House Stories – 2 Woodwell Avenue – The Captain Gideon Woodwell House

Sidew View - 2 Woodwell Avenue

The Captain Woodwell House built circa 1649 (Original deed copies still exist from 1893 & 1899). Beams are said to be original to the Captain’s merchant ship. The Woodwell Family lived in this humble house for many generations.


Gideon Woodwell was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts in 1720 but found himself left an orphan when just two years old and was taken to orphan at the age of eight in 1724.     In 1746 he was enrolled in the company of Colonel Gerrish and took part in the expedition under command of William Pepperell which captured Louisburg. (A cannon ball from that battle is on display to the left of the entrance to the Superior Court House at Bartlett Mall.)


He was First Lieutenant of a company in the regiment of Colonel Jonathan Bagley stationed at Fort William Henry on Lake George in 1756. During the summer of that year he was commissioned by Governor Shirley then commander-in-chief of the British forces in North America and placed in charge of the ship carpenters who built three sloops and several hundred whale boats for the transportation of troops and supplies to Ticonderoga.


In 1757 he was enrolled in the Alarum list of Foot Company in Newbury of which Joseph Coffin was Captain. Coffin and Gabriel along with a company of men from Newbury marched to Cambridge on the alarm of April 19, 1775 and remained there for six days in which they then returned to Newbury with leave.

He successfully commanded a merchant ship for a few years and earned enough to return to Newburyport to establish the Woodwell shipyard (Later called Woodwell & Hale) about 1762 and from that year to 1773 built fifty-two vessels.


The yard was closed during the Revolution and from 1783 to 1790 ten vessels were built his son John and son in law Enoch Hale being associated with him. He married first Hannah who died in 1772 and second Ruth Goodwin on July in 1781. He died in 1790 and is buried at the Old Hill Burying Ground.


Gideon Woodwell Junior was born in the house in 1750. He was one of a party of seventeen men who captured the British ship Friends off Plum Island in 1776. (This was the famous ship seized by privateer Offin Boardman when the British Captain mistakenly thought he was approaching Boston.) Gideon, Jr. served in the navy during the Revolutionary War and War of 1812. In early life he learned the trade of ship carpenter from his father and in 1797 he helped build the frigate Constitution. In 1812 when that famous vessel made her escape from a British fleet he was on board as ship carpenter. He died in 1840 aged 90 years.


Another descendent of Captain Gideon Woodwell was John, born in 1752. He was associated with his father and Enoch Hale in carrying on the industry of shipbuilding under the firm name of Woodwell & Hale.


The yard was unoccupied for a few years after the death of the Senior. During this time John Woodwell built a few vessels on the Kennebec River near Bath Maine. At the beginning of the 19th century he and his sons John David and Gideon re-established the business in Newbury and from 1800 to 1853 built nearly one hundred vessels varying in size from 50 to 300 tons register. In 1799 John and his brother Gideon had a contract to build half a war vessel for the government. (William Cross ship builders constructing the other half)


Another notable descent of Captain Gideon Woodwell was Mary born in Newbury, 1758. She married Enoch Hale who was a descendant of Thomas Hale who was prominent in the early history of Newbury. Enoch Hale served in the Revolutionary army and was a shipbuilder associated with Captain Gideon Woodwell. One of her children, Benjamin Woodwell served in the Mass Legislature from 1838 to 1839 and was a Justice of the Peace in Newburyport.


For the entire history bound up in this house, this single-family two-story building has just three beds, one bath and encompasses only 1,268 square feet. The lot is not much bigger at 3,552 square feet. Its greatest blessing and perhaps mortal curse is it is located in Newburyport with great views of Joppa Flats. Due to this unique and highly desirable location, the value of the home as of 2013 is estimated at $530,076! It is still heated by steam via radiators.


This first-period timber frame vernacular house is definitely a contributing structure in the Newburyport Historic District and should always be preserved as it appears now.


According to the Inventory:


Street Address

Map & Parcel

Historic Name

Date of Construction





Captain Gideon Woodwell House

1649(Plaque) 18th c

Timber frame vernacular


 -P. Preservationist





1851 Plan of Newburyport, Mass H. McIntire

1851-1871 City Directories

1872 Map of the City of Newburyport, Mass. D.G. Beers and Co.

Assessor’s Records 1890-1980

Essex Institute Historical Collections, Volume 46


J. J. Currier, History of Newburyport 1764-1905, Vol. I and II, reprint, Newburyport, 1977.

J. M. Howells, The Architectural Heritage of the Merrimack, New York 194I.

Newburyport, 2011, City of Newburyport Vision Appraisal Online Records.

Newburyport Historic District,, Historic Survey of the National                 Register of Historic Places, 1984.

R. Cheney, History of Merrimack River Shipbuilding, Newburyport, 1964.

This entry was posted in Architecture, Education, Heritage Tourism, History, Preservation. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to House Stories – 2 Woodwell Avenue – The Captain Gideon Woodwell House

  1. I proof read and I proof read – but they just keep getting by me. I have corrected some more of the house story mentioned above. Please make note if you are downloading an earlier copy to replace it in its entirety.

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