86 Howlett St., Topsfield MA

French-Andrews house, 86 Howlett St., Topsfield MA, c. 1718


Description from Topsfield Historical Commission, 1986 MACRIS inventory:

“The c. 1718 frame, characteristic of late First Period treatment in its minimal decoration, nevertheless embodies certain features which link to earlier buildings in the Topsfield area, and even to the earliest buildings in Massachusetts. The massiveness of the frame and the use of beams which are deeper than they are wide relate the structure to the Parson Capen house of 1683. The deeply jowled corner posts are found also in the Stephen Foster house and the Zaccheus Gould house of c. 1700, suggesting a persistent local style of post treatment. The framing of door posts for interior doors into chimney girts and tie beams is a structural technique found in the earliest houses in Massachusetts including the Fairbanks house and directly derived from English practices. Normally superseded by other methods of framing doors in later houses, the use of such door posts in the French Andrews House is a rare and conservative expression of direct transfer framing practices.

“The house is also significant for the survival of original finish in situ. The fireplace trim in the left-hand room and particularly the wide board feather-edged sheathing in the right-hand chamber are noteworthy and up-to-date examples of late First Period finish. On the basis of these features and the minimal chamfering of the frame, Cummings felt that the house was built after Joseph Andrews of Boxford acquired the property in 1718, although earlier there was a single cell house on the site owned in 1693 by John French Sr.

“The structure was restored in 1919 under the direction of George Francis Dow to its present First Period appearance. Diamond-paned, leaded glass casement windows were installed and the chimney rebuilt from the attic floor with a decorative exterior pilaster modeled after the one on the Parson Barnard House in North Andover. First Period features are found in all four front rooms and the lobby. During the 1919 restoration later finishes were removed and the framing exposed. Remaining original finish was carefully preserved and new finishes matching the old ones were installed in many areas. The frame is a particularly massive one, the summer beams and tie beams being c. 8 inches wide and 12 inches deep. In both upstairs and downstairs rooms, front, rear and end beams show peg holes for the studs which flanked the original windows. The original windows at the center of each wall were approximately 28 inches wide. Joist spacing in the First floor ceilings is 21 inches on centers, while those of the second floor are spaced 25 inches on centers.

“In the left-hand room, the large kitchen fireplace with rear ovens appears to retain its original trim. Boards with a wide bead at the edge cover the jambs and lintel of the fireplace which is recessed about 8 inches, and is 58 inches high by 107 inches wide. The chimney girt and post are covered with boards also finished with a broad bead in this case almost a quarter round, at the edge. The rest of the framing is exposed. The summer beam has 2 inch wide flat chamfers and taper stops, while the girts are plain. The horizontal feather-edged sheathing which covers the outer walls was presumably installed during the restoration in 1919.

“In the lobby, vertical feather-edged sheathing enclosed the staircase, again presumably restoration finish of 1919. Cummings noted that posts for interior doors are framed into the chimney girts and tie beams, a very conservative construction technique. The door posts are molded along the outer edge. he attic displays a principal rafter, common purlin roof. In the cellar, there are two massive spanning beams each similarly decorated with 2 inch wide flat chamfers but for unexplained reasons running in different directions. There is a large fireplace with ovens in the right-hand cellar. Much of the firebox appears to have been rebuilt during the 1919 work. Because of the slope of the land, the right-hand cellar is at ground level.

“The house is associated with the early preservation movement, having been restored in 1919 under the supervision of George Francis Dow for Thomas Emerson Proctor. Dow, who was restoring the Parson Capen house further down Howlett St. at the same time was associated for many years with the society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. Dow made careful observations of the structure during restoration, recording the presence of early red paint or stain on the cover board of the plate hidden under a later cornice and the presence of an original attic window frame, “nailed to the exterior under-boarding through horns at the corners of the frame.” Dow installed a great deal of feather-edged sheathing in the house, both horizontal and vertical which resembles the surviving original finish to the extent that it is sometimes difficult to tell new from old. Most of what appears to be new sheathing, however, has an extra small molding on the feather-edge. Possibly Dow was sophisticated enough to add the extra molding as a label so that the new sheathing could be readily distinguished from the old. “


86 Howlett St., Topsfield MA

Description from Houses and buildings of Topsfield, Massachusetts : an up-date of “The houses and buildings of Topsfield, Massachusetts 1902” by J. H. Towne by Bond, Charles LawrenceTopsfield Historical Society, published in 1989.

