The Browne House: 1698 “Mansion House” in Watertown, MA

The Browne House is only open three days a year, so you bet that I had this one marked on my calendar since early spring – enjoy!

Historical Highlights

  • Abraham Browne was an early settler in Watertown, MA, a very close-by suburb to Boston. Records show his being in the area as early as 1632, but that he didn’t own the until about 1640. The home stayed in the Browne family until 1897 – 257 years!
  • Abraham Browne played an important role in the development of Watertown – he was the land surveyor, assisted with the planning of roads and was a town selectman as well. He died in 1650, and at that point had amassed over 39 acres in town. He built a home on the site of where the current Browne House sits, however it is not the one you see today.
  • The current Browne House was built in 1698, first mentioned in town records in 1701, and was resided in by his descendant, known as Captain Abraham Browne, who also held many important city offices but interestingly enough also had a licence for an inn in 1709.
  • Simply by looking at the house you can easily see that there were many renovations and additions added to the original “one-over-one” room design, which included an “ell” in 1725. The home already had a cellar and an attic – however it is one of the very few (less than 6!) homes in New England to retain this original profile dating back to the early 1700’s.
  • In 1897 the home was sold to another local family, the Brandleys. However, they were not great caretakers of the residence and the home fell into great disrepair (the photos they show on the tour were pretty rough). Eventually, it was in such bad shape that the Historical Society of Watertown gave their permission to have the home torn down.
  • But, thanks to William Sumner Appleton, founder of Historic New England, the home was saved. He was actually out-voted when he presented to the board that he wanted to preserve this home, as they thought it was too far gone to be repaired. He invested $3,000 of his own trust fund money in 1919 to repair and renovate the home – and we’re happy he did!
  • Appleton had set himself up for quite a job as this home is widely acknowledged to be the “first full restoration of a seventeenth-century building in the United States.” As he did with other homes, he wanted to keep as true to the original materials of the home as possible.
  • After his extensive (and not easy) renovations were complete, he leased out the home in order to raise funds to maintain it properly. From about 1924 until 1933 it served (under a few hands) as a tea house for the public. However now it serves as a great reminder to us of how people lived – and built! – homes in the late seventeenth century!

My Favorite Spots

The “All Purpose Room”

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I think this is where Chip & Joanna maybe got their inspiration – open concept at it’s finest! This room had it all – kitchen, dining room, work space and a bed. What else would one need?!

Chamber

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At one point, the Browne family had over ten people sleeping in this room. There are a lot of neat architectural elements in this room – as plain as it may look at first glance. And, it’s quite astounding to see the difference that  coat of white paint can make to a room after coming up from the first floor!

Windows

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THESE WINDOWS ARE GORGEOUS. The diamond pattern, the unique three glass panels, the variation in color – just so pretty!

Eye-Spy

  • Upstairs in the chamber, keep an eye out for a hook in the ceiling – and be sure to ask what it was used for!
  • I loved the herringbone pattern that was inlaid in the brick of the giant fireplace in the downstairs room – a sign of wealth at that time period! (and still today, for that matter)
  • The mantel upstairs on the fireplace is one of only a few found at that time period – mantels went in and out of style (who knew?) so this is a rarity to find one that is dated to the early 1700s!
  • Also upstairs, make sure to check out the original hinge on the back of the door – almost like a horseshoe shape, I had never seen one like it before!

Visiting Tips

  • As mentioned – the home is only open three days a year- so you’ll need to plan this one out well in advance (or simply get lucky)
  • Parking was weird and I’m pretty sure I parked where I shouldn’t have – but I think you can park in the police station next door to the home.

Top Photos

Here are some of my favorite photos from my visit to The Browne House – make sure to visit the Facebook & Instagram pages for more!

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