Fairbanks House, Built in 1636

The Fairbanks House is the oldest wooden house still standing in North America. Let that sink in for a minute.

Built in 1636, the house was constructed for the family of Jonathan and Grace Fairbanks. Jonathan (1595-1668) didn’t do the work himself; he hired master carpenters and masons, which is likely why the home hasn’t crumbled.

Back view of the house, with the build date painted on the chimney.

Dendochronology was used to determine when the house was built. Using the rings on trees, dendochronology is a science-based way to figure out how old trees are.

Eight generations of Fairbanks lived in this home over 268 years, making additions that doubled the size of the original house. Two full wings, a workshop and other expansions were made.

Because the Fairbanks family were fairly wealthy, they could afford paint, larger windows and wallpaper.

By the 1800s, the money ran out and no significant changes were made thereafter. It never had heat, running water or electricity.

“It may be said quite simply that no other house of the mid-17th century in New England has survived in such unbelievably unspoiled condition. It is also extraordinary that so early a structure should preserve such a high percentage of original features. It is a veritable storehouse of information concerning the small handful of houses which survive from this early period.”

Abbott Lowell Cummings, Professor Emeritus American Art, Yale University

Above quote via the official website, which offers a wealth of house and family information.

The house became a museum in 1904, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.

THE FAIRBANKS FAMILY

A family known for longevity and big brains, Jonathan and Grace had six children who lived on and had families of their own. All six bloodlines are still in existence today.

Several descendants made notable contributions to history:

Charles Warren Fairbanks (1852-1918) was Indiana’s U.S. senator from 1897-1905 and served as Vice President during Teddy Roosevelt’s second term (1905-1909). Fairbanks, Alaska, and several other United States towns are named after him.

Rev. Calvin Fairbanks (1816-1898) was a staunch abolitionist, helping free nearly 50 slaves from Kentucky and Virginia. None were ever recaptured, but Fairbanks spent 17 years in jail for his efforts. He was pardoned by President Abraham Lincoln in 1865.

Thaddeus Fairbanks (1796-1886) invented the platform scale, and with his brother Erastus (1792-1864), formed the Fairbanks Scale Company, which still exists today. Erastus was also Governor of Vermont for two terms.

A lawyer and educator, Lorenzo Fairbanks (1825-1897) published an extensive, 900 page book detailing the genealogy of his family, which at that point, included some 1200 descendants of Jonathan and Grace.

The digital version has since been updated with records after 1897.

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