Gilman Garrison House (1709)

An unusual monument to regional history

Exeter, New Hampshire

In 1709 the Gilman family built a garrison, or fortified structure, near the banks of the Squamscot River, where they owned lucrative sawmills. The interior of this unusual building reveals walls constructed of massive sawn logs and a pulley above the main entrance that was used to operate a portcullis, or reinforced door. In the mid-eighteenth century, Peter Gilman substantially remodeled the house, adding a wing with elegantly paneled rooms.

Today, experience the house as it was restored by William Dudley, the last owner before Historic New England acquired it in 1966. Dudley created a museum of regional history through the lives of generations of Gilmans and other residents. His installation includes view ports that reveal the fascinating architectural evolution of the garrison house.

Plan Your Visit

Location

12 Water Street
Exeter, N.H. 03833

Days & Hours

Third Saturdays
June 1 – October 15
11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Tours on the hour.

Last tour at 4:00 p.m.

Admission

$6 adults

$5 seniors

$3 students

Free for Historic New England members and Exeter residents.

Directions

Take I-95 to New Hampshire Exit 2. Follow Route 101 west 3.5 miles to Route 108 south. Continue one mile to Exeter. Turn right onto High Street. Gilman Garrison House is three blocks ahead, just after a small bridge.

Parking

There is street parking along Water Street.

Contact Information

Gilman Garrison House: A Fortified Structure

The house was built of sawn horizontal hemlock planks that were mortis-and-tenoned into oak posts on the first floor and dovetailed on the second floor.

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  • Gilman Garrison House: A Fortified Structure

    The house was built of sawn horizontal hemlock planks that were mortis-and-tenoned into oak posts on the first floor and dovetailed on the second floor.

  • Puncheon Floor Room

    This room recalls the house’s seventeenth-century origins. The puncheon floor is made from thick, strong logs that are finished flat on one side.

  • Council Room

    In the mid-1900s William Dudley, a Gilman descendant, created a council room emphasizing Exeter’s role as the Revolutionary capital of New Hampshire.

  • A Museum of Local History

    William Dudley created a museum of Exeter and Gilman family history through the story of the garrison.

2-earlyparlorFirst Settlement

In 1709 the Gilman family built a fortified structure across the river from the family sawmills. The house was built of sawn horizontal hemlock planks that were mortis-and-tenoned into oak posts on the first floor and dovetailed on the second floor. John Gilman, an early settler of Exeter, owned sawmills on the Squamscot River beginning in the 1650s. His son, another John, built the log structure on the same property of his father’s house.

The house was unusually built as a dwelling and as a defense. Architectural historian Abbott Lowell Cummings pointed out the easily recognizable defensive features: abnormally small window openings, firing ports in the second floor overhang, and evidence of a portcullis. The first reference to the house comes in 1719, when the site was issued a tavern license.

In 1732 the house was deeded to Peter Gilman, a politically active shopkeeper. He was appointed to the King’s Council in the early 1770s. His new role called for a modern space. He built the addition to the right of the garrison to create the L-shaped building visible today, doubling the size of the house. The apartments he built were well-paneled and spacious. The new parlor and chamber were used as more public space than the low-slung rooms making up the original garrison. He also clapboarded the original garrison walls and enlarged the windows.

4-danielwebsterroom_historyClifford Family Occupancy

Ebenezer Clifford, a native of Kensington, New Hampshire, purchased the house from Peter Gilman’s daughter’s heirs. Clifford was a well-known early Piscataqua architect, was instrumental in building Governor John Langdon House, and was the chief consultant for Rundlet-May House, both Historic New England houses open to the public in Portsmouth.

Clifford’s daughters, Betsy and Eunice, continued to live in the house after his death. The girls altered the appearance of the c. 1770 ell by adding a doorway on the Water Street elevation. The onetime parlor was made into a millinery shop, where the sisters sold hats. After the death of Betsy Clifford, she ordered her entire estate to be sold at auction. This included not just the residential property, but all of Ebenezer Clifford’s personal belongings including books, drawings, tools, and other effects. They can never be studied as a collection, something New Hampshire architectural historian James Garvin says “began the obscurity that has deepened ever since, until the surprising talents and accomplishment of the man have been reduced to a half-remembered legend.”

1-gilmangarrisonhouse_historyDarling/Harvey Occupancy

Mrs. Asenath Harvey Darling purchased the house on her own in 1864. She was quoted as stating that she wished her property to be “independent of her present or any future husbands.” Before her death in 1893, her “present” husband was Manly Darling, a carriage maker. It is possible that the additions to the carriage barn to the back of the property were built during their occupancy. Certainly the iron window inserts with the name “Darling” were introduced before 1893. The two models of the garrison on display in the museum were made by Manly Darling.

Jane Harvey, Asenath’s sister, inherited the house. Jane is a schoolteacher and was the first to show the interior of the garrison to visitors.

4-danielwebsterroom_historyThe Dudley Family

Frances Perry Dudley, a descendant of Peter Gilman, first visited the house sometime during the first decade of the twentieth century, as attested by the guestbook owned by the Exeter Historical Society. She worked with her son William to “restore” the house to its early appearance.

6-exteriorfacadefromthestreetBecoming a Museum

Historic New England acquired Gilman Garrison House at William Dudley’s death in 1966. Little was done to change Dudley’s interpretation and the house interior is presented as he designed it. The house is an architectural study house, and Historic New England continues to learn more about its unique construction. Around 2000, dendrochronology was performed on the house. Dendrochronology is a scientific process of dating sturctural elements through tree ring patterns. Samples of the white oak corner posts of Gilman Garrison House were tested and confirmed a definitive date of 1709 for the house’s construction.

Property FAQs

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

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  • Can I park at the museum? Is there street parking?

    There is plenty of two-hour, unmetered parking on the street. There is also a municipal lot behind the house.

  • Do we need to take a tour or can we just look around?

    All visitors to the house receive a guided tour.

  • 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 can I book a group tour? What is the cost?

    The cost for a group tour of eight or more is $1 off the regular admission price. Call 603-436-3205 or email Gilman Garrison House for more information.

  • 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. Gilman Garrison 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. Visitors with limited mobility may be able to enjoy a first floor tour of the house. Service animals are welcome. We encourage visitors with concerns to call ahead. We are happy to work with you to make your visit an enjoyable one.

  • 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.

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