings

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British comedian Eddie Izzard once quipped, “I’m from Europe-where the history is,” and then went on to parody how short a time span Americans consider “historic.”  And many people, both Americans and foreigners, seem to share that view-that the U.S. is too young to have acquired much history.  But if there’s one place in the U.S. where the accumulation of history can be felt, it’s in New England, in the old-style architecture, the surviving examples of colonial houses with their sturdy hardwood floors and rustic, endearing ambiance.

In my own community, I was surprised to discover how many examples survive of this colonial era architecture, many with most of their walls and floors still intact.  One of the best examples is the Balch House (just see the history soaked into those well-worn floor-boards!) once thought to be the oldest surviving wood-frame house in the United States until dendrochronology dated the oldest timbers to 1679.  But it just so happens that Massachusetts has quite a few colonial-era wooden houses, including three in Ipswich and three in Salem (including the famous House of Seven Gables).  Just walking around in these houses, hearing the wide-planked hardwood floors creak comfortingly under your step, can convince you that you’ve traveled back in time to the colonial era: you’re standing on floors that someone’s hands painstakingly built, and built well.

One of my favorite colonial houses is the 1640 Hart House in Ipswich, not least because it’s been turned into quite a nice restaurant.  And what makes it so nice?  It’s not the food, although that’s good, or the air conditioning, which is sometimes on too strong for my taste; no, it’s the ambiance, the atmosphere of a house that’s steeped in history, that’s witnessed centuries of inhabitants and guests walking over its still sturdy floors.  And it’s remarkable how much of that atmosphere is literally grounded in those hardwood floors, from how they feel underfoot to how they look and even how they smell.  If I just wanted a nice meal, I could go to any number of restaurants, but if I want to have a historical experience, nothing beats the 1640 Hart House.

Interestingly, there are a number of historic buildings that have been refurbished with Carlisle wide plank floors in recent years.  One example is the Jethro Coffin House in Nantucket.  Another is the Saugus Iron Works in Saugus, MA, and a third is the Milleridge Inn in Jericho, NY.  These three structures, while not quite as venerable as the Hart House, give examples of how even modern remodeling efforts can retain that historic feel.

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