Boardman House History
1648-1686: Samuel Bennett and the “Scotch House”
The property upon which the Boardman House stands was initially part of a land purchase made in 1648 by Samuel Bennett. Bennett was a house carpenter who came to Massachusetts from London in 1635, and received a grant of twenty acres in Lynn. Bennett seems to have been a contentious person, appearing in multiple court records of the time for various offenses and described by one of his contemporaries as “the verryest Rascoll in new England…”
Despite this, Bennett was prosperous, and through multiple purchases of land, had acquired several hundred acres in Lynn and the neighboring portion of Boston known as Rumney Marsh. The 300 acres that ultimately became the Boardman family’s farm were located in a narrow strip of land between Lynn and Malden that was later known as the “Chelsea panhandle,” and which was then a part of Boston.
Back in England, the Civil Wars were progressing under Oliver Cromwell, and in 1650, thousands of Scottish soldiers were captured at the Battle of Dunbar. Sixty-two of these prisoners were transported to New England and became indentured servants at the nearby ironworks (now the Saugus Iron Works, a National Historic Site). In 1651, a house was built for some of these Scottish prisoners on Bennett’s land, approximately 100 yards away from the current Boardman House.
The position of the “Scotch” house, as it was known in deed records throughout the seventeenth century, combined with the age of the current house, led to a common belief that the Boardman House and this earlier building were one and the same. It was not until the middle of the twentieth century, when more detailed architectural research was done, and a closer investigation of boundary lines was made, that it became clear that the “Scotch” house must have been a different building, and that the existing house was built by William Boardman.
In 1658, Bennett transferred ownership of the 300 acres and the house upon them to Phoebe Franklin in consideration of debts owed, and over the next thirty years, the property passed through several different hands. The “Scotch” house is last mentioned specifically in a boundary perambulation of 1678, and in 1686 the property was sold “to William Bordman of Maulden… Joyner.”
Though William Boardman purchased the property in 1686, it is now clear from recent dendrochronology that he did not construct the current building until 1692. Possibly during these six years he and his family lived in the “Scotch” house, as the ironworks had closed by 1670 and presumably the Scottish residents had worked out their articles of indenture by that time and moved on.
Originally the Boardman house had a two-room plan, with a typical hall-and-parlor configuration around a central chimney stack. Two chambers above the hall and parlor, an attic under the steeply pitched roof, and a half cellar under the parlor completed the original structure. Evidence has also been found of two gables on the front of the building, though they seem to have been merely cosmetic, without extending the interior space in the attic.
The original house had casement windows, which, according to a Boardman family descendant, were made “of small diamond shaped panes of very poor glass” and were stored in the attic of the house when he was a child in the mid-nineteenth century. Also now missing from the house are the pendants that traditionally adorned the corners of the front overhang; an old resident of Saugus in 1914 remembered them as being in the form of “twisted tassels," but unfortunately the pendants are not documented in any existing photographs.
Sometime between 1692, when the house was built, and 1696, a lean-to kitchen was added to the house. We know this because William Boardman died in 1696 at the age of thirty-eight, and an inventory of the house at that time includes the rooms of the lean-to and their contents. The unusual timing of this construction, with the lean-to being added only a few years after the original house was built, supplies us with some of the most important architectural evidence in the house, as the addition was attached to the existing house in such a way that the original clapboards, skirt board, and roof boards were preserved.
The 1696 inventory also gives information about the Boardman family and the way that they lived in their house. The 1692 hall, with its massive hearth for cooking and beehive ovens, was called the “best room” in 1696, when the food preparation activities had moved out into the kitchen in the new lean-to, accompanied by a milk room, or dairy. The specialization of household spaces which was taking place in new houses in the eighteenth century was in evidence here, as the work of the house began to be separated from social activities.
Upon William Boardman’s death, the property passed to his son, William Jr., with Boardman’s daughters Mary and Lydia passing their rights in the farm to their brother. William Boardman Jr. appears to have spent the greater part of his life on the farm, marrying in 1708 and having at least eight children. It was during the lifetime of William Jr. that further renovations were made to the house, including updating the front stair hall with an open banister and paneling in the early eighteenth century. Dendrochronology has also revealed that the entire lean-to addition was reconstructed in 1731.
However, over the following two centuries, very little was changed, and features that remained untouched by the family are now valuable elements of architectural evidence. Ceiling joists and brickwork that were never plastered over, seventeenth-century shadow-molded sheathing, original stairs, and floorboards all contribute to the remarkable document that is the Boardman House.
Over the course of 225 years, the property remained in the Boardman family. Though the house never changed families over the centuries, and was never moved from its original site, at various times over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Boardman house has been located in Boston, Lynn, Chelsea, and Saugus. The house was originally built directly on the town line between Boston and Lynn, and between 1708 and 1738 had the letters “BL” on the front door, to indicate it as a boundary marker. The Boardman family paid taxes on half the house and land to Lynn, and paid another set of taxes to Boston, which eventually became Chelsea.
