Boardman House

a look into the past through architecture and inventory in the 17th century

Debbi Collar


Doors are open once again to welcome visitors to the Boardman House in
Saugus. Busy morning commuters drive by this 17th century structure on a
daily basis.  Its historic sign beckons travelers to take enough interest in
the home to contact its tour guides for an appointment.

Yet time passes, work is hectic and the house stands alone with only the
occasional visitors. Elementary school children studying their community
visit.  Architectural students are the more likely visitors to the Boardman

If  visitors are expecting a museum full of artifacts, that would not be the
case with this home.  Instead, its purpose is to show  architectural students
and other tourists how the innovative tradesmen of the past used the  tools
of their trade to shape this 17th century structure. Saugus' Boardman House
is one of the oldest in the Essex County area and  has survived New
England's weather well.

Site manager Kris Weiss and Melrosian James Bennett (tour guide) are  well
informed members of the organization Historic New England  and guide us
through the grounds and the house step by step.  Their knowledge of the
architecture as well as information regarding the residents who lived
within the Boardman House is extensive.  Weiss, a Boston University
graduate says it was a professor who made history come to life when he
dressed the part for his lectures.  She claims it was then that she realized her
love of drama and love of history could be combined in her current role as  
site manager and historian as well as guide.  Bennett also attended B.U., as
well as Ohio State University and says of his interest in history, "some of us
have brains that are wired to the past."

Our tour began outside of the house revealing a cement slab that Bennett
related "once marked the end of the Essex County line." At one time the area
was known as "Boardman's Corner."

The first room we  walked through included a fireplace, vacant of any
furnishings or artifacts which, at one time, usually held pots and utensils
hanging from hooks over a roaring fire. These utensils allowed visitors to  
visualize how members of the household once lived their daily lives. During
the 17th century, this area was called "the parlor." Although vacant now,
Weiss tells of it being "the finest room in the house where the family would
keep their best furnishings."  The family would also entertain its most
important guests in this room and it was where they would sleep as well.
Bennett, who has seen many copies of the inventory lists relating to the
house says of the parlor that " according to the 1696 inventory of the house,
the room once "contained two featherbeds and bedsteads with all the
furniture belonging to them as well as a chest, a table, a warming pan, and

At a later time,  "the hall," unlike the halls we know today, was added.  Weiss
explained it was where the "main day to day living took place."  In relation to
the parlor area, "the hall," was on the other side of the chimney stack across
from the parlor.   


Referring to the inventory list for this room,Bennett describes what the room
would have looked like in the 17th century.   There would have been "a
cupboard, two tables, and six leather chairs: He also says "in its earlier days
(the Boardman House hall), to would also have served as the primary cooking
area but once the lean to kitchen was constructed (by 1696), Sarah
Boardman would have cooked in the new kitchen at the back of the house
and served food at the table in the hall."

Pictured below is site manager Kris Weiss pointing out "an extreme rarity."
These clapboards were on the original back wall of the Boardman home in
1692. The clapboards were covered over sometime before the death of
William Boardman.  The structure added to the home is called a "lean to."   
"Therefore", Bennett added. "they became part of an internal wall and were
protected from the elements over the course of the centuries." Architectural
buffs studying this structure would also see that its configuration is, "a
formation called a scarf joint," Bennett tells visitors, "where the boards are
nailed directly to the studs behind them.  thus, they are nailed at regular
intervals and overlap one another  by a few inches to ensure they are sealed
tightly against rain and wind."  Weiss, In the next photo, points to a
"summer beam" explaining the term "dendrochronology."
""Dendrochronology," she says,"is a technique that came about in the 1970s
and has been of great value in assisting Historic New England staff with the
accuracy of the dates of sections of not only the Boardman House but with
all historic sites."


Bennett again adds to the conversation in describing its step by step
process. "It (dendrochronology) is a matter of collecting hundreds of tree
ring samples from a given geographical area to discover the average size of
the rings in each given year, which is set by the weather patterns of  all of
the trees experienced. You can then remove your samples from your house -
and you must take many samples to ensure accuracy--and match them up  
to the information in the database."  The most recent samples were taken for
a more complete study in 2009.

The result for the Boardman House is that it is mainly made of oak.

On this visit, tour guide James Bennett, who again speaks of the "inventory
lists" found in the attic of the home that have "given insight into the families"
who have lived within its walls.  It was the sudden death of William Boardman
at the age of 38, Bennett says, "that actually turned out to be a boon for us
(staff at Historic New England) because as a result the local probate court
went through the house and made a complete inventory of the property ad
its contents."  Bennett, who is also serves as Chair of the Melrose Historical
Commission, says of the probate court, "they would only do that if the
deceased person failed to compose a will before dying, which was clearly
the case with William Boardman."  Boardman lived in the house only four
years.  He was considered a "joiner."  The term "joiner" referred to a person
who did woodwork, cabinetry and interior finish work.

