10 Historic Homes You Can Visit in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has many beautiful and historic homes. From first period houses to Federal-style and Victorian houses, there’s a wide range of history associated with these houses. Some of them were even once stops on the Underground Railroad during the 19th century.

Fortunately, many of these homes are also open to the public as historic house museums. Just a reminder though, some of these houses are temporarily closed to the public due to the Covid-19 pandemic so check their websites for info before you visit them.

If you are interested in unique homes, there are also a number of castles in Massachusetts that you can visit too.

The following is a list of 10 historic homes you can visit in Massachusetts:

Fairbanks House:

Address: 511 East St, Dedham, MA. Website: fairbankshouse.org

Built in 1637, the Fairbanks House is considered the oldest timber frame structure in America. The house was built for Jonathan and Grace Fairbanks and their children, who had emigrated from Yorkshire, England in 1633.

Fairbanks House, Dedham, Mass
Fairbanks House, Dedham, Mass

The house stayed in the Fairbanks family for over eight generations until 1895 when it was sold to local realtor John Crowley.

In 1897, Crowley almost tore down the home but it was saved when Mrs J. Amory Codman and her daughter Martha decided to buy it.

There is evidence that various residents of the house practiced folk magic in the house, placing hex marks and various objects throughout the house to ward off witches, illness and evil spirits.

In 1904, the Fairbanks Family in America, Inc was formed and took possession of the house, opening it as a historic house museum in 1905.

Paul Revere House:

Address: 19 N Square, Boston, MA. Website: www.paulreverehouse.org

Built about 1680, the Paul Revere House is a first period house that is considered the oldest house in downtown Boston. The land where the house now sits used to be the location of the Second Church of Boston’s parsonage, where Reverend Increase Mather and his son Reverend Cotton Mather once lived.

The Paul Revere House was built by Robert Howard, a wealthy slave merchant, before it was eventually purchased by Paul Revere in 1770. Revere lived in the home during the American Revolution and started his famous midnight ride there.

Revere sold the house in 1800 and it passed between various owners throughout the 19th century until it eventually became run down and was set for demolition in 1901. That same year, the house was saved when Revere’s great-grandson, John P. Reynolds, purchased the home for $12,000.

In 1906, a group of concerned citizens purchased the home from Reynolds in 1906 and opened it as a historic house museum in 1908. The Paul Revere House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961.

Rebecca Nurse Homestead

Address: 149 Pine Street, Danvers, Mass. Website: www.rebeccanurse.org

Built in 1678, the Rebecca Nurse Homestead is a first period house in Danvers, Mass, where Salem Witch Trials victims Rebecca Nurse lived. Nurse was actually arrested at the house on March 24, 1692, and immediately brought to the Salem Village Meetinghouse for her examination.

The home is a saltbox-style house that originally featured only four rooms but was later expanded when a lean-to kitchen was added to the back of the building in the 18th century. In 1820, the lean-to was expanded and was renovated again in the early 1900s.

The homestead remained in the Nurse family until 1784 when it was sold to Phinehas Putnam. It remained in the Putnam family for the next 124 years.

In 1908, the Putnam family sold the homestead to the newly created Rebecca Nurse Memorial Association, who restored it to its original 17th century appearance and opened it as a house museum in 1909.

In 1926, the association donated the house to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (Now known as Historic New England).

In 1981, the Danvers Alarm List Company, a volunteer group of 18th century living history reenactors that portray the militia, purchased the homestead and renovated it by removing modern fixtures and building period fencing.

Salem Witch House

Address: 310 Essex St, Salem, MA. Website: witchhouse.info

Built in the mid 1670s, the Salem Witch House is a first period house in Salem, Mass, where one of the judges in the Salem Witch Trials, Jonathan Corwin lived. The house was originally built for Captain Richard Danvenport but he moved to Boston before he finished building it.

In 1675, Davenport sold the partially constructed house to Corwin who completed it and moved in with his family.

The Witch House, Salem, Mass, circa November 2015. Photo Credit: Rebecca Brooks
The Witch House, Salem, Mass

Corwin lived in the house until his death in 1718 and the house remained in the Corwin family until 1850 when it was sold to a pharmacist named George Farrington who added a small pharmacy to the side of the building.

