History, Part 2 (moving the house)

Once I had figured out that the house had most likely been moved to it's current location, I wanted to try to figure out who built the house. I had to look at as many deeds from the original location as possible in order to get a picture of the timeline of the structures that were there. This is hard because buildings were built, torn down, moved and re-purposed so often that it is impossible to be sure of much. The best it seems you can do is to find as much evidence as possible and sort through it to determine the most plausible scenario. Then you just have to be happy with that (or eternally frustrated by not knowing for sure, like me).

It was easy to locate the original location of our house because the deed gave an exact measurement from the adjacent house, which at the time, in 1858, belonged to Wm. C. Clark. Our house was 11' 7" south of the corner of Clark's house, which, thankfully, is still in its original location.
He had bought a house from The estate of Sherburne Blake and moved it to the Union Street lot for a young couple named The Morse's. Incidentally, John W. Morse enlisted to fight in the Civil War just after getting settled in our house. As near as I can tell, he survived his 9 months at war but, I believe his wife died (maybe in childbirth) shortly after he returned.

Wm C. Clark was a Baptist Minister. I have only been able to find the following blurb on him:

from, The history of Haverhill, Massachusetts: from its first settlement, in 1640, to the year 1860.

While in Exeter from 1850-1855, Wm C. Clark lived in what is now called Harris House, owned by Phillips Exeter Academy. This picture shows where our house used to be in relation to Clark's house before it was moved, around 1858. 
Once I knew where our house was before it was moved I looked for it on all of the old maps of Exeter. Sure enough, there it was on the 1845 Map. This is approximately .5 miles from it's current location.

James Burley's house, which Wm C. Clark bought in 1850, is to the right of our house (drawn in below). In between the two houses is a pathway leading from Spring Street to the school house shown on the map above. It was perpendicular to Spring Street, which seemed odd until I understood more about it's history. Read on...

Our house was part of a property owned by Sherburne Blake, a Deacon at the First Congregational Church of Exeter, from 1823-1858. The deacon himself died in 1847 but his wife and daughter, Eleanor, remained in the house until his wife, Apphia, died in 1858. The map to the left includes the names of the head of a given household during the time that the map was made, even if they were renting the house. The one labeled H. F. French was an office building rented in part to French, that Sherburne Blake built sometime between 1823 and 1830. The big house labeled S. Blake on the corner is the dwelling house of Blake and his family, and the small house behind it on Spring St. labeled S. Blake was his as well (that's our house now).

There is a description of the Blake house, and Blake himself, from, William Gilman Perry's, Exeter in 1830. Notes and occasional papers of William Gilman Perry, that is too good not to include here:
Of the origin of the house I am ignorant, its occupants I remember well. The deacon came here from Raymond, having amassed a competence there by keeping a country store. He left the business in the hands of his two sons, who became leading men of the town. They entered largely into the manufacture of palm leaf hats, which were worn almost exclusively during the hot months, being light and cool as well as cheap. The Blakes bought the leaf, which was put out among the families of that vicinity to be braided, the women earning tidy little sums in this industry.

I remember the old deacon well in his cinnamon colored wig. He was a typical deacon of the old time, positive in his convictions, an observer of all the ordinances, and a staunch defender of his creed, not popular with the young, not given to hilarity, but withal a kind neighbor. It was said that in his last sickness, for the last fortnight of his life he took nothing but water.

Deacon Blake had five daughters...— Eleanor, Olive, Dorothy, Shuah, and Abby, all fine women. All married, except Miss Eleanor, an estimable woman, who spent her life in the old house. She always had boarders, principally Academy students. Deacon Blake built a two-story office building between his house and the old county building; General Marston occupied the upper rooms and Judge French the lower.
Above is the map included in William Perry's, Exeter in 1830. Notes and occasional papers of William Gilman Perry. It includes the houses in Exeter that he specifically identified in the book.
As I researched the deeds, I spent time at the Exeter Historical Society, which, incidentally, is now located within the orange circle here. I was looking specifically for information about houses that had been moved in Exeter in the nineteenth century. It was there that I got my hands on the written version of a presentation that was given by Nancy Merrill, the longtime Exeter historian, called "Exeter Checker Game." In this, I find the first mention, not only of what I believe to be my house, but two additional houses circled on the map above. Here is the except from the talk she gave:
Deacon Sherburne Blake's house on Front Street was moved so that the First Baptist Church could be constructed there in 1875. The front part of the house is at 24 School St., and I believe, the ell of the house is at 17 School St.
In an excerpt from Perry's book, Exeter in 1830, probably one of Nancy Merrill's sources for her talk, is another piece of the puzzle:
Across the street was the house of Deacon Sherburne Blake, since replaced by the Baptist church. It was a long, two-storied house, plain in appearance, with two front doors, and a long drawn out ell on Spring Street. A part of it was removed to the corner of Union and Garfield Streets.
So if I put these two excerpts together, all three can be identified. The front part of Deacon Blake's house is, in fact, at 24 School Street but it is his office building that is at 17 School Street. It is our house that Perry must be referring to at the "corner of Union and Garfield Street" since Garfield is the intersection at the end of our block. Does that mean that our house was part of the ell? It makes sense, but the structure that Clark bought was oriented east to west, just like the main house, which is not what I would expect if it were an ell. Also, the little house has been identified as a separate structure on all of the maps.

That said, there is an 1857 map of Rockingham County that shows a dotted line going from the main house on the bottom right, up to our house. Should it be inferred that they are connected? I don't know. It sure looks like it's indicating "a long rambling ell down Spring Street," as Perry described it, but there's no telling if the little house is the caboose of the whole affair or just situated closely, but separately, behind it.

1857 Map of Rockingham County showing our house connected to Sherburn Blake's house by a dotted line. Could the dotted line indicate an Ell?
There are parts of our houses' frame that suggest that it may have been connected to another structure, but short of stripping down to it's timber frame, we will probably never know for sure. Incidentally, you can see Wm. C. Clark's house just above ours on the 1857 map above.

So here they all are. I took these pictures and I only had to walk a block from my house to get them all. Each of these houses was moved up the road from the corner of Front and Spring Streets and still exist within a few hundred feet of each other. 

For any doubters out there, consider the picture below. The Thomas McCobb House (also known as the "Spite House," which is an interesting story in and of itself of both the complexity and simplicity of the human brain) was built in Phippsburg, Maine in 1806. In 1925 a man bought the house and had it moved to Rockport Maine. It was loaded up and transported 85 miles by land and sea- in ONE day. 


go to History of the House, Part 3 (1823-1858)

No comments:

Post a Comment