Boardman House (1692)

Remarkably intact for over 300 years

Saugus, Massachusetts

Built in 1692 for the family of William Boardman, a joiner, Boardman House survives remarkably intact from its original construction. With the exception of minor structural stabilization and repairs, the house remains unaltered since the early eighteenth century, providing an exceptional opportunity to view seventeenth- and eighteenth-century construction techniques and finishes. Boardman House is a National Historic Landmark.

Historic New England founder William Sumner Appleton purchased Boardman House in 1914 because he recognized its remarkable state of preservation and the extraordinary amount of surviving seventeenth-century building fabric: original oak clapboards, roof boards and skirt boards, massive timber framing with decorative chamfers, shadow-molded sheathing, and wooden ceilings. By 1696 a rear lean-to had been added, allowing for the separation of work spaces and social spaces, an important cultural shift in domestic architecture.

 

Plan Your Visit

Location

17 Howard Street
Saugus, Mass. 01906

Days & Hours

First Saturdays
June 1 – October 15
11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Admission

$6 adults

$5 seniors

$3 students

Free for Historic New England members and Saugus residents.

Directions

Take Route 1 north or south to Saugus and take the exit marked “Main Street, Wakefield.” Follow Main Street northwest for about three quarters of a mile, then turn left just past the Village Park Shopping Center onto Howard Street. Boardman House is on the right.

Parking

There is a small area available for parking beside Boardman House, as well as some street parking.

Contact Information

William Boardman's 1692 House

Boardman was a joiner, a woodworker who built furniture and did cabinetry and interior finish work. He died in 1696 at thirty-eight.

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  • William Boardman's 1692 House

    Boardman was a joiner, a woodworker who built furniture and did cabinetry and interior finish work. He died in 1696 at thirty-eight.

  • Scotch House

    For many years, the house was commonly known as the “Scotch House,” as seen in this old postcard view from c. 1936.

  • Lean-to Kitchen

    The lean-to was not part of the original construction in 1692. Although some rooms existed before, the current lean-to dates to 1731.

  • Hall Chamber

    Exposed ceiling joists and walls were never plastered over. Dendrochronology samples taken from this room helped date the house.

  • Attic

    The roof structure of larger, fewer rafters (vertical beams) and smaller, more frequent purlins (horizontal) was unusual for the time.

  • Kitchen Chamber

    This small chamber to the west of the kitchen was probably a bedroom, handy to the kitchen for children or perhaps an invalid family member.


Samuel Bennett and the “Scotch House”

The property upon which 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 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.”

Boardman House: Construction and Renovation

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 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 Boardman House.

Exterior of Historic New England’s Boardman House in Saugus, Ma.

Boardman Family: 225 Years of Stewardship

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, 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.

Transition

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.

Becoming a Museum

William Sumner Appleton recognized the unique nature of 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 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.”

Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory Report

In the winter of 2009, the Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory took twenty-seven new samples from timbers in 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 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 reused 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 Boardman House, and increase its value as a study property for architectural historians today.

Property FAQs

Find out about parking, accessibility, photography policy, and more.

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  • Where should I park when I come for a tour?

    There is room for parking on the lawn beside Boardman House, to the left as you face the house. You can also park along the street in front of the house, or if there is no space there, you can park at the Village Park Shopping center, about 200 yards east of Boardman House.

  • Are there restrooms at Boardman House?

    The closest restrooms are in the shops and restaurants of the Village Park Shopping center, about 200 yards east of Boardman House.

  • When can I visit the Boardman House grounds?

    The museum grounds are open daily from dawn to dusk.

  • Is the museum accessible to people with disabilities?

    A tour of any Historic New England property requires a considerable amount of standing and some walking. Boardman House has not been equipped with accessible ramps, elevators, or chair lifts. Folding chairs can be provided for visitors who would like to use them during a tour. We are glad to offer guests a visual tour of the museum. Visitors with limited mobility may be able to enjoy a first floor tour of the house and grounds. Service animals are always welcome. We encourage visitors with concerns to call ahead. We are happy to work with you to make your visit an enjoyable one.

  • Can I take photographs at the museum?

