Gilman Garrison House (1709)

Uncovering hidden histories (Exeter, New Hampshire)

In 1709 the Gilman family built a garrison, or fortified structure, near the banks of the Squamscott River on land that had been the home of the Pennacook people for thousands of years. Starting in the mid-seventeenth century, the Gilmans built lucrative sawmills on the river, which devastated local fish stocks and made navigation of the river difficult for the Indigenous population.

The 1709 interior of this unusual building reveals walls constructed of massive sawn logs and other features designed to protect the family from raids by the Pennacook. The garrison form remained unchanged until the mid-eighteenth century. Peter Gilman, the second generation to own the site, remodeled the house in the fashionable Georgian style and later added a wing with elegant, paneled rooms. Gilman operated a tavern in the house for many years, and subsequent owners, including several women, opened millinery shops, took in boarders, and offered guided tours of the unique property.

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 history museum documenting the lives of the Gilman family and other residents, including many of the myths handed down by its former occupants.

Plan Your Visit


12 Water Street
Exeter, N.H. 03833

Days & Hours

Fridays and Saturdays
May 31  – October 15

Tours on the hour
11 AM – 2 PM


$10 adults
$9 seniors
$5 students and children

Free for Historic New England members.


Tour involves standing, walking, and stairs. Visitors with limited mobility may be able to enjoy a first floor tour of the house. 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. There is no public restroom. 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.


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.


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.

  • 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.

Ancestral Lands

In 1709 the Gilman family built a garrison, or fortified structure, near the banks of the Squamscott River on land that was home to the Pennacook people for thousands of years. The Pennacook inhabited the area we know today as Exeter, New Hampshire, residing along the river from spring to fall, growing crops and relying heavily on the salmon and alewife runs in the river. Portsmouth’s Piscataqua River was the gateway into a network of waterways including the Squamscott River and Exeter River, that the region’s Indigenous people relied on for trade, fishing, and hunting.

The Pennacook and early European settlers first benefited from their relationship as the Pennacook valued allies in their own conflicts with other Native groups. However, the goodwill of early alliances did not last for long. Europeans began arriving in the fifteenth century. As they colonized the area, the lives of the Pennacook were disrupted through conflict, disease, exclusion, and erasure. By the early eighteenth century, most of the Pennacook who called this land home had relocated.

The settlers’ early focus on building dams on the Squamscott River and Exeter River quickly became a problem for the Pennacook as it reduced the population of fish that they relied upon for sustenance. Many of the dams powered sawmills that created sawdust, which polluted streams and made them uninhabitable for life-sustaining fish. The Gilman family played a key role in this process when they built two sawmills, one on each side of the river by 1650. As the Gilmans deforested the land, dammed rivers, and operated sawmills they threatened the Penacook’ livelihood. However strained relations were between the Pennacook and the settlers, it was not until King Phillips War that a more open conflict began. In 1676 a group of Massachusetts soldiers trapped many Indigenous people in New Hampshire, hanging some and enslaving others.  Open conflict continued into the beginning of the 18th century, with the Gilmans themselves actively involved in leading soldiers in attacks upon Pennacook villages.

2-earlyparlorAn Obsolete Garrison

Due to the curious construction of Gilman Garrison House, it was long thought to date to the seventeenth century. We now know Gilman Garrison was completed in 1709. Described as “the old logg house” in 1719, Gilman Garrison was built as a fortified house, strategically sited to protect the valuable sawmills and water-power sites owned by John Gilman, Sr. The site served as a dwelling and later served as the location of a tavern, boarding house, and millinery shop.

The frame of the structure was built of massive sawn horizontal hemlock planks that were mortis-and-tenoned into oak posts on the first floor and dovetailed on the second floor. Throughout the rest of the 1709 structure, one can see several devices including a portcullis, gun ports, and a safe room, which were designed to defend the family from harm during attacks by the Pennacook. However, by the time the house was completed, conflicts with the Pennacook were rare and by the end of the next decade the protective devices in the garrison had no use at all. Its defensive features may have gone unused, but its materials tell a broader story about Indigenous history. The large timbers and the fact that they were mill-sawn, highlight the Gilmans’ actions in destroying both the forests and rivers that had sustained the Pennacook for so long.

