History of the House, Part 1 (1858)

Phinehas Merrill's map of Exeter, 1802. 
Our house now resides in the red circle
In the tax records, our house is recorded as having been built in 1800. After living in it for a few months, it became evident that the house is old, but there didn't seem to be any way that it was built in 1800, primarily because it is located on a street that didn't exist before the late 1850's. On this map, which was done in 1802, our part of town was not at all developed.

Our house would have been in the middle of Jabez Dodge's cow pasture if it were in it's current location in 1802. I had never done deed research before but I wanted to figure out the story of our house, and researching its lineage through deeds was the first step. Through the Rockingham County Registry of Deeds I was able to easily  follow ownership back to 1858, but there it dead-ended.

On April 16, 1858, Wm C. Clark sold a piece of land to John and Maria Morse on the easterly side of "a new street." One of the problems with the dead-end deed, aside from the fact that it didn't take the house back far enough to line up with the tax records or the physical evidence, was that there was not a house on the lot that Morse bought. I know this because if there was a house, the deed would have stated "a piece of land with the buildings thereon," but it didn't, it states, "a piece of land situate in said Exeter."
Wm C. Clark to John and Maria Morse, April 16, 1858
The conclusion might be that either Clark or Morse built a house on the lot, but that didn't make sense to me since the house was obviously physically older than an 1858 house (more on that in another post). Once I determined that the 1858 Clark to Morse deed was the end of the trail, I had to figure out the rest of the story. I mulled over ideas like, it must have not been on the 1802 map because it was a barn at the time and barns weren't always included on maps, or, it was a farm house on a cow path that wasn't considered important enough to be included on the map. None of it made sense against the evidence though.

The style of our house, after learning something about the architectural history of New England, is most likely Federal (1780-1830). A Victorian style porch was probably added in 1860ish, and vinyl windows and siding was added in the last 30 or so years, but it is a classic hall and parlor timber frame modest Federal-era building. The house is a simple three-bay rectangle with a front door that is flanked by sidelights, or window panes. 
House moving in Newburyport, Massachusetts
(photo: Historic New England)
I didn't imagine that someone would go to the trouble of adding sidelights to a farmhouse on a cow-path that wouldn't be worthy of being included on a map. Also, the other houses on our street are much more in line with Victorian architecture. As I learned more I began to realize that the house may have been on the map, just in a different place. 

Apparently, house moving was really common at one time. It makes sense because once a timber frame building was constructed, which required considerable skill, labor and materials, it wouldn't likely be torn down if it was still salvageable. It would more likely have been re-purposed or moved. Done with oxen and rolling logs, moving houses had apparently been somewhat jokingly considered New England's "favorite winter sport."

Once I realized that it could have been moved, our house started to make more sense, so I dove into the earlier deeds. Although Rockingham County deeds are now available online back to the year 1638, at the time they all weren't yet so I had to look them up on microfilm at the County Court House. What I learned was that there was a series of transactions that had to be pieced together, but that, ultimately, they told the story of a house that was moved in 1858.

Deed Timeline
  • B G Purington to Wm C. Clark, March 12, 1858. A parcel of land on "a new street" sold for $57.00
  • Eleanor Blake to Wm C. Clark, April 15, 1858. A parcel with "buildings thereon" on Spring St. sold for $200.00
  • Wm C. Clark to John and Maria Morse, April 16, 1858. A parcel of land on "a new street" sold for $175.00
So the interesting details about these deeds are the dates and amounts. Clark bought a parcel of land on a new street in March for $57.00. In April, a month later, he bought a house on Spring Street (it was actually immediately next door to his own dwelling house), and one day later he sold the same lot he had purchased the month before, for $118.00 more.

I assume that he bought the lot knowing that he would be able to buy the house and move it to the "new street" for the purchasers. Because he bought the house for $200 and was already in the hole $57 for the lot where the house was to be moved, there doesn't appear to have been a profit for his troubles. I thought that there may have been another building on the Spring Street lot that he was able to sell to make a profit but there isn't a deed recorded that would indicate that. Another possibility might have been a plan to provide the mortgage to the new owner and collect the interest, which turns out to have been the case. There are two other deeds that document the mortgage that Clark provided The Morse's.

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