Harris house, Water St., Ipswich MA

28 Water Street, the Harris – Stanwood House (1696)

The Harris – Stanwood house was built between 1696 and 1702 by John Harris, and was passed on to his descendant Thomas Harris II. The house and land came into the possession of John Stanwood in 1809, whose descendants continued to own into the 20th Century.

28 Water Street, Ipswich in 1900
The arrow points to the Harris-Stanwood house in this photo taken around 1900 by Edward Darling.

Thomas Franklin Waters wrote the following history of the house in Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Vol. I:

Many members of the Harris family in Ipswich can trace their roots back to Thomas and Martha (Lake) Harris, who settled in the town in 1644. There were apparently four men named John Harris living in Ipswich at the time that this house was constructed. From “The Harris family : Thomas Harris in Ipswich, Mass, in 1636, and some of his descendents”:

  • Marshal John Harris with wife Esther in 1673
  • Seargent John Harris, who married Grace Searle in 1686. John Harris, the Deputy Sheriff, had charge of transporting the prisoners to Salem Court or Gallows Hill during the Salem Witch Trials.
  • John Harris with wife Mary in 1690
  • John Harris quartus, with wife Margaret in 1696

From The Early Inhabitants of Ipswich, Massachusetts :

  • “The will of Thomas Harris is dated July 1687; he bequeaths to his wife Martha, whome he appoints executrix, “house, barn, orchard, garden” etc during her natural life. To his son John he gives the new house which he built in Ipswich.”
  • “Sergeant John Harris died in Ipswich, Nov. 21, 1732 at 64 years of age. he married on January 8, 1685, Grace, daughter of William and Grace Searle of Ipswich. She died June 10, 1742.”

John Stanwood, a Revolutionary War veteran, acquired the property in 1809 and it remained in his family for many years. The house was expanded in the 19th and 20th centuries, including the side addition with a bay window facing Water Street. Ornamental gardens grace the yard. A Victorian wing was added c. 1884, and the point of extension is clearly seen in the roof

28 Water Street, Ipswich MA:  the Harris - Stanwood House (1696) on the MACRIS site.
Photo by the Ipswich Historical Commission, 1980

The downstairs summer beams in this house span from the fireplace to the middle of the gable walls. The upstairs summer beams span from front to back. The interior woodwork in this house is finished with original hand-beaded casings. A hole in the flooring in the attic allowed me to reach in and feel the bevel finish on the upstairs summer beams.

First Period purlins
Purlins in the Harris – Stanwood House attic are undersized, typical of construction in the Massachusetts Bay Colony at the beginning of the 18th Century.

The roofing features a few large diameter rafters supporting long purlins, which in turn support what appears to be original roof sheathing. The purlins are undersized for carrying a heavy load for such a long span. This helps confirm the period of construction. They appear to be almost identical to the long purlins at 8 East Street, the Captain Matthew Perkins house (1701) Abbot Lowell Cummings addressed this in his book, The Framed Houses of Massachusetts Bay:

“The roof frame of principal rafters and common purlins, or ribs, had established itself firmly as the preferred system at Massachusetts Bay Colony by the end of the seventeenth century. 109 examples are of the common purlin variety, of which number only thirteen are clearly before 1685.

With respect to the slender quality of many of the late seventeenth-century principal rafter and common purlin roofs at Massachusetts Bay, it is apparent that our carpenters went one step further in the direction of reducing the scantling of the purlin in particular to a point rather elicately commensurate with the load….In enough cases to form a significant sampling, including the Boardman house in Saugust (1687) and the even later Captain Matthew Perkins houe in Ipswich (1701-1709), common purlins have snapped during the course of their later history. Beginning with the second quarter of the eighteenth century and continuing well into the nineteenth, there is a marked return to more amply dimensioned roof timbers.”

Sources and further reading:

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