The Gilman Garrison House: 1709 Fort in Exeter, NH

It’s been a while, folks! It’s been a busy few weeks – I was on vacation, then the whole unfortunate re-entry to work experience, weekend events for work, so on and so forth. But, I’m excited to finally share this interesting & quirky historic home with you!

Historical Highlights

  • John Gilman, a colonial settler, was the owner of sawmills on the Squamscot River (just across the street from this home) dating back to the 1650’s. This house was actually built as a “fortified structure” – aka a fort, in 1709. It was built as a place that the locals could take shelter should there be an attack from the Indians. I found these fortifications to be the most interesting features of the home!
    • While you can’t see them today, the home originally had abnormally small windows
    • “Firing ports” were made on the second floor of the home, and were floor boards that flipped up & opened to the ground below so you could shoot your musket outside without the need for a window
    • The remnants of the “portcullis”, which was the coolest feature. A portcullis is essentially a heavy vertically-closing gate, so think of the iron gates that would slam down dramatically from above as the enemy approached the castle walls. The Gilman Garrison house had one of these as well, a very thick wooden door that could be lowered into place had the first door been compromised. The pulley can still be seen in the upstairs hallway – amazing to see!
    • There is also what we would call now a “safe” room, with a tiny door frame with huge timbers for floors (so anyone trying to break thru from below would have a very hard time doing so), thick plaster walls and even an escape door leading into the attic should it be necessary. Today there is a window in this room, but that was added later after the it was changed into a home vs. a fort.
  • The threat of these attacks wrapped up quickly, as in 1719 the home was issued a tavern license, which operated on the ground floor and room above it was also used to rent beds for the night to guests.
  • Peter Gilman, John’s descendant, became the owner of the house in 1732, and as he was elected to the Kings Council in 1770, realized he would need a more modern space for his new appointment. He added the “L” shape onto the house, enlarged the windows and added clapboard to the exterior. He intended the lower level parlor in this new addition to be a space where he would receive & conduct official business, however that never happened and the space was used only by the family.
  • After Peter’s death, his daughters inherited the house, and they sold it to Ebeneazer Clifford around 1793. Clifford’s daughters made some renovations, which included adding a front door to the lower level parlor/Council room that Peter Gilman created, and they used this room as a space for their hat shop for many years, residing in the house until 1864.
  • The house was then purchased by the neighbor, Mrs. Darling, who’s husband was a carriage maker and added the carriage house you see today. It’s also thought that they operated a taxi business with their carriages (how did one call a taxi in the late 1800s??). This was also the first time that the home would have been showcased as a historic home to the general public and tours were given during town celebrations.
  • Around 1912, a descendant from Peter Gilman visited the house and decided she would purchase it & work with her son, William Dudley, to “restore” the home to what they thought it would have looked like in the early 1700’s. Of course, many of those designs are what we see n the home today – wallpaper, paint colors, furniture and many other items were chosen because they struck William’s liking and they were what he “thought’ it may have looked like. Can’t blame him for trying, but there were many details in the home I was excited to see only to find out they were Dudley’s design choice, not original features.
  • William Dudley died in 1966, and that is when it became owned by Historic New England, who performed dendrochronology  to confirm the house was in fact built in 1709.

Favorite Spots

“Safe Room”

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You would almost miss this room if the door were closed – the opening for the doorway is so tiny! Stepping inside you do instantly feel the solidity of the space. The timber beams on both the ceiling & floor are huge, the photos don’t do them justice!

Council Room / Front Parlor / Hat Shop

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It was neat to hear the different stories and uses that were planned for this room – some that came to fruition, others that didn’t. Today, the decor is all thanks to William Dudley, but the details he chose are surely beautiful to look at.



Again, the paint colors, furnishes, plates and stenciling are all items that Dudley thought would have been seen in the early 1700’s, and sadly none of it is original. However I do love the fireplace, and the window seats & shutters were so pretty!

Bedroom Chamber

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Between the intricate wood work and the huge windows, it would also be impossible for this room not to be beautiful. Again, furnishings are courtesy of Dudley’s collection & vision,  but truly gives you an idea of what the room may have looked like in Peter Gilman’s time.


  • Take a careful look at the woodwork & trim in the Tavern on the first floor – much of it is slanted  & uneven – and done so on purpose! Make sure you ask your tour guide why!
  • The coat of arms in the downstairs front parlor has quite an interesting story behind it, as does the goose on the second floor!
  • There are a few areas in the home that show off the original 1709 timber & construction – which truly is amazing to see. I can’t fathom how they moved & arranged these giant pieces of wood – and how it is still intact & sound today!

Visiting Tips

  • This was a pretty straight forward visit, with tours taking place at the top of each hour. There were members of the Gilman family in the tour before us, it would have been neat to take the tour with them!
  • Parking is a little tight as it is right in downtown Exeter, but we found on-street parking with ease.

Top Photos

Below are some of my favorite shots of the Gilman Garrison House but I’ll be sharing more on our Facebook & Instagram pages! Enjoy!

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8 Comments Add yours

  1. paul d cole says:

    Love the tiny wooden door…


    1. Candice says:

      I know! You would totally miss it if it was closed & you didn’t know it was there


  2. My ancestors are Gilmans. I have been unable, so far, to find the direct connection yet, but all early Gilmans in pre-Revolutionary America go back to one Edward Gilman from England. I need to finally visit the Gilman Garrison House when it opens up in the spring.


    1. Candice says:

      You definitely need to visit. It was one of the more memorable houses I’ve visited since it was so different! Funny enough, the tour that ended before ours had descendants from the Gilman family as well, would have been neat to tour the house with them! Thanks for following along – hope you enjoyed the read! :0)


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