House Stories – 2 Neptune Street, The Pettingill House – Oldest Structure in Newburyport

2 Neptune Street You wouldn’t believe it to be possible but sometimes a house is so old that it simply refuses to fall down because it has always been standing.   It simply does not know how to fall!


This house has had at least two fires (that are on record) and has endured the fate of having two separate deeds.      Before the concept of ‘condominiums’ came around, a piece of property could be divided into Its various occupants complete with divvied up backyards, front yards and separation of exterior accessory buildings.       Personally, I like the idea that even though someone couldn’t necessarily own a whole house; they could still actually possess real property.       Condominiums were later invented for the fast-pace of our modern life; a mortgage on ‘air’ between the walls.   Supposedly a group of condo owners would then take care of abutting properties. (But always with a universal building & land owner breathing down everyone’s back!)


Separately-deeded half houses are the way to go and with the recent Condo Crash; another reason that living in Newburyport with its abundance of such deeds is a Great Benefit!


Officially the house was supposed to have been built around 1725 but many professional historic architects have examined the structure and 1680 has been pushed as the more likely construction date.


Even though the official historic record puts the house on the map in 1851, it had by that time had many generations of Pettingells.      In fact, the original name of Neptune Street was Pettingell’s Court until changed in the mid-19th century.       Richard Pettingell (early records sometimes spelled it Pettingill) was one of the original settlers of Old Newbury.   Newbury was founded in 1635 so in less than fifty years, a Petttingell was courageous enough to venture to the Merrimack River.      New Hampshire men had established a trading post in present day Newburyport’s Downtown (Watt’s Cellar) and an Indian settlement was present where Liberty Street is today.


All one has to imagine is brave Richard venturing up from the Lower Green for the first time planting a home with Indians to the left and the marshes to the right with another colony to the north – very tenuous indeed!     No other homes around and facing an untamed river but abundant with birds, clams and fish.


From this humble house sprung the salty village of Joppa.      It was only when the town of Newburyport became a city in 1851 that this house became part and parcel with the rest of the urban community.     Clamming of course was a staple but many descendants considered themselves fishermen.      Either way, it finally left the Pettingell family in 1851 and was sold to another fisherman, George Thurlow who owned it until 1871 when it passed on to his descendants all the way to the middle of the twentieth century.


After a short while it passed into the hands of Ivan Alexander in 1980 who then sold it into the hands of the Horth family who have had it since.


The right thing to do with this property is to get it into a Preservation Easement.

 2 and a half Neptune St

Presently it sits facing a million dollar view – all it takes is a future owner who might take a precious piece of ancient history and bloat it for their own uses – casting off the priceless legacy of our founding fathers and replacing it with a ‘beach house’.


Either way, easements are costly – what organizations are out there willing to help the Horths and the Bergerons (Who own the other deed) fund such a venture?   The side-by-side ownerships would complicate things in land court in themselves.  Again, without the local historic district to at least preserve the exterior, this priceless home which has endured fires, earthquakes and Indians could yet come down for the sake of a ‘View’.


-P. Preservationist

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1 Response to House Stories – 2 Neptune Street, The Pettingill House – Oldest Structure in Newburyport

  1. Nick says:

    In the early 1970s, my girlfriend and I snuck into the Neptune Street house – vacant at the time, to look around. We both loved it, and entered via an unlocked cellar door. Technically we “broke in” I guess, but it was out of love for the place. We admired the attic, where we could clearly see where original rafters had been, before the house was changed into a “saltbox” in the 18th century. Notches in the rafter beam were still there, with later rafters at a different angle added above them.

    The room we liked best was the original “great room” or keeping room, which had been divided up at some point into two smaller rooms. No doubt the fireplace had been covered up once as well when the division occurred. Someone had removed the added walls, but the wall studs were still in place. At the end of this room was the BIGGEST walk in fireplace that we had ever seen. We were able to walk into it without much bending and stood in it, looking up at the sky that was visible through the top of the chimney. Would have been easy to have had chairs or a settle in that fireplace, literally enabling people to sit around the fire.

    I’m no “expert”, but believe deeply that this house is MUCH older than 1725. I’m also sorry that it went condo, never – apparently – to be a single house again.

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