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Address of George Francis Dow

This talk was given 3 October, 1921 to the Francis Wyman Association by Mr. George Francis Dow of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities on the subject of the Francis Wyman House in Burlington, MA. He based his talk as a result of his inspection of the house in the previous November.

"The house of two and one-half stories stands end to the road and faces south in the usual fashion of its period. Its frame is of oak save where the sills have been replaced. As shown by pieces of the original boarding that have been preserved in the attic since the restoration about twenty years ago, the house was clapboarded at an early date and probably when it was built. The clapboards are of pine and never have been painted. The house so built in the country, at an early date, is rather unusual in that it has four rooms on each floor with a fireplace in each room, the northeasterly room being the original kitchen, as now, and having a fireplace measuring about 7 ft. 4 in. but now bricked up. If this bricking were removed undoubtedly the old brick oven would be disclosed inside the fireplace. The other fireplaces in the house have also been bricked up on the first floor or rebuilt entirely on the second floor for when the house was restored the chimney was taken down and rebuilt from about the level of the second story floor. The New England house built during the 17th century, in the country, was a house of two rooms on each floor but there are exceptions especially when large houses were built. The roofs at that time were steep. The Wyman house roof has about the normal pitch of the present day and this is due to the fact that the house of four rooms has a greater depth than the two room house of that period. The rafters seem to be, in the main, of the original construction there being some replacement, however, made at the time of restoration. The outside boarding seems to be entirely new as are the window frames. The trim of the front door is a restoration of a mid-eighteenth century type and the curiously blocked cornerboards are of that time.

An interesting feature of the interior is the staircase with newel posts and rail of a distinctly 17th century character. Considerable early sheathing with the bevel and bead molded edge appears about the rooms and much more is concealed by wall paper. At some time after the house was built, probably after 1750 and before the Revolution, the exposed frame in the parlor was cased in and two-panel doors were hung. The original door leading to the cellar was in the right hand front room. At the time the two-panel doors were hung in the parlor an opening was cut through to the cellar stairs from the front entry and a two-panel door placed in it. The exposed frame also has been cased in several other rooms but not with so elaborate a trim as in the parlor. On the second floor and elsewhere, where the frame has not been cased in, the summers show a rough attempt at a bead along either lower edge and this bead is carried from girt to girt and shows no "stop" as is usual. The lack of care shown in hewing the exposed beams, i.e. in not dressing down the surface to a good smooth surface, suggests that the house was somewhat roughly built as seems in keeping with the family tradition that this house originally was the farm house for the family living in the village of Woburn, seven or eight miles away. The cellar stairs also are crude and were used only before 1725, so far as my experience shows. Each stair is sawed diagonally out of a rectangular block and then spiked to the stringers.

When was the house built? I have not attempted to search the town records or the deeds and probate, but Sewell's History of Woburn states that the land on which the Wyman house was built was sold to Francis and John for 50 pounds in 1665, and that it was laid out by Jonathan Danforth, surveyor, in 1667. It is highly improbable that the Wymans would build a house on the land before it was laid out to them and therefore I should question the propriety of dating the house over the front door as 1666. I understand that you have a family tradition that the house was built by Francis Wyman as his farmhouse. He died in 1699 aged 82 years. I see nothing in the construction of the house to disprove this statement. The framing is early and crude. The bevel and bead molded sheathing was in use before 1675 and persisted until well into the 18th century and in this house, as in nearly all old houses, the early paneling was replaced in the best rooms by sheathing and trim of a newer fashion, and this change usually took place between 1720 and the time of the Revolution. But the turnings of the staircase newels and the trim of the staircase are undoubtedly suggestive of late 17th century work. I should not say as early as 1666. Now let us look for a moment at the reasonable probabilities of what Francis Wyman would have done after acquiring this land. It was located in the wilderness seven or eight miles from the settled town where he lived. It was covered with forest. He worked off the timber first and little by little cleared the land. His children were young at that time and the danger from Indian attack was recognized so that he undoubtedly would keep his family safe in Woburn. He would not think of building at such a place during the period of danger leading up to King Philip's War in 1675 and 1676 nor for a short time after. It seems likely that a number of years would elapse before a farm worthy of the name could be developed in so remote a place. The house itself is a large house for the remote farm --eight rooms-- and suggests the immediate need for a considerable family rather than the usual growth of the house on either side of the chimney or by a lean-to in the rear. As a mere question of logic, aside from tradition or architectural construction, it would seem more reasonable that the house may have been built for one of his children then already having a family of some size, than to have been erected for a farmer employed by Francis Wyman who lived, I am informed, in the safety of the village of Woburn. Architecturally the house might have been built at any time between 1680 and 1725 but probably it was built before 1700. If the house were more in ruin, as it was twenty years ago, it then would be possible to make a more thorough examination of its construction with a chance of more closely attaching a date.

Since writing the above I have visited the Court House at Cambridge and find that no inventory of the estate of Francis Wyman has been recorded or preserved. His will refers to a partial distribution of his estate by deed to his children but this partition deed is not on record. He bequeaths to his son Benjamin "my homestead consisting of housing, out housing, lands and meadow with the place that was formerly called Dunhams." his adjoining land formerly given to his son Joseph. I would suggest that the title to your property be traced back to the original owner in the usual manner of the conveyancer. This search may supply information as to probable age of the house or at least the earliest occupancy of the farm.

Very truly yours,

George Francis Dow



George Francis Dow

Talk Given 1921


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