Fairbanks House – Dedham, Massachusetts - Atlas Obscura

Fairbanks House

The oldest surviving wood-frame building in North America is still in the family. 


The Fairbanks House has stood in Dedham, Massachusetts since its construction somewhere between 1637 and 1641. This makes it not only the oldest house in New England, but the oldest surviving wood-frame house in all of North America.

The house was built for Puritan immigrant Jonathan Fairbanks, who came from Yorkshire to New England with his family in 1633. The first iteration of the home was built of oak and cedar, with a front door on the west side of the chimney bay. A lean-to was added at the back of the house a few years after construction, as well as an east wing (around 1641) and a west wing (around 1654). The most recent additions to the house were made in the 19th century: a privy behind the west wing and a mud room entrance to the east wing.

Fortunately for historians, in the absence of records, timber homes like this one practically date themselves. The site’s status as the oldest wood-frame house in North America was attained thanks to dendrochronology testing - the scientific dating method based on analysis of tree ring patterns. Analysis of the home’s large beams proved the Fairbanks House to be astoundingly old for a building of its type, composition, and condition. In the United States, very few 17th-century houses are still around. That the Fairbanks House should not only still exist, but also be in such good condition, is extraordinary.

After his death, Jonathan Fairbanks passed the house to his oldest son John, who then gave it to his son Joseph, and so on. The last Fairbanks family member to live in the house moved out in 1904, upon which the Fairbanks Family in America, Inc., an organization of descendants, turned the house into a museum. The family has now owned and operated the museum for over 100 years.


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