DEDHAM (CBS) – Did you know that Dedham is home to the oldest wood frame house on the continent?
The Fairbanks House on East Street was built in 1637. A wealthy English settler, Jonathan Fairbanks, and his wife commissioned it shortly after moving to the new settlement in 1636. And, unlike every other house from the period, it has stood, largely unchanged, ever since.
“It is an absolute gem of American history,” said Stuart Christie, the senior docent of the Fairbanks House.
Christie gave WBZ-TV a tour of this remarkable piece of architecture, which just reopened to the public for tours after more than a year of COVID restrictions.
One of the first things you’ll notice as you step in is how low the ceilings are.
Some of that is from the house settling over time, but there are two main reasons – people at the time were, on average, shorter than they are now, and, “They wanted the ceilings lower to keep the heat at the level the people were,” Christie points out.
The living room had another odd feature by today’s standards – the Fairbanks’ bed.
“Beds were not common commodity; a lot of people were actually sleeping on pallets on the floor,” Christie says. “If you had a bed, it was a sign that you had made it.”
In fact, the Fairbanks House would have been considered high-end at the time, likely the largest in the town. But life here was not all bed-in-the-living room luxury.
The meals were very plain, according to Christie, often just boiled corn or another vegetable, with little salt or sugar.
The winters would have been cold inside the house, and the summers would have been brutal. The windows couldn’t open, the fires had to burn non-stop, and linen production left a certain aroma.
“They had to soak the cloth in urine to get the dye to adhere, so you got that going through your house,” said Christie.
Dedham was a puritan society at the time. Children were required to learn to read so they could read the Bible. And historians have found evidence of religious superstition in this house, including a pair of 17th century men’s shoes that were found inside one of the walls.
“These shoes, which were well worn and very stinky, were thrown inside the wall,” Christie says. “The idea behind it is that these shoes would protect the house from evil spirits.”
But bad luck did eventually find the Fairbanks. In 1801, Jason Fairbanks was hanged for murdering a woman. His trial and subsequent damage to the family’s reputation plunged them into legal debt. By 1904, the last Fairbanks member to live in the house, Rebecca Fairbanks, had to sell the home, leaving it to history.
To learn more or schedule a visit, visit fairbankshouse.org.