August 5, 2022 | Dedham, MA
Our first stop on our MA/RI trip was a guided tour of Fairbanks House – the oldest known surviving timber frame house in North America.
Since it was extremely hot, our tour guide handed us cold bottles of water prior to the tour, and we fully expected the house to be witheringly hot but it wasn’t too bad. The house never had any modern amenities like central heating or indoor plumbing and has preserved its original character.
The Fairbanks House in Dedham, MA is the oldest known timber frame house still standing in North America. Built circa 1637 for Jonathan and Grace Fairbanks and their six children, it was home to eight generations of the Fairbanks family over the course of 268 years. The Fairbanks House is now a historic house museum and on the National Register of Historic Places.
Jonathan & Grace were my 10th great grandparents.
Johnathan & Grace (née Smith) Fairbanks > George Fairbanks > Johnathan Fairbanks > Johnathan Fairbanks > Moses Fairbanks > Daniel Fairbanks > Arena Fairbanks > Keziah Burrington > Virtue Hall > Evelyn Gile
From the Fairbanks House website:
Jonathan and Grace Fairbanks came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1633 along with their six children. They spent time in Watertown until 1636 when they became founding members of Dedham and were granted 12 acres of land. Here they settled in their new home, built between 1637 and 1641.
Jonathan was a skilled tradesman and earned income for the family by making spinning wheels, a complex machine that everyone needed but few could build themselves. Along with his sons, he spent summers farming and became successful and wealthy enough to expand his property and hire servants.
When Jonathan died in 1668 he left his house to his eldest son, John (my Dad’s 8th great granduncle). Like his father, John was mechanically inclined and a good farmer. He further expanded the farm and bought another property in Wrentham.
Upon his death in 1684, John left the Wrentham property to his eldest son and the Dedham house and property to his two younger sons, Joseph and Benjamin. The two brothers divided the property and Joseph kept the house.
A skilled tradesman, Jonathan Fairbanks crafted spinning wheels
When Joseph died in 1734, he left the house to his son Joseph who in turn left it to his son, also named Joseph. He owned the house briefly before selling it to his brothers John, Israel, Samuel and Ebenezer in 1755. Ebenezer bought his brothers’ shares and is responsible for many of the more significant additions and changes to the property. He lived in the house until his death in 1812, by which point ownership of the house had already passed to his son Ebenezer Jr.
Ebenezer Jr. continued in his father’s footsteps, expanding the family land to just short of 200 acres, the height of the family’s holdings. Unfortunately Ebenezer Jr. made some unwise investments and ended up with a sizable debt. Exacerbating his financial situation was his youngest brother Jason, who was convicted of brutally murdering his girlfriend in a scandalous, high profile trial and was hanged in 1801. This would tarnish the family’s reputation for years to come.
Ebenezer Jr. continued to live in the house until his death in 1832, when he willed the house to his wife Mary who lived in the house until her death in 1843. She left the house to her three unmarried daughters, Prudence, Sally and Nancy. When the last surviving sister Nancy died in 1879, she left the house to her unmarried niece Rebecca.
Rebecca was the last family member to live in the house, reluctantly moving out in 1904. On Rebecca’s departure, Fairbanks family members established the Fairbanks Family in America, Inc. in order to purchase the house and preserve it for future generations. Open to the public as a historic house museum for over 100 years, the house is maintained by the FFA through admissions, donations, membership dues, and gift shop sales.
Fairbanks Family Who Owned the House (George is our family line)
Famous Fairbanks Descendants
POTUS William Howard Taft (George)
NASA Astronaut Story Musgrave (George)
VPOTUS Charles Warren Fairbanks (Jonas)
Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick (Jonas)
Singer-Songwriter James Taylor (Susan)
POTUS George H.W. Bush (Jonathan Jr.)
POTUS George W. Bush (Jonathan Jr.)