Sunday, February 1, 2015

Oldest Houses in Maynard

Maynard's oldest buildings still standing were not the oldest built. Modest farmsteads located along the roads connecting the older towns of Concord, Sudbury, Stow and Marlborough were torn down and replaced with larger homes as the original settlers prospered. Later, with the advent of the paper, gunpowder and wool mills, houses close to the center of Assabet Village (not yet officially Maynard) were replaced by mill worker housing. More old farmsteads were lost when the government seized most of southern Maynard for Army use as a munitions depot during World War II.

What remains is a scattering of upper middle-class homes, some once owned by descendants of John Smith (1622-1687). John came from England to the colonies in 1638. Nine years later he was married and living in Sudbury. Our lineage of interest is John to Thomas to Amos, then to two of Amos' six children - Benjamin and Jonathan - and their children and grandchildren. Note that 'named' houses are not always named after the original owners.

Georgian style with two chimneys, High Street, Acton
Descriptions of houses built in the late 1700s can wax eloquent about Georgian or the subsequent, more decorative, Federalist style of architecture, but the core of both designs is a rectangular 2.5 story house, five windows wide, two windows deep, centered front door, and either a large central chimney or twin chimneys. Each chimney has more than one fireplace in service of different rooms, including upstairs rooms. Windows are small and multi-pane. Additions are common, sometimes extending so as to link the house to what had been a separate barn or carriage house. (A style known as New England Connected Farm.)

William Smith House, 206-208 Great Road (1780): First owner not known, but William Smith (Benjamin's son) lived there a long time. In 1892 the Town of Maynard purchased it for an almshouse. According to one history, "Here, Maynard's indigents and transients were fed and housed. Those who were able-bodied labored on the 20 acre town farm to produce food for themselves and other needy townspeople. They also chopped wood to heat the schools and other public buildings." The farmland is now the Maynard High School athletic field.

Levi Smith House, 178 Great Road (1770): Central chimney and later additions. It was built for Jonathan Smith and then sold to his son Levi in 1810. After the Great Road bridge over the Assabet River was built in 1816, Levi operated his house as a tavern - the Red Fox Inn - until his death in 1848. 

The dark brown house two houses to the west, sporting a sign, "The Orchard," dates to 1810, its ownership going from Jonathan to another son, Noah. Ownership of the land the house is on dates back to Thomas Smith, Jonathan's grandfather.  

George Smith House, 38 Great Road (1785):  First owner not known, but George lived here next door to his father Haman, who was at 36 Great Road (built 1835). That house went from Haman to another son - Benjamin - who was named after Haman's father. Both houses started as Federal style, with five windows across the front over a centered door, plus many subsequent additions and outbuildings. The Ben Smith Bridge (1816) was named after the first Benjamin while the nearby Ben Smith Dam (1846), built for the wool mill, was named after the second Benjamin, his grandson.  

Click on photos to enlarge
Asa Smith House, 84 Summer Hill Road (1780): There is a dispute here, as there are claims for 1780, but the plaque on the house reads circa 1820. Asa lived in this house and owned the dam and mill, which was used for grinding grain, pressing cider and sawing lumber. This house was the first place Amory Maynard lived when he moved to Assabet Village. Along with the house, Maynard bought the water usage rights, then had much of the river's volume diverted via a canal to the mill pond for his new wool mill. Before Asa Smith, the mill, if not the house, had been owned by Joseph Jewell and then his son John, and was known as "Jewell's Mill" from 1694 to 1815. 

And the oldest: Silas P. Brooks House, 88-90 Summer Street (1764): Georgian style architecture, with a large central chimney and many subsequent additions. It was built for Luke and Lucy (Wheeler) Brooks. Luke was in the Stow militia company that marched to Concord the morning of April 19, 1775; he later served as a Private in the Revolutionary War. His son Silas Brooks and Silas' son Silas Potter Brooks (1815-1888), inherited the house. Silas P. was one of the signers of the 1871 petition to form the Town of Maynard (as were two other Brooks and seven Smiths). 

The Brooks family owned lots of land on the north side of Maynard, including what became Brooks Street. Charles Brooks was the first resident of my house. A deed in the county courthouse shows A&L Maynard Company selling the property to Charles Brooks in 1870 for $2,430. The 1870 U.S. Census described him as a 56 year old widower working at a saw mill, with four teenage daughters. While digging a garden bed we found a small glass bottle that had held "Bachelor's No. 1 Liquid Hair Dye." Perhaps Mr. Brooks was darkening his grey hair in the hopes of finding a second wife.

Honorable mention: the house at 101 Summer Street is part brick construction. The one story brick portion, painted white and close to the road, was District #5 school house for Stow, completed prior to 1789 (possibly as early as 1766?) and in operation as a school until 1872. Many of the town's founding families sent their children there, including Amory Maynard.

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