From Ipswich to Washington
For 200 years, this Georgian-style, 2 ˝ - story
timber-framed house stood at 16 Elm Street in the center of Ipswich.
It housed nearly 100 occupants, and like many
old houses in New England, is rich in history.
Choate, a gentleman merchant, purchased the lot for his home in 1757 in the center of Ipswich,
then a busy center of maritime commerce. The main section of the house was built
in the 1760s, and during construction Choate attached part of an older structure, built around 1710, to the rear of the house
to create more space. The new home provided enough
room for Choate’s eight children. It was
a fashionable home for a fairly well-to-do family.
Dodge, who fought at the battle of Bunker Hill in 1775, bought the house in 1777.
the year of Abraham’s death, the Dodges were no longer British subjects and slavery had legally ended in Massachusetts. Chance,
an African-American man, remained in the household as Dodge’s servant. The
war years left Dodge in debt and his family was forced to sell the house after his death.
and Lucy Caldwell bought the house in 1822, and in the following decades it became a part of the most controversial social
reform of their time — abolishing slavery throughout the nation. A newspaper ad from 1839 tells us that Lucy hosted meetings of the Ipswich Female Anti-Slavery Society
in her home.
owners added a two-story addition and one-story sheds in the 1800s.
swept through Ipswich,
a busy industrial district grew up around the house. The house was purchased
as an investment in 1865 from the Caldwell estate by the wealthy
Heard family and divided into rental apartments, mainly for workers at the town’s hosiery mill.
the Irish immigrants living here were Catherine Lynch and her daughter Mary. Mary worked in the hosiery mill and Catherine
took in laundry. Some years, she paid part of her rent by doing wash for the Heards.
families moved in and out in the first half of the 20th century.
Mary Scott and her family lived there and were part of the war effort. Mary
worked with her young grandson Richard Lynch to grow vegetables, conserve fat and save tin cans, while her two sons went off
to war. Her daughter, Annie Scott Lynch, worked in the Sylvania factory where women secretly made proximity
fuses, used in antiaircraft projectiles.
the last resident of the house, Mary’s son Roy Scott moved out.
stoody empty and in 1963, the town of Ipswich planned to replace
the house with a parking lot, but members of the local historical society thought the old place must have some value. Efforts by Ipswich citizens saved it from the bulldozer
on the day it was scheduled for demolition. When a backhoe arrived at the site to begin tearing down the house, they
paid the crew chief to hold off while they called the Smithsonian. When the Smithsonian
agreed to take the house, the contractor, A. B. C. Mulholland, donated it to the museum.
staff decided to collect the building as an example of early New England building practices.
As the house was dismantled, a specialist in historic restoration made careful measurements and drawings, took photographs,
and marked the pieces. The house was trucked to Washington
and, in 1966, reassembled in the National Museum of American History where it became the centerpiece of an exhibition on two
hundred years of American home-building technology. That exhibit felt dated by the 1980s, and the house was placed in
|The house in Ipswich in 1963
Saving this one house saved more than a dozen family
stories and 200 years of American history.
Today, this 4,200-square-foot house is the centerpiece
of “Within These Walls…”, an exhibition and the largest single artifact in the Smithsonian’s
National Museum of American History. The exhibition, which opened in May 2001,
is sponsored by the National Association of REALTORS®,
and showcases their commitment to educating the public about homeownership and its role in the American Dream!
Visitors are able to peer through its walls, windows
and doors to view settings played out against the backdrop of Colonial America, the American Revolution, the abolitionist
movement, the industrial era and World War II.
Portions of three rooms and the entrance hall have
been restored and furnished with objects from the period to show activities that would have taken place in the house.
The Choate parlor is elegantly set for tea in the 1700s. In the entrance hall
of the house, visitors learn about the household of Abraham Dodge, that was transformed by the American Revolution. A parlor setting showcases the room as the center of the family’s religious and social life. The kitchen of the house is the setting where Mary Scott and her family were part
of the war effort.
There are interactive educational activities and
audio experiences, including a 19th-century laundry simulation, tactile models of the house and examples of early American
building techniques, such as mortise and tenon joints and moldings.
It features five of the families whose lives within
the walls of the house became part of the great changes and events of the nation's past.
The exhibition tells stories about how some American families have made history in their kitchens and parlors through
everyday choices and personal acts of courage and sacrifice. Inside this house,
American colonists created a new genteel lifestyle, patriots set out to fight a Revolution, and an African-American struggled
for freedom. Neighbors came together to end slavery, immigrants made a new home and earned a livelihood, and a woman and her
grandson served on the home front during World War II.
"Ordinary people, living their everyday lives can
create extraordinary history," says Spencer R. Crew, director of the Museum. "This exhibition looks at history in a
new way, a history that begins at home."
It isn't just about a house or architecture, it’s
about the lives of families that lived in the house. Inside this house lived
nearly 100 occupants who have made history come alive for the more than 6 million annual visitors to the Museum.
NAR gave the Smithsonian $2.4 million and the exhibition’s
curatorial team researched the occupants who once lived in the house. Smithsonian
researchers came up with the extraordinary history of the home by sifting through local, state and federal records and interviews
with living family members who remembered some history, and through artifacts associated with the home such as an anti-slavery
quilt, and an American revolutionary war uniform.
The sponsorship is for 15 years. By the time 15 years has passed, over 90 million people will go through the "Within These Walls" exhibit.
Clues used by Smithsonian historians to uncover
the stories told in the exhibition are described at the end of the show and glimpses are available at their website. The museum has designed a guide to assist you in finding the history in your
home, titled “House Detective: Finding History in Your Home,” which is also available at their
House Detective Guide
For a glimpse at Within These Walls, click on this button.
Visit Within These Walls... at the
Museum of American History, Behring Center, in Washington, D.C.