Outside the South

This Old House {Massachusetts Edition}

The next time you visit Massachusetts, swing through the town of Dedham. Established in 1635, Dedham is located on the southwest border of Boston and is home to Massachusetts’ oldest home and North America’s oldest known wood structure, the Fairbanks House.

The Fairbanks House was built circa 1641 for Jonathan Fairbanks, his wife, Grace, and their family after they moved to America from Halifax. Jonathan hired a master carpenter and a master mason, people who knew what they were doing, to build his home. Historians believe this is a large part of why the house still stands today.

The house was occupied and then passed down through eight generations of the family until the early 1900s, when the house became a museum in 1904. The center portion of the present home is the oldest, but the original structure expanded as architectural styles changed, and the family grew.

How do we know the Fairbanks House is the oldest surviving timber-frame house in North America? Dendrochronology, or tree ring dating.  Testing conducted on the hall summer beam shows that the tree used for this beam was cut in 1637. This beam would have been one of the first parts of the house erected as it is the primary structural support for the entire house.

The museum is open May through October from Wednesdays to Sundays.