Fairbanks House

A Tour of the Fairbanks House and
a Fairbanks Reunion Story

by Cindy Joy

 

The oldest surviving timber frame house in America is claimed by the Fairbanks Family, descendants of Jonathan Fairbanks, who immigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1633. The Fairbanks House is located in Dedham, Massachusetts, about ten miles southwest of downtown Boston. The house was built by Jonathan in 1641 to house his family, which included his wife Grace and their six children. Two of Jonathan and Grace Fairbanks’ granddaughters (children of Michael and Mary Fairbanks Metcalf) married sons of the earliest Ware immigrant, Robert Ware. Mary Metcalf married John Ware and Sarah Metcalf married Robert Ware.In July of 2004, following a trip to explore New Hampshire roots, three WFA board members—Ann Tindall, Emily Osborn, and I (Cindy Joy)—traveled to Dedham, Massachusetts, to visit cemeteries and libraries. We had planned to tour the Fairbanks House as part of our trip, but when we arrived, we learned that the house was not open for tours because it was the site of the Annual Reunion of the Fairbanks Family of America. As Fairbanks descendants, we were welcome to join the family organization and register for the reunion. Each of us was given a name tag that included our Fairbanks ancestor—in our case, Mary Fairbanks, daughter of Jonathan and Grace. We then mingled with our 75 or so newly-found cousins.The events of the day included a catered lunch, a lecture by Dedham historian Robert Hansen (filled with anecdotes about the early Fairbanks families), an historical skit presented by the children attending the reunion, and ice cream sundaes. But the best was last—a tour of the 368 year-old Fairbanks homestead.

The ceilings of the house are low and the passageways are narrow. The original core of the house has undergone little modification and a high percentage of the original features have been retained over the years. Two additions, an east wing and a west wing, were added in the 1700’s. We learned that eight generations of Fairbanks lived in the house. In 1843, the house was inherited by three unmarried sisters who occupied it for 30 years or so. The house with its three sections and three sets of stairs formed a perfect arrangement for the sisters; they could live together and yet apart. The last Fairbanks family member moved out in 1903. After that the home was acquired by the Fairbanks Family of America, who have served as the caretakers of the old homestead and surrounding grounds for over a hundred years.

Walking through this old home, we marveled that the house had survived 368 seasons of rain, hot sun, wind and snow. A poem written in 1936 by Mary Edna Fairbanks Rock expresses the ambiance of this historic home.

Springs have come and gone, summers blossomed and fled,
Autumns garnered their golden grain, white winters broken and fled.
But the old house under the elms, stands as in its prime,
With the quiet sturdy strength, of the folk of an older time.