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Barrett House History

1800-1842:  Elegance in the Country

1842-1887:  A Family Home

1887-1916:  A Revitalized Summer Retreat

1916-1948:  A Forgotten Country Mansion

1948-Present:  Becoming a Museum

1800-1842: Elegance in the Country

Barrett House was built in 1800 as a wedding gift for Charles Barrett Jr. and Martha Minot by Charles Barrett Sr.  According to tradition, Jonas Minot, the bride’s father, declared he would furnish as fine and elegant a house as the father of the groom could build. 

At the time the young Charles Jr. and Martha were raising their five children at Barrett House, New Ipswich was a bustling mill village and the local economy was booming with a variety of locally manufactured products. Despite being removed from an urban center, Charles Jr. and Martha maintained an elegant lifestyle at Barrett House. They entertained guests, at times in their third floor ballroom, and surrounded themselves with fine furniture and decorative pieces.  Barrett House continued to serve as Charles Jr. and Martha’s home until their deaths in 1836 and 1842, respectively.

1842-1887: A Family Home

After the death of Martha Barrett in 1842, her second eldest son, Charles III, lived at Barrett House with his family for several years before moving to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to pursue a prosperous career as a book dealer. 

In 1848, George Barrett, the eldest son of Charles Jr. and Martha, along with his wife Frances Ames Barrett, took up residence in the Barrett House. Like his parents before him, George and Frances raised a family at the Barrett House. 

In 1862, George Barrett died, leaving Frances the house. To accommodate the growth of her extended family, Frances built an adjoining ell for her son Edward and his family. She maintained residence in the main house with her younger son George Robert.

By the middle of the nineteenth century New Ipswich, like many New England towns, underwent an economic and population decline. Bypassed by the railroad and deeply affected by the closing of local mills, many people moved away, including George Robert Barrett.

1887-1916: A Revitalized Summer Retreat

After Edward Barrett and Frances Barrett died in 1883 and 1887, respectively, George Robert Barrett took ownership of Barrett House.  He and his wife, Elizabeth Barr Barrett, were living in Boston at the time. In an effort to make Barrett House their comfortable country summer retreat, they undertook several renovations, including the addition of two luxurious bathrooms.  

George Robert and Elizabeth’s renovation of Barrett House took several years and was never completed. Elizabeth died in 1911 and George Robert in 1916, leaving renovation and redecoration of some rooms started, but unfinished.  Crates of furniture and fixtures, still in their original packaging, are in the house today.

1916-1948: A Forgotten Country Mansion

In 1916, the house and its contents were left to George Robert’s stepdaughter, Caroline Barr Wade. She never made Barrett House her home. She boarded up the house and its contents and it sat unoccupied for more than forty years.

1948-Present: Becoming a Museum

In 1948, Caroline Barr Wade donated Barrett House with a generous endowment to Historic New England as a memorial to the Barrett family.  In 1948-1949 Historic New England (then known as the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities) undertook a significant restoration project at the Barrett House. Plaster was repaired, period wall papers were hung, and the kitchen was restored to its c. 1800 state. In 1950, Barrett House opened as a museum, sharing the history of the Barrett family and its vanished way of life with the public. 


Barrett House History