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Boardman House (1692)

Remarkably intact for over 300 years

Saugus, Massachusetts

Boardman House, a national historic landmark, was built in 1692 for the family of William Boardman. With the majority of the original structure still intact, the house remains unaltered from the 17th and 18th centuries. Boardman House provides an exceptional opportunity to view seventeenth- and eighteenth-century construction techniques and finishes.

When Historic New England founder, William Sumner Appleton, purchased the house in 1914 under questionable means, he recognized the important and largely unaltered seventeenth and eighteenth century building fabric, which is still visible today.

 

Plan Your Visit

Location

17 Howard Street
Saugus, Mass. 01906

Days & Hours

Second Saturdays and Third Thursdays
May – October

Tours on the hour
11 AM – 1 PM

Admission

$10 adults

$9 seniors

$5 students and children

Free for Historic New England members and Saugus residents.

Know Before You Go

Historic New England is following all state, local, and CDC safety guidelines for Saugus. Tour group size is limited. At this time, masks are optional for all staff and visitors.

Accessibility

Tour involves standing, walking, and stairs. Visitors with limited mobility may be able to enjoy a first floor tour of the house and a visual tour of the museum is available. Folding chairs are provided for visitors who would like to use them while on tour. The site is not equipped with ramps, elevators, or lifts. Service animals are welcome. We are happy to work with you to make your visit an enjoyable one and we encourage visitors with questions or requests to call ahead.

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.

Before the Boardmans

Prior to white colonial settlement of modern-day Saugus, the land was inhabited by the Massachusetts and Pawtucket peoples. Land was often obtained by English colonists through dubious land deeds with indigenous peoples. The nature of these deeds centered on the colonists’ concept of owning the land on which they lived and worked. The land on which Boardman House sits was no different.

The land was eventually passed to Samuel Bennett, who purchased the land in 1648. Bennett, a house carpenter who emigrated from London in 1635, acquired several acres in Lynn and Boston and built a structure near or on where Boardman House sits, which eventually led to the currently standing house to be misidentified as the “Bennett House” or the “Scotch House,” which was built to house Scottish prisoners  who worked as indentured servants captured during the Battle of Dunbar and were sentenced to work at the nearby Saugus Iron Works (now run by the National Park Service).

Eventually, William Boardman purchased the property in 1686 from John and Katherine Eyre for £200, which had been part of Samuel Bennett’s original parcel. The Boardman family owned the property for over 200 years, from 1686 to 1911.

Construction and Renovation into the 18th Century

While William Boardman purchased the land in 1686, the existing Boardman House was constructed in 1692. It was previously thought that the house was built in 1687, however through a dendrochronology study in 2009, it was determined through the testing of the present wooden beams that the house was constructed in 1692. Dendrochronology is the science of dating events by taking a sample of wood and analyzing the patterns of growth in existing tree rings.

Boardman built a hall-and-parlor, central chimney plan home with two chambers straddling the central chimney on the second floor, and a steeply pitched roof. Sometime between 1692 and 1696, when William Boardman died at the age of 38, a kitchen lean-to was added to the original structure. Not only did this add space to the original house, it also preserved the house’s original exterior clapboards, skirtboard, and roof boards for future generations.

When the house passed to Boardman’s son, William Boardman, Jr, he updated the house to 18th century fashions. The front stair hall was remodeled with an open banister and paneling, and the kitchen lean-to was expanded and reconstructed in 1731.

Black and white photo of Boardman House with woman in centerVirtually Unchanged to the 20th Century

The house and family ownership remained virtually unchanged through the early 20th century. And while the family remained the same, the land borders on which the house is located have shifted over time. Over its history, Boardman House has been located in Boston, Lynn, Chelsea, and finally today’s Saugus. The house was originally built directly on the town line between Boston and Lynn, and between 1708 and 1738, the front door had the letters “BL” to indicate it as a boundary marker.

In 1753, William Boardman, Jr. conveyed the dwelling house, barn, 200 acres, his estate and “my Negro man named Mark” to his son, Aaron Boardman. The descriptor “my Negro man,” implies that William Boardman had held Mark in bondage for some time at this site prior to selling him with the property to his son. This in no way represents Mark’s full story, and Historic New England’s work to uncover and expand upon the important history of enslaved people at and around the Boardman House is ongoing.

After Aaron Boardman’s death in 1799, the property was divided between his widow and children. Eventually, the house passed to his son, Abijah Boardman, who petitioned the General Court to alter the town line of Lynn to put his house in Chelsea (part of Boston) in 1803. This was granted, only to have the town line amended again in 1841, which transferred the area of Chelsea on which the house stood to the town of Saugus.

When Abijah died in 1856, the property had shrunk from its original 300 acres to about 24 acres, which was then split amongst his five children. His daughter, Celona inherited the house and four acres and lived in the house with her husband and sister, Sarah Boardman. When Celona and Sarah both passed away in 1893, Celona left the house to her nephew, Elmer B. Newhall, who then sold the house in 1911.

 

20th Century and Becoming a MuseumView of Boardman House

Elmer B. Newhall sold the Boardman House in 1911 to Jacob B. Wilbur, which ended 225 years of Boardman family ownership of the house. Jacob B. Wilbur was what we would call a developer today. He split the land into six small building lots with the intention to turn them into a housing development entitled “City Gardens.”

During this time, Boardman House became the home to Italian immigrants. This was a time of a great Italian diaspora, where massive numbers of people were fleeing southern Italy to escape extreme poverty and making their way to America. At least three Italian immigrant families lived at Boardman House up to 1913.

The circumstances around the purchase of Boardman House by William Sumner Appleton, founder of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (which became Historic New England), deserves scrutiny. Documented evidence reveals that Appleton actively worked to forcibly remove the Italian families from the house due to anti-immigration biases under the auspices of historic preservation. In raising funds to purchase the house away from the Italian owners, Appleton appealed to Scottish descendants using the now-known inaccurate history of the “Scotch House” to “rescue” the house from people deemed unworthy and unable to preserve or understand its history. Appleton went on to purchase eight additional small lots to leave Boardman House in relative open space, setting it apart from the close-set neighborhood that grew up around it.

Once Boardman House was eventually purchased by Appleton, he brought in experts on 17th century houses to assist him with the structural repairs that were needed to stabilize the house. He removed 20th century wallpapers, uncovering some of the early decorative paintwork. For the most part, Appleton left the house in the condition in which he bought it, which was largely unchanged from the 18th century.

Today, Boardman House serves as living laboratory and observatory for historic preservation practices and research and is open for tours throughout the year.

Property FAQs

Find out about parking, 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.

  • 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.

  • Do you provide admission discounts for EBT cardholders?

    EBT cardholders from all fifty states can show their card for $2 admission to house tours for up to four guests per card.

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