In the 18th and 19th century, historians believed the home was originally owned by banished Puritan minister Roger Williams but this turned out to be incorrect when it was discovered that the house was built in the 1670s, which was decades after Williams had been banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636.

The house was slated for demolition in 1944 when the street it is located on needed to be widened. A group of local citizens formed an organization called Historic Salem Inc and raised the necessary funds to move the house back 35 feet from the street.

The house was also restored to its original 17th century appearance and opened as a historic house museum in 1946.

House of Seven Gables

Address: 115 Derby St, Salem, MA. Website: 7gables.org

Built in 1668, the House of Seven Gables is a first period house made famous by the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel of the same name.

The house was built for Captain John Turner, which is why it is also known as the Turner House or the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, and was originally a two-room, 2 1/2 story house with a front porch and a central chimney. A few years after it was built, a kitchen lean-to was added to back of the house.

The house remained in the Turner family for three generations until Captain Samuel Ingersoll purchased it in 1782. Ingersoll removed four of the gables and renovated the house into a more modern Federal-style home.

Ingersoll died in 1804 and his daughter Susanna Ingersoll inherited it. Susanna was the second cousin of Nathaniel Hawthorne and often invited him over for visits. It was these frequent visits to the house that inspired Hawthorne to write his famous novel, The House of Seven Gables, in 1851.

The Ingersoll family eventually lost the house to creditors in 1879 and it was then owned by absentee landlords until 1883 when the Upton family purchased it and opened it up for tours.

In 1908, a philanthropist named Caroline Emmerton purchased the house and continued to run it as a historic house museum, using the proceeds to fund the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association which assisted immigrant families who were settling in Salem. Emmerton worked with architect Joseph Everett Chandler to restore the house to its perceived original appearance.

Emily Dickinson Homestead

Address: 280 Main St, Amherst, MA. Website: www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org

Built about 1813, the Emily Dickinson Homestead is a two-family Federal-style house where poet Emily Dickinson lived in the 19th century.

The homestead was originally built for Emily’s grandparents, Samuel Fowler Dickinson and Lucretia Gunn Dickinson.

In 1830, their eldest son Edward Dickinson moved into the western half of the house with his wife, Emily Norcross Dickinson, and their son Austin. Later that year, in December, they had a daughter, Emily Elizabeth Dickinson.

In 1833, the Dickinson Homestead was sold to local general store owner David Mack and Emily’s grandparents moved to Ohio. Emily’s family continued to live in the western half of the house until 1840 when Edward purchased a house on Pleasant Street. In 1855, David Mack died and Edward purchased the Dickinson homestead.

The Dickinsons built a brick addition on the back of the house for the kitchen and laundry, added a cupola, a veranda and a conservatory.

Emily Dickinson never married and lived in the house until she died in 1886. Her sister, Lavinia, lived in the house until 1899 and then left the house to Austin’s daughter, Martha Dickinson Bianchi, who leased it to tenants until 1916, when it was sold to the Parke family.

In 1963, the house was designated a National Historic Landmark and, in 1965, the Parke family sold it to the Trustees of Amherst College, who opened it as a historic house museum.

Lizzie Borden House

Address: 230 2nd St, Fall River, MA. Website: lizzie-borden.com

Built in the mid-1840s, the Lizzie Borden House is a Greek Revival-style house where Lizzie Borden parent’s were murdered in 1892.

Lizzie’s father, Andrew Borden, purchased the house in 1874 and lived there with his daughters, Lizzie and Emma, and their stepmother Abby Durfee Gray, whom he married three years after his first wife, Sarah, died in 1863.

After Andrew and Abby were found bludgeoned to death in the house on August 4, 1892, Lizzie was arrested and sent to the county jail for nine months to await her trail. In June of 1893, Lizzie was tried for their murders but was ultimately acquitted of all charges.

After the trial, Lizzie returned to the Borden house temporarily before purchasing a large Victorian home in The Hill neighborhood of Fall River on August 10 and moved there with her sister. They never returned to the Borden House again.

