Oxford Tree-Ring Laboratory - Massachusetts


Abbot House

Cogswell’s Grant, 60 Spring Street, Essex, Essex County, Massachusetts (42.639302, -70.773497)

Spring 1655 (Re-used beam in cellar of main range)
Winter 1727/8 (Main range)
Winter 1677-78 (Re-used brace in Salt Hay Barn)
Spring 1719 (Salt Hay Barn)

The older portion of the house known as Cogswell’s Grant, comprising the left-hand rooms and the stair hall, was built in 1728 on land granted to John Cogswell, Sr. in 1635 when the property was part of newly-settled Ipswich. There was a house on Cogswell’s property as early as 1641. In 1687, boundary descriptions in a deed that mention “a dam before the farmhouse” indicate that there was already a house in the approximate location of the present house, which sits close to the remains of a tidal dam. In the deed, William Cogswell, John Sr.’s son, transfered the property to his son, Jonathan Cogswell. He, in turn, bequeathed the property to his son, Jonathan, when he died in 1717. Jonathan, the son, began to build the house two years before his marriage in 1730.

The left-hand portion of the house has a plan somewhat reminiscent of the stone-ender with two side-by-side fireplaces, in this case enclosedspan style="mso-spacerun:yes"> in a chimney bay by an exterior clapboarded wall. The chimney served fireplaces in two equally-sized rooms and chambers. A stair hall with both a straight-run front staircase and a three-run rear staircase completed the plan. Woodwork in this part of the house, including paneling, paneled doors, post and beam cases, turned stair balusters, and in the front rooms, chimney breasts with bolection moldings around the fireboxes, is consistent with the finishing of rooms in houses of other prominent Ipswich citizens of the period.

During preparation for SPNEA of the Historic Property Report on Cogswell’s Grant in 1993, physical evidence was noted that suggested that the 1728 left-hand part of the house might have been built onto an earlier structure at its right-hand end, perhaps explaining its unusual plan. References in an inventory of 1752 to the old kitchen and the new kitchen supported this theory. The current right-hand rooms of the house, however, likely date from the 1770s or 1780s (dating this part of the house in the current dendrochronology study was unsuccessful). In 1995 an archaeological excavation along the right-hand wall of the current house confirmed that there had been a previous structure in that location. Among other artifacts, remnants of foundation walls and leaded glass from windows were found.

The two reused beams in the cellar dated during this project to 1655 were previously identified by Abbott Cummings as being potentially of mid-seventeenth century origin owing to their decoration with wide chamfers and their empty mortises for joists with narrow spacing. One, in fact, had pockets for bare-faced soffit tenons that Cummings identified as an archaic carry-over from England of the sixteenth century and earlier. Whether the two beams may have come from a previous Cogswell house on the property is a matter of speculation.

By 1791, a partial rear lean-to projecting beyond the left end wall had been built. The property passed into the hands of the Boyd family in 1837. In the mid-nineteenth century, the lean-to was raised to two stories and given a gable roof, windows were enlarged and the foundation faced with granite.

In 1937, the house was purchased by Nina Fletcher and Bertram K. Little, noted collectors of and authorities on American Decorative and Folk Arts. They extended the ell again and restored the interiors, recreating original grain painting schemes on the woodwork in the process. Upon Mrs. Little’s death in 1993, the property came to SPNEA.

The Salt Hay Barn, previously estimated to have been built c. 1730, was completed in 1719, shortly after Jonathan Cogswell, the younger, inherited the property from his father. The barn is a rare surviving example of an early barn of the English type. A relatively small barn three bays in length, the structure was traditionally thought to have been used to store hay from near-by salt marshes. Later a two bay garage was added to one end. The barn shares framing and joinery characteristics with the small number of remaining barns of the period.

Miles, D H, Worthington, M J, and Grady, A A, 2003““Development of Standard Tree-Ring Chronologies for Dating Historic Structures in Eastern Massachusetts Phase III”, ODL unpubl rep 2003/9

Commissioner: Historic New England Webpage for COGSWELL’S GRANT, site for this building here.




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Oxford Tree-Ring Laboratory

Michael Worthington
Jane Seiter, Ph.D

25 E. Montgomery St.
Baltimore, MD 21230