The Pierce House is located in Dorchester, a suburb of Boston. Until my visit to The Pierce House, I don’t think I have ever purposely gone to Dorchester, nor do I remember ever being in that town unless I inadvertently traveled thru it on my way somewhere else. So I was very curious to find out how a home built in 1683 had been saved and survived so long in an area I knew had seen so much change.
The story of this home lays not so much in the family details & drama that likely took place inside the home, but the structure, architecture and engineering of the home itself. The home is only open to the public for tours three days a year, however offers after school programming to Boston children during the week, which I think is an amazing use of a home built in 1683. You will not find fully “staged” rooms with period furniture, instead you’ll see plastic folding tables with craft supplies and children’s artwork hung on the walls. It was a different experience that I have had at other homes, but I loved the idea of a historic home playing such a “normal” role in day-to-day lives of our next generations.
- While The Pierce House was built in 1683, Thomas and Mary Pierce bought the home and 20 acres of farmland on which the home stood in 1696 from James Minot. Thomas and Mary moved in with their five children, and at that time the home was of architectural English design, including a gabled roof and small diamond-paned windows (the renderings were so charming!). It was considered a large home for it’s time; two stories with two rooms on each floor, plus an attic. The home would see many additions and alterations in the years to come, but the Pierce family would call it home for eight more generations (with many of those generations living in the home at once).
- Between 1712 and 1765, a descendant of Thomas & Mary, Colonel Samuel Pierce added a lean-to across the back of the house, thought to create additional cooking space. In 1765, a two-story addition onto the eastern end of the house was made by Col. Samuel as well. He took this opportunity to add trendy Georgian decorative elements and removed the English inspired gables as they proved very leaky and provided no function or additional space. In the early 1800’s, the final addition to make the structure that we see today included a first floor room with hearth and bed chambers upstairs.
- Colonel Samuel Pierce had a major impact on The Pierce House and it’s internal and external features, and he was fastidious about keeping a diary, which includes his eye-witness accounts to the American Revolution. Col. Samuel Pierce was a commander of the South Dorchester militia regiment, and dispatched men from his unit to serve with the Continental Army in Boston, and as the fight continued, sent troops to other New England locations. I’m told his diary includes such historic events as the Boston Tea Party, the battles of Lexington & Concord, and his sentiments on the infamous Evacuation Day on March 17, 1776.
- Another reason this home is so special is that it shows what middle-class life was like. Many historic homes showcase wealthy families, but the Pierce family was not that. Each new generation to live in the home made small improvements, but most simply did what they could do to maintain the household. Due to continued financial issues, the family home went up for public auction in 1876, and William Augustus Pierce was able to pool family funds to save the home and have it remain in the family. While the home was occupied by renters for quite a number of years after William Augustus Pierce got it back, family descendants did eventually move back in and the last Pierce residents lived in the home in 1968, before it was sold to Historic New England for preservation.
The lean-to of the attic is one of the “don’t miss” spots when visiting The Pierce House. A lean-to was a simple add-on solution common at that time period, and Col. Samuel used the first floor of the lean-to for additional cooking space. However the attic did not need to be redone completely, so the original exterior clapboards of the home are still intact. These are some of the best examples of original 17th century clapboards, and while you dodge nails from the roof and a wonky slanting ceiling to view it, it’s definitely worth it.
This was the only room with “period” furniture, and is used as a classroom setting to teach kids about what life was like in Revolutionary America, which is so important but also a really cool opportunity to learn about in the home of an Army commander. This room features a large fireplace, although not original. However inside a door next to it, you can see remains of the original chimney, and how large the hearth used to be, as it was likely used to cook and heat the home.
As I mentioned earlier, the majority of the tour really focused on the architecture and structural integrity of the home, as it was “over-engineered” for its time. From the original decorative marks on the huge ceiling beams, to the multiple sketches showing how the structure of the home evolved over the years, to the neat ”show & tell” example of the gunstock joints. The tour started outside, but on the way out after learning more, it really was important to take a second to admire how well the home was built.
Attic – Main House
While I typically don’t make it a habit to hang out in historic homes attics, after visiting this home I may start asking to visit them! I loved seeing the remnants of the gable that was in place when Thomas & Mary bought the home in 1696. However, there still remains furniture & knickknacks in the home from the Pierce family who resided there in 1968.
- There is a really neat “viewing window” in the downstairs parlor which allows you to see into the original chimney and indicates how wide the fireplace used to be vs. the mantel and hearth you see today.
- In the second floor bedroom of the newest wing of the house (which dates back to the early 1800’s) you can see one of the only remaining original door & hinges.
- In the downstairs parlor, you can also see a “china closet” which would have been used to display some of the Pierce family’s prized possession. It is painted as to show what it would have been like originally, and if you take a closer look inside, you can see a great example of the original 17th century ceiling beam inside.
- In the mid 1900’s, the exterior of the home was asbestos siding, which was very popular especially in the neighborhood. Historic New England wanted to bring the home back to clapboards and match the color to what they found underneath the asbestos – however in the name of preservation, they did leave a small quarantined section in the back that shows the unsightly asbestos siding. Great to see it removed!
- Just off the kitchen in the lean-to area, there is a small, sunken room that was used for making, keeping & storing cheese and butter.
- As I mentioned, this house is only open three days a year, so mark your calendars for July 18th and October 27th as those are the two remaining days in 2019! Find out more details here.
- Parking is limited to street parking (which was easily found)