#86 HOWLETT STREET🙂 J. H. Towne writes concerning this site: “A one story house built for John French stood upon this site about 1675. In 1718 it was sold to Joseph Andrews and, some time before 1798, it was raised to two stories and the easterly end was added. In the spring of 1693 H0wlett Street was laid out as a town way which passed (between Corp. French, his house, and barn). The barn originally stood in the orchard on the westerly side of the road. Towne does not give any information on the house during the 19th century, but it was still in the Andrews family when he was writing, and in the 1908 valuation it was assessed to Joseph E. Andrews’ heirs. About the time of World War I, it was purchased by Thomas E. Proctor and added to his extensive holdings, which included all of Great Hill on both sides of the Turnpike. After Mr. Proctor’s death, the Trustee for his estate sold the house and four acres of land in 1949 to Chalmer J. Carothers Jr., who had to do considerable work to make it livable. In 1955 John Healey, Jr. acquired title and occupies at this writing. “(1989)


86 Howlett St., Topsfield MA from the MACRIS site
1986 image from Topsfield Historical Commission MACRIS inventory

Description: The French-Andrews House in Topsfield, MA, 1675, French Family Association:

“Here stands the French-Andrews house, a one-story house built for John French stood upon this site about 1675. In 1718 it was sold to Joseph Andrews and some time before 1798 it was raised to two stories and the easterly end was added. In the spring of 1693, Howlett Street was laid out as a town way which passed “between Corpll French his house and barne.” The barn originally stood in the orchard on the westerly side of the road. Here is where Thomas French’s son John lived. He was b. ca. 1637 in Ipswich, MA, and died ca. 1706 in Topsfield. Photos below are dated 1987 before remodeling.

“The French home of Thomas French and later belonging to his son John in Topsfield, MA, was built in 1675, and probably the second to the oldest standing French home in the country. The oldest French house in the U.S. is that of Richard French in Marshfield, MA. John was a tailor and moved to Topsfield, MA, about 1664. The house is located on Howlett St. This first period antique saltbox colonial house built in 1675 has been extensively restored. It is considered the oldest continuously occupied house in the town and is also part of the National Historic Registry. The home is very privately situated on 4 lush, botanical acres. Diamond leaded glass windows, 5 fireplaces, exposed beams and brick, wide pine floors, wide paneled wood walls and a wood roof all provide historical ambience. Each bedroom has its own full bath! A separate wing can be used as an in-law potential or as an extended master suite. The grounds are set up for entertaining and are professionally landscaped. ” House was for sale in 2006. and was again renovated. The House sold again in 2019.”


86 Howlett St., Topsfield MA rear
Rear of the French-Andrews house, 86 Howlett St., Topsfield

Architectural survey by Abbot Lowell Cummings, Architecture in Colonial Massachusetts, September 1974:

“TOPSFIELD: FRENCH-ANDREWS HOUSE (so-called), 86 Hewlett Street c. 1718: John French, Sr., had a dwelling here by 1693, presumably the same conveyed with his farm to John French, Jr., on December 2, 1701, in return for support throughout the balance of the elder French’s life. An agreement among the latter’s heirs on August 25,1707, would suggest that the dwelling deeded in 1701 was still in existence. That structure, however, as described in 1701, seems to have had but a single chamber, whereas the present house is of two-room, central-chimney plan and in terms of style and character of construction was probably not built until Joseph Andrews of Boxford bought the property from John French, Jr., on June 16, 1718. The house was purchased on October 11, 1917, by Thomas Emerson Proctor and restored in 1919 under the direction of George Francis Dow, at which time a modern leanto was added (although nineteenth-century photographs reveal the presence of an earlier leanto and a one-and-a-half-story ell at the west end) and a new chimney top constructed, modeled on that of the Parson Barnard House in North Andover. Privately owned.”

Floor layout of the Andrews House from the HABS survey
Floor layout of the Andrews House from the HABS drawings

Sources and References:

  1. Houses and buildings of Topsfield, Massachusetts : an up-date of “The houses and buildings of Topsfield, Massachusetts 1902” by J. H. Towne by Bond, Charles LawrenceTopsfield Historical Society, published in 1989.
  2. Topsfield Historical Commission, 1986 MACRIS inventory:
  3. Essex County Deeds, vol. 2375, p. 370.
  4. William Sunmer Applcton, “Annual Report of the Corresponding Secretary,” Old-Time New England, scr. no. 21 (July 1920), 21-22.
  5. Abbot Lowell Cummings, Architecture in Colonial Massachusetts, September 1974:Massachusetts and its First Period Houses, Boston: Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1979: 187-188.
  6. HABS drawings
  7. Cummings, Framed Houses of Massachusetts Bay, 1625-1725. (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1979): 153.
  8. The French-Andrews House in Topsfield, MA, 1675, French Family Association
  9. Topsfield houses and lands, history by Sidney Perley (PDF)
  10. Collections of the Topsfield Historical Society

Interior photos

86 Howlett St., Topsfield MA fireplace
86 Howlett St., Topsfield MA brick nogging
86 Howlett St., Topsfield MA
large fireplace at 86 Howlett St., Topsfield MA
86 Howlett St., Topsfield MA beam and fireplace
86 Howlett St., Topsfield MA beam

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