NHC: First Period (Post-Medieval English): 1635-1725

This architecture is very closely modeled after the building traditions that were in existence in England.     Since they were not designed by architects, the materials and shape of the buildings were molded  more from the plentiful lumber, the harsh New England winters and the traditions that had been brought with the first settlers.

The moment that Rev Thomas Parker and his small band of settlers set foot in Newbury in 1635 demanded the immediate construction of  dwellings.       The wattle and daub European technique of wooden strips covered with a materials of wet soil, clay, sand, animal dung and straw was abandoned since there were plentiful trees for building material.       To keep the heavy snow from accumulating dangerously on the roofs, steep pitches were instituted.    To efficiently heat the buildings, a massive chimney was built in the center complete with baking coves for bread making.        Second floors were reached by stairs that would often curl around the central chimney either in an L-shape or U-shape.

First period homes are extremely rare in the United States and can be found only in the thirteen original colonies or in remote locations up river to the west.   Most are found along the eastern seaboard more often than not in Connecticut or Massachusetts.         Even in Newburyport, First Period architecture is not common or has been greatly modified.     Because they tended to be one room deep, they were often torn down for newer architecture or had multiple additions such as gables and lean-to’s to make them more comfortable to later lifestyles.     The early settlers had simple casement windows with diamond shaped leaded panes.    These would be often replaced by sliding sash windows with multiple rectangular panes right around the 1700’s.clip_image002

 The first characteristic is their lack of a building skirt around the bottom and the house walls close to the ground.      Ceiling heights often were low due to the fact that people were shorter of stature back in the 1700’s.    Though not common in Newburyport, First Period homes tend to have a second floor overhanging the first.      Most, like the oldest house in the City at 2 Neptune Street, has a lean-to addition.     The roofs tend to be made of wood shingles.    

Characteristic details:


Originally one room deep with a prominent central chimney.    Not common in Newburyport but often a second story would overhang on the front and sometimes sides and have a lean-to added to the rear of the building.


Entrance on long side of building with little concern for façade symmetry.     Simple, serviceable board and batten door.


Small, few in number, and asymmetrically placed.    Framed simply, the windows were usually casement with diamond shaped leaded panes.


Steep pitch, often with many gable.    Massive oblong, central chimney in the center of the roofline.


Timber frame construction.   Usually unpainted wood with narrow clapboards.

Decorative elements

Minimal exterior decorative treatment though a pendill or bracket or decorative element is often found on homes between the first and second floors when overlapping second floors are present.    

Some local examples to inspect are:

The Coffin House and the Swett-Ilsley House.

Some diagrams and expanded information is present from the following sources:

Historic New England

Newburyport Preservation Trust

The Salem Handbook

-P. Preservationist

This entry was posted in Architecture, History, Preservation History, Real Estate. Bookmark the permalink.

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