On August 4, 1948, a couple purchased the house and raised their family there. They later left the house to their granddaughter, Martha McGinn, who began operating it as a bed and breakfast and opened it to the public for tours in 1994.

In 2004, Lee-ann Wilber bought the house and continues to operate it as bed and breakfast with tours available to the public.

Orchard House

Address: 399 Lexington Rd, Concord, MA. Website: louisamayalcott.org

Built around 1650, Orchard House is a first period house where author Louisa May Alcott lived with her family when she wrote her famous novel, Little Women, in the 19th century.

Louisa’s father, Amos Bronson Alcott, bought the house in 1857 and expanded it by moving a small tenant farmhouse to the property and adding it to the back of the larger house.

Amos also built a school on the property, known as the Concord School of Philosophy, which he operated from 1879 to 1888. That building also still stands today.

Orchard House, Concord, Mass
Orchard House, Concord, Mass

The Alcotts lived in Orchard House until 1877 when Louisa purchased a house on Maine Street in Concord.

In 1884, the Alcotts sold Orchard House to a friend named William Torrey Harris.

Orchard House opened to the public for tours in 1912, was designated a National Historical Landmark in 1962 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.

Virtual tours of the house are available on the Orchard House website.

Jackson Homestead

Address: 527 Washington St, Newton, MA. Website: newtonma.gov/gov/historic/visit/jackson_homestead_and_museum/default.asp

Built in 1809, the Jackson Homestead is a Federal-style two family house built for Timothy Jackson and his family on the Jackson farm which was established in 1646.

In 1809, Timothy Jackson decided to replace the original homestead with the more modern house that still stands today. Jackson built the house as a two family home in the hopes that his son Edmund would move into it if he married.

After Timothy’s death in 1814, the estate was divided among his sons and William Jackson struck a deal with his brothers in which he received the homestead.

William lived in the house from 1820 until his death. As an abolitionist, William opened the house up as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The house continued to be occupied by the Jackson family until 1932 when it was rented out.

In 1949, the house was donated to the City of Newton and in 1950 it opened as the Newton History Museum.

In 1973, the homestead was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Old House at Peacefield

Address: 135 Adams St, Quincy, MA. Website: www.nps.gov/adam/learn/historyculture/places.htm

Built in 1731, Old House at Peacefield served as the residence of John Adams and his family for four generations from 1788 to 1927.

The house was originally built for Leonard Vassall, a sugar-planter from Jamaica. Vassal was a loyalist who abandoned the house when he fled the country for England after the Battle of Lexington in 1775.

The Adams family purchased the house in 1787, while they were still living in London, and moved in a year later when they returned to America.

At the time that they purchased the house, it was much smaller and consisted of only two rooms on the ground floors, two bedrooms upstairs and an attic. Over the next 12 years, the Adams’ expanded the house, creating an addition with a hallway and large parlor on the ground floor and a large study above.

After Charles Francis Adams returned to the U.S. in 1868 from his ambassadorial term in Britain, he made even further additions to the house, including building the Stone library in 1873.

The Adams family donated the house to the U.S. government in 1946 and its now open to the public as a part of the Adams National Historical Park.

The house has become an increasingly popular tourist attraction over the last few decades due to the publication of David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography “John Adams” in 2001 and the John Adams miniseries on HBO in 2008.

For more info on historical places in Massachusetts, check out these articles on historic sites in Massachusetts and historic towns in Massachusetts.

Sources:
“Orchard House.” American Heritage, americanheritage.com/content/orchard-house
Hageman, William. “Lizzie Borden – and tourism – still haunts Fall River.” Seattle Times, 26 Oct. 2015, seattletimes.com/life/travel/lizzie-borden-and-tourism-still-haunts-fall-river/
Lambert, Lane. “Adams Park at 70: Once a House, Now a Brand.” The Patriot Ledger, 22 April.2016, patriotledger.com/article/20160422/NEWS/160428170
Parr, James L. Dedham: Historic and Heroic Tales from Shiretown. The History Press, 2009.
“Family History.” FairbanksHouse, fairbankshouse.org/about-history

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the author and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance journalist and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

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