315 Linebrook Road, the William Conant house (1777)

The William Conant house at 315 Linebrook Rd. was constructed between 1769 and 1777. The Conant family was one of the largest and most prominent families in Linebrook, particularly for its connection with several generations of William Conants. In 1983, the exterior was in poor condition and the interior had been partly dismantled. The house has since been restored

Lot Conant was the first of the family to settle in Linebrook. He purchased the Daniel Foster homestead in South Linebrook in 1717. In 1769 William Conant purchased the site of the house. It is impossible to be certain whether the purchaser of the land and the builder of the house was Lot’s son, William (b. 1720, d. 1784), or his grandson, William (b. 1747, d. 1826). The date, 1777, is scratched on a panel in the house. Therefore, construction must have been completed by then. The two kitchens and two dependencies in the house probably mean that it was intended for occupancy by two families, but no documents have come to light to verify this.

William Conant (b. 1747, d. 1826) was known in the area as “Old Squire Bill.” While residing in the house he amassed considerable real estate in Ipswich including the Fowler homestead immediately to the west on Linebrook Rd. William Conant, Jr. (b. 1772, d. 1858) , the son of the last-named William, was known locally as “Young Squire Bill.” He lived in the house for the first 38 years of his life and then moved to the former Fowler property at 325 Linebrook Rd. Achieving greater prominence than any other Linebrook Conant, William Conant, Jr. was a selectman, assessor, and overseer for the Town of Ipswich for many years.

William Conant, Ipswich, Justice of the Peace

In addition, he was a Justice of the Peace, probate attorney, conveyancer, land surveyor, farmer, and captain in the Linebrook Militia. Mrs. William Conant, Ruth Perley (b. 1781, m. 1801, d. 1859) was a writer of religious letters, some of which were published as a pamphlet in 1831. Joseph Conant (b. 1782 or 1790, d. 1870), the selectman’s brother, inherited the house from their father. He was known as “Master Joe” because he was a singing schoolmaster for many years.

The Boston Traveller of September 28, 1866, states “Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Conant of Ipswich celebrated their golden wedding recently at the old Conant homestead. Their children & grandchildren were present. Mr. Conant conducted musical entertainment, playing his favorite instrument, the bass viol. He was a music teacher of some renown and a leader of the church choir for many years.” Elias Cornelius Conant (b. 1834) inherited the property from his father, Joseph. He and his wife, Sarah M. Perley, were renowned in the area for their singing ability. In later years he superintended the Town Farms in Topsfield and Milton. By 1910, the property had passed to John Low.

Photo from the MACRIS site, circa 1980, before the house was restored. 315 Linebrook Road, the William Conant house (1777)
Photo from the MACRIS site, circa 1980, before the house was restored.

The following information was written by the Ipswich Historical Commission before the house was restored:

The frame of the building is oak. Summer beams are all transverse. Floor joists of the second floor and the ceiling above it are as deep as the summer beams, indicating that plaster was always intended to run under the summer beams. Lath could then be nailed directly to the bottom of the summer beam and to the joists without firring. An unusual feature of the frame may be seen on the chimney posts. Only the inner third of the posts are splayed at the second level to receive the rafter feet. A more usual configuration is for the entire post to be splayed or gunstocked below the rafters. The reason for this refinement of the posts in the house is unclear.

The attic is framed in the usual fashion for Ipswich with principal rafters, five or so purlins per slope of the roof, ridge pole, and angled struts from the tie beams to the rafters about one-third of the way up the rafter. On the interior, until the recent dismantling, there were four major rooms with panelled fireplace walls, molded cornices, and original plaster on accordion lath on other walls and ceilings. One set of the fireplace panelling had never been painted. The downstairs front rooms were further embellished with molded chair rails and panelled sliding shutters. In the right-hand front room (the most elaborately finished), the chimney breast had one very wide over-mantel panel and an “eared” molding above the fireplace opening. There was a closet with original unpainted shelving to the left of the fireplace. In the amply-proportioned stair hall was a three-run, closed-stringer staircase with feather-edged panelling on the wall below the second run of the stairs. (There was apparently never a door to the cellar here, as is frequently found in houses of the period.)

The newel posts were square and had molded caps. There was a molded stair rail and square balusters set on the diagonal. The finishes of the principal rooms described above, while fairly standard for a substantial Second Period house, were executed by a skilled hand and designed with a sure sense of proportion and knowledge of current classical architecture of the day. In addition, the house retained an unusual amount of integrity because it had never been altered. The chimney, supported by a short stone foundation and then by two massive brick arches, serves four fireplaces on the first floor and two on the second (in the front rooms). Its condition is excellent.

The four rooms on the rear of the house were more modestly finished. There were two kitchen fireplaces with rear ovens on the first floor. Their openings formed an angle in the corner of each of the two kitchens. There were cupboards with panelled doors over these two fireplaces. The outer walls of the kitchens were finished with high, wide board dados. A rear staircase ran between the two kitchens to the second floor and a second run gave access to the attic. There was unpainted, plain-board sheathing surrounding these stairs. The two upstairs rear rooms had plaster walls and no fireplaces. All the floors in the house were of wide boards with no subfloor. There is a full cellar, entered through a bulkhead on the right side. The massive foundation is of stone with granite facing. The inner edge of the cellar walls is two feet inside of the sills.

Restoration (notes by Prudence Fish)

The Conant house had been acquired by a man who salvaged old house parts. He removed the paneling and sold one fine wall, took out the staircase and other parts. The house lot was to be sold separately. Mary Conley and Ann Grady saw him removing parts. He was persuaded to stop. I was selling real estate at that time and had a buyer, Patrick Patterson. The salvage man returned the materials that were not yet sold. Paul Bedard saw a house being dismantled in Beverly and got a wall of paneling for Patterson to replace what was missing. The house was sold as personal property by the salvage man and the land purchased as real estate from the owner of the land and the whole house was miraculously saved. The house and land became one again. The “before” photo of the Conant house shows the condition it was in. One look at that proves that you don’t have to give up on a shabby old house.

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