    Interior and exterior photography for personal use is allowed at Historic New England properties. For the safety and comfort of our visitors and the protection of our collections and house museums, we ask that you be aware of your surroundings and stay with your guide. Video, camera bags, tripods, and selfie sticks are not permitted. Professional/commercial photographers and members of the media should visit the press room for more information.

  • How do I become a member of Historic New England and get more involved?

    Join Historic New England now and help preserve the region’s heritage. Call 617-994-5910 or join online.

  • I have heard that this was once a jail for Scottish prisoners of war. Is that true?

    No, but for many years there was a sign out front which mis-identified this house as the “Scotch-Boardman House.” A house was built here in 1651 as a home for some Scottish men, captured by Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War at the Battle of Dunbar, who were sent to be indentured servants in New England. These men were not prisoners; they worked nearby at the Saugus Iron Works, and when their indentures were up, they were free to make their homes here. The house built for these Scottish men (known during the seventeenth century as the “Scotch House”) was a different building, but it used to stand on the same property, and that led to the confusion.

  • Why does the second story stick out over the first story?

    The overhang of the second story was probably a combination of traditional Medieval building methods and aesthetic style. In England an overhang (known there as a “jetty”) was often used in crowded towns where it gave the upper stories of a building a larger floor space and more light and air (at the same time preventing light and air from reaching the narrow streets below). In New England, space, light, and air were usually plentiful, so the overhang had very little practical use. However, carpenters who migrated to Massachusetts Bay retained the building techniques they had learned in England, and continued to build with overhangs. Another factor was probably that the Jacobean house form, with gables, overhangs, brackets, and pendants, was the most stylish house of the time, and adding an overhang was simply an aesthetic choice.

  • Why are the big structural timbers in the house called "summer beams?"

    There are many explanations and speculations about the etymology of the term “summer beam,” which has been used since the fourteenth century and refers to the massive beams that you can see in the center of the ceiling of each room. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the origin to the Anglo-French word sumer or somer, meaning packhorse, and referring to the function of the beam bearing a heavy load. Another possible derivation is from the Latin word summa, meaning highest or greatest (as in summa cum laude), and referring to the great size and primary importance of the beam.

  • Why are there no objects or furniture in the house?

    When Boardman House was purchased by William Sumner Appleton in 1914, the last members of the Boardman family had left, and the house was empty. Upon examination, Appleton realized that the importance of the house was as an architectural survival rather than as an example of how people lived. He resisted the urge to fill the house with reproductions, which was so common during the Colonial Revival, and today Boardman remains a valuable study house, relatively untouched, presenting its important architectural evidence without distractions.

  • Why is the main room called the hall, when we usually think of a hall as a corridor?

    The use of the word hall finds its origins in the “great hall” found in castles and manors of the Middle Ages. The great hall was a big, high-ceilinged space in a castle, with a central hearth, where all the varied life and activity of the community took place, including cooking, eating, and even sleeping. The hall in a seventeenth-century house continued this tradition, and was the everyday gathering place for the family. Later, as spaces in a house became more specialized and less multi-functional, the hall lost its importance and gradually became no more than an entryway or passage to another room.

  • How would you bake something in a beehive oven?

    First the cook would either take hot coals from the fireplace hearth and shovel them into the oven, or build a fire directly in the oven itself. When the bricks inside the beehive oven were hot enough, the cook would shovel the hot coals out of the oven, pop the food to be baked inside, and then cover the opening of the oven with a board or panel, often stored in a slot built into the chimneystack beside the opening of the oven. The bread or food would be baked by the ambient heat from the bricks.

  • Was this house painted brown in 1692?

    No. We know it was not because we can still see some of the original unpainted oak clapboards of the house hidden under the lean-to, an important piece of architectural evidence. However, at some later point in its history Boardman House was painted dark brown, and Historic New England generally tries to preserve buildings as they were when we took ownership. Siding in the seventeenth century may have been treated with a linseed oil base which would naturally darken, and in later periods a creosote-based stain was also often used to preserve natural wood siding. Both of these methods would have created a dark brown color similar to the shade we use today.

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