The earliest section of the Giddings-Burnham House at 43 Argilla Road in Ipswich was built in the mid-17th Century by carpenter George Giddings who immigrated from Norfolk, England. The earliest documentation for this property was the deed of sale between George Giddings and his brother-in-law Thomas Burnham in 1667. The original part of the house with its rough-hewn beams, low ceiling, hearth, and mud-daub and wattlewalls has been well-preserved and has several unique building techniques similar to those used in Norfolk England during that period.
The Giddings-Burnham house was built as a double cell, central chimney structure. An early ell was raised to two stories and in the 1930s was remodelled to the present lean-to with full dormer. In the left-hand room, 18 feet deep by 15 1/2 feet wide, the longitudinal summer beam has quarter-round chamfers, flat collars and lamb’s tongue stops. The right-hand room has identical features.
The summer beams in the Giddings-Burnham House are wider across the bottom than they are high, an early English construction method. Floor joists evolved from this style in the early 17th Century to being installed with the taller side up. This suggests that the summer beams in the Burnham – Giddings house were reused. The house frame was filled with “wattle and daub,” the old English method of daubing a sticky material consisting of wet soil, clay, sand, and straw onto (wattle) wooden strips woven into the framework.
The overhang at the gable end is formed with molded end girts which is further decorated with shadow-molded sheathing and applied dentils above the projecting girt. The supporting summer beams are laid flat rather than the more common and stronger system of having the wide side of the beam upright. An older reused 17th century door was found in the Giddings-Burnham House and is now in the collections of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. The house was added to the National Historic Register in 1990. View Macris.
“Thomas Franklin Waters, the Ipswich historian, reports from his study of the town records that George Giddings, yeoman, had a grant of 100 acres here in 1635. On June 3, 1667, Giddings conveyed to Thomas Burnham, carpenter, a “dwelling house wherein the said Thomas now dwelleth” together with twelve acres of land. A widely chamfered summer beam and large joists laid flatwise have been salvaged from an older house, probably that mentioned in the 1667 deed, for re-use in the framing of the ground-story floor, and these features may easily date to the earliest years of the town.
The main body of the present structure, however, of two-room, central-chimney plan, appears on the basis of style and character of construction to date to the 1680’s or 1690’s, and almost certainly before the death in 1694 of Thomas Burnham, the carpenter and presumed builder. He was aged about sixty-two in 1680 which may account for the conservative use of wattle and daub fill in the walls. The house was owned by generations of Burnhams until acquired about 1880 by Mrs. Charlotte Lord.
A drawing by Edwin Whitefield in the collections of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities dated that year shows a central pilastered chimney, overhangs at the front and in both stories of the gable end, and a one-story gambrel-roofed ell at the rear. The changes which followed Mrs. Lord’s purchase could not have been made all at once. A photo published in 1884 shows the chimney with, however, the front and east end overhang at the first story boxed in and the ell raised to a full two stories with a pitched roof. Later, and before 1900, the central chimney and much early interior trim were removed and a small chimney stack erected at the rear of each of the principal rooms. In the ell on the ground floor William Sumner Appleton discovered in 1914 a wainscot door of oak in a re-used position which he secured for the collections of SPNEA. The house was thoroughly restored about 1935, and a wing at the left-hand end to accommodate modern conveniences was added in 1977.”
Sources and further reading:
- MACRIS inventory document
- A. L. Cummings, Framed Houses of Massachusetts Bay, 1625-1725, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1979:139-140
- David McLaren Hort, Report, George Giddings House, 1978 for Mr. and Mrs. Norton Sloan.
- Cummings, Massachusetts and Its First Period Houses. Publication of the Colonial Society in Massachusetts 51:148-149.
- MA Historical Commission MACRIS ips_468 (pdf)
- Empty Branches of the Family Tree