Site manager Kris Weiss continues to lead the way on this cellar to attic tour
of a the home.  The Open House Saturdays (1st Saturday of the month only)
are part of a project put together by " Historic New England."  Each part of
the  Boardman House is studies as Weiss also invites tourists to stand inside
the chimney to see the inside structure of the brick chimney and the flue.  As
we ascend to the attic area, she makes note of another beam in the which is
said to have once supported two gables.  The one she is pointing to in the
photo below though is one in the "hall chamber." It is known as a summer
beam and she points out architectural "lamb's tongues" as one of the areas
in which samples were taken for dendrochronology studies.

The Boardman House, for centuries, has determined the border lines of
Essex County.  Yet it has much more of a history than just that. Its
architectural survival stands out and its inventory lists give clues as to the
details of the rooms in the house.

(Weiss with photographs of Historic new England's 17th century homes
and Bennett with a model of a "Mortise and Tenon" Joint made by the North
Bennett Street School students in Boston, Ma.  The pair are standing in the

Included within its architectural design and inventory lists are peeks into the
past of the Boardman family and others who have lived within its walls or in
nearby structures. Yet some of those stories are now believed to be false,
according to some.  Once such story is that of the Scottish prisoners. Bennett
related one such story as a "myth:"   Bennett tells this tale, "A group of
Scottish prisoners  were brought to Saugus (at that time Lynn) to work at the
Iron Works in 1651.  They lived in a house that would have stood quite close
to where the Boardman House now stands. For many years the two
properties were conflated as one, but we now know that these two houses
were definitely not the same place. The prisoners arrived over forty years
before Boardman House was ever constructed, and the spatial arrangements
in the house are exactly what what one would expect for the home of a
prosperous farm family, not a barracks for prisoners. Nonetheless the story
persisted for many years and many older residents  of Saugus can remember
hearing the story in their youth."  

Although the story of the Scottish prisoners living within Boardman House is
now considered a "myth," there is another story known to be true, according
to Bennett. He says, " the Boardman's definitely owned a slave called Mark
who was identified strongly with this house, as he was willed along with the
house from William Boardman, Jr. to his son, Aaron Boardman, in 1753."
According to Bennett, " is is only a matter of speculation, but my own guess,"
as to where Mark resided in the home,  "is the chamber in the lean to attic,
as that is the sort of place where a slave might live, but he could just as well
have slept in another room."

Above are just a few of the many stories that were shared by Weiss and
Bennett along with the architectural and historic knowledge imparted by the
pair. A visit to the Boardman House is definitely worth the trip.

Visiting the Boardman House in Saugus is just one of many 17th Century
homes open to the public on the first Saturday of the month.
Other 17th century sites to consider visiting on Saturdays, throughout Essex
County are the following:

The Macy-Colby House (1654), 257 Main Street, Amesbury, Ma.
The Balch House (1636), 148 Cabot Street, Peabody, Ma
The Rebecca Nurse Homestead (1678), 149 Pine Street, Danvers, Ma
The White-Ellery House (1710), 245 Washington Street,Gloucester, Ma
The John Ward House (1710), 24 Water Street, Haverhill, Ma
The John Greenleaf Whittier Birthplace (1688),Haverhill, Ma
The Paine House (1694), Jeffrey's Neck Road, Ipswich, Ma
The Whipple House (1677),1 South Village Green,Ipwich, Ma
The Marblehead Neck Walking Tour(1629-1720), Beacon and Norman Street
The Coffin House (1678), 14 High Street, Newbury, Ma
The Dole-Little House (1715), 289 High Road, Newbury, Ma
The Spencer - Pierce LIttle Farm (1690), 5 LIttle's Lane,Newbury, Ma
The Swett-Ilsley House ( 1670), 4 High Road, Newbury, Ma
The Old South Church (1756), 29 Federal Street, Newburyport, Ma
The Parson Barnard House (1715), 179 Osgood Street, North Andover, Ma
The Nathaniel Felton Sr. House (1644),  Peabody, Ma
The Gedney House (1692), 29 High Street, Salem, Ma
The House of Seven Gables (1668), 115 Derby Street, Salem, Ma
The Salem Maritime Museum (1675), 71 Essex Street, Salem, Ma
Pioneer Village (1630), Forest River Park, Salem, Ma
The Witch House, Jonathan Corwin House ( before 1675), Salem, Ma
Saugus Iron Works (1646), 255 Central Street, Saugus, Ma
The Claflin-Richards House (1660), 132 Main Street, Wenham, Ma

Contact information for Historic New England to arrange for a personal tour
of any of the homes or  for directions to the 17th century homes, please call  

Some sites do charge admission.

September 5, 2014

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