The garrison remained unchanged until 1732, when ownership transferred to Peter Gilman, who received the home from his father, John Gilman, Jr. Peter Gilman operated a tavern in the garrison, a business started by his father in 1719. During that time, Gilman owned at least one enslaved person, a man named Titus who perished while collecting water at the river.  Peter was also known as a shopkeeper and may have sold goods from the garrison. By the mid-eighteenth century, Peter Gilman was a highly respected member of the community, having been appointed to the King’s Council during the term of Governor John Wentworth and been a successful proprietor of lucrative businesses. He used his considerable fortune to transform the fortified garrison into a fashionable Georgian style home suitable for his status in Exeter. The interior received elegantly paneled walls and carved mantels, plaster and lath ceilings, and cased beams. The exterior was updated with clapboards, 12-over-12 sash windows, and a reconfigured roofline. A sumptuous Georgian ell with a formal parlor and grand bedchamber were added circa 1770 in anticipation of a gathering of the King’s Council, though such meetings never occurred.

4-danielwebsterroom_historyClifford Family Occupancy

Following Peter Gilman’s death in 1788, the site was purchased by inventor, builder, and entrepreneur Ebenezer Clifford.  A native of Kensington, New Hampshire, Clifford was a well-known early Piscataqua architect who was instrumental in building  Langdon House, and the Rundlet-May House, both Historic New England houses open to the public in Portsmouth. While living in the spacious house, Clifford offered living quarters in spare bedchambers to young students attending Phillips Exeter Academy. Daniel Webster was one of the notable boarders during that time.

Clifford’s daughters, Betsy and Eunice, continued to live in the house after his death. The women 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. The entire estate was sold at auction after the death of Betsy Clifford. 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.”


Asenath Darling and Jane Harvey

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. The expanded carriage barn may have also served as headquarters for Darling’s taxi service, which he operated as his own enterprise.

Asenath Harvey Darling owned and operated a millinery shop in the c. 1770 parlor, in the same space used by Betsy and Eunice Clifford. Asenath specialized in hat making, but also offered retail sales of millinery supplies, sewing notions, and fabrics, as well as catalog sales for Singer sewing machines. Her shop was well managed and successful, making Asenath financially independent of her husband for the duration of her marriage.

Jane Harvey, Asenath’s sister, inherited the house in 1895. Jane was a schoolteacher who supplemented her income by taking in boarders, including a young girl named Irene Morse. Morse would go on to lead a remarkable life, teaching French and history as a professor in Wyoming from 1890 to 1902 before going to medical school at Tufts College Medical School. The first woman physician in New England to enlist in World War I, she treated soldiers in a specialty hospital for gas victims set up by the Women’s Overseas Hospitals of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. She continued this work until she herself was poisoned by gas. Dr. Morse continued to suffer from the effects of her time in the war until she died in 1933 and was buried next to Jane Harvey in Exeter.

Jane Harvey was the first to show the interior of the garrison to visitors. Tours showcased the elegance of the Georgian addition juxtaposed with the defensive features of the garrison structure. Many aspects of the tours were fabrications of Harvey’s imagination, including accounts of violent encounters between the Pennacook people and the residents of Gilman Garrison, and escape tunnels between the basement of the building and the riverbank across the street. So convincing were her stories, that residents who visited the site as school children recalled exploring the tunnels themselves. Later, in 1932 an excavation conducted as part of Historic American Building Survey in Exeter finally discredited the purported tunnels. Regrettably, Harvey’s apocryphal accounts of violence perpetrated by the Pennacook remained uncontested and ultimately became part of the history of the house by the next owners of Gilman Garrison.

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 purchased the house in 1912 and started a restoration of the property. After her death in 1953, her son William Perry Dudley completed the restoration. William returned portions of the house to its late-eighteenth century appearance, revealed aspects of the early eighteenth-century defensive features in other areas, and created a history museum documenting the lives of the Gilman family and other residents, including many of the myths handed down by its former occupants.

6-exteriorfacadefromthestreetBecoming a Museum

Historic New England acquired Gilman Garrison House at William Dudley’s death in 1965. Little was done to change Dudley’s interpretation and the house interior is presented as he designed it. Around 2000, dendrochronology – a scientific process of dating structural elements through tree ring patterns – was performed on the house. 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.

Historic New England continues to research Gilman Garrison to uncover the stories hidden within its walls. Much has been discovered about the people who passed through its doors and how they shaped the curious “old logg house,” and yet more waits to be found.

Property FAQs

Find out about group tours, photography policy, and more.

Learn More
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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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