Harlow Old Fort House

Greetings from Plymouth, Mass., “America’s Hometown.”

The Harlow Old Fort House was built in 1677 and is one of the few standing houses that has a connection to the original passengers of the Mayflower. It was known to them as the “Water Hole” because there was a spring near its door.

However, its most notable connection is to the old fort on Burial Hill. Local tradition says that this house was constructed using wood from Plymouth’s very first fort. The fort, built in 1622, was a defensive structure as well as a meeting house during the colony’s first days.

A separate meeting house was erected in 1648, so the original wasn’t used much though it was still cared for due to the threat of war in the 1670s. The fort survived until the end of King Philip’s War in 1676, when it was taken apart and its timbers sold to Sargent William Harlow.

These are believed to be the beams and summer posts seen in the home’s interior. This story added “Old Fort” into its full name, however, there is no evidence this story is true.

William Harlow was the first of the Plymouth Harlows, and worked as a cooper, highway surveyor, officer of excise, a selectman and more. He married three times, fathering 14 children and acquiring a great deal of land in the area during his lifetime, which he passed on to his sons at death.

The house was sold by a grandson, John, in 1755 to Robert Hosea of Plymouth. It changed hands several times before being purchased by Lemuel Stephens in 1822. The Stephens family owned the house until 1920. At some point it was converted into two apartments, which rented for $18 each.

The Plymouth Antiquarian Society bought the house for $3000 from the Stephens in 1920. In 1922, the house was fully restored by Joseph Chandler and returned to its 17th century condition, with other additions being removed.

There were a few notable changes during the restoration, one of which being the removal of a stone doorstep said to be a piece of Plymouth Rock. This piece is now in the Pilgrim Hall Museum.

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