In 1753 William Boardman Jr. conveyed the house and his property, including all his real and personal estate, and a “Negro Man named Mark” to his sixth child, Aaron Boardman, born in 1724. William Jr. died less than a year later. In Aaron’s tax records of 1798, it is clear that the original casement windows had not yet been changed to the sash windows the house has now.
Aaron Boardman died in 1799, and a complicated division of the house and land took place among his widow and children. Ultimately the property passed to his son Abijah Boardman. In 1803, Abijah petitioned the General Court to alter the town line just enough to put his house and land in Chelsea. This change was granted, only to be amended again in 1841 when the Court passed another act to transfer a portion of Chelsea to Saugus, changing the location of the Boardman property once again.
By the time of Abijah’s death in 1856, the original 300-acre farm was much reduced in size. The inventory of his death showed that the land the house stood on was little more than twenty-four acres, and the land was once more divided at his death among his five children. His daughter Celona B. Howard inherited the house and a little more than four acres. Celona lived in the house with her husband and her sister Miss Sarah Boardman until her death in 1893, when her will left the property to a nephew, Elmer B. Newhall. In 1911, Newhall sold the property to Jacob B. Wilbur, and the house passed out of the hands of the Boardman family for the first time since its construction more than two hundred years before.
In modern times we might call Jacob B. Wilbur a developer, as he promptly divided the land purchased from the last member of the Boardman family into small building lots, and entitled them “City Gardens.” The house stood on six of these lots, which were purchased from Wilbur by Clemento D’Andria in 1913.
The local community, concerned that these changes spelled certain destruction for the old house, appealed to William Sumner Appleton, founder and corresponding secretary of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now Historic New England, and the purchase of the house was finally negotiated in 1914. Over the next year, Appleton had the foresight to purchase eight additional small lots surrounding the house, allowing it to stand in a comparatively open space and setting it apart from the close-set houses that eventually sprang up in the immediate neighborhood.
William Sumner Appleton recognized the unique nature of the Boardman House as soon as it was acquired, and called in a panel of local experts on seventeenth-century houses to assist him in restoring and planning for the house. These included antiquarians George Francis Dow and Thomas Franklin Waters, Norman Isham, and architect Henry Charles Dean, who had worked on the Swett-Ilsley House (the first house acquired by Historic New England) and had worked with Wallace Nutting on the Ironworkers House in Saugus.
The first concern in the restoration was that structural repairs were needed on the chimney. A succession of beehive ovens cut into the center of the chimney over the years had caused damage and destabilized the stack. Further, the chimney tree in the parlor fireplace was missing entirely, and the charred appearance of the girt directly above it led Appleton to infer that it had been burnt out. Portions of the fireplaces were reconstructed using old bricks from an early house that had been torn down in Beverly, and the chimney was reconstructed from the roof up along the exact lines as found.
Appleton removed wallpapers, uncovering some very early decorative paintwork in the hall chamber and the upstairs stair hall. He also removed one small room divider from the parlor chamber, where a Boardman descendant had remembered a room being created as a “shoe shop” for a son of Abijah Boardman’s, killed in the Civil War. Lastly, he found that the sills needed overhauling, as several had rotted completely away.
For the most part, though, Appleton left the house in the unspoiled condition in which it was found. Abbott Lowell Cummings expressed it best when he wrote: “Even with the best of restorations, these houses have been robbed of a certain authenticity upon which the scholar and historian must depend. A few houses at least should be allowed to remain in a condition which cannot in any way impair their fundamental value as documentary sources to the student and connoisseur, and certainly there is hardly another house in New England so richly equipped to perform this function as the Boardman house in Saugus.”
In the winter of 2009, the Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory took twenty-seven new samples from timbers in the Boardman House under a study funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission. In 1975, when dendrochronology was still in its infancy, two samples had been taken from the Boardman House that indicated a build date of 1687; however, these samples were no longer available and could not be examined to confirm that they had been accurately processed.
The 2009 study was able to sample the same timbers that were sampled in 1975, as well as ten more members in the main body of the house, including corner posts, tie beams and joists. These samples firmly established that the main part of the house was in fact built in 1692. Another primary goal of the study was to ascertain the date of the lean-to addition, and the fourteen samples taken in that portion of the house established a clear date of 1731, showing that the lean-to had been completely reconstructed at that time. Interestingly, several timbers in the lean-to date from an earlier period, indicating that wood may have been re-used from the original lean-to that we know was already part of the house before 1696.
These exciting findings continue to clarify our understanding of the Boardman House, and increase its value as a study property for architectural historians today.