Joseph Gould house, Topsfield MA

Joseph Gould house, 129 Washington St., Topsfield MA (ca. 1710 / ca. 1725)

The Capt. Joseph Gould house is an enigma; a substantial early 18th Century house constructed in at least two stages, and the only First Period house in our area believed to have been constructed two rooms deep (aka bays or piles) deep. The 1710 Gould Barn that once sat on this property was dismantled and reconstructed at the foot of Howlett St.

The three bay east side of the house is the oldest, and the house achieved its present appearance when the left side, also of three bays was added c. 1725. Typical of the period, spacing of the windows is irregular, although most are vertically aligned. The chimney on the right original side is more substantial, and the fireplace below it in the downstairs room is the largest in the house. The roof is of substantial principal rafter and common purlin construction on the two sides of the house. In addition to the depth of the house, another transitional feature is the eaves, which appear to have originally featured a plaster cove.

Inside the house, framing is doubled at the junction of the earlier and later sections, and is exposed in several rooms in both sides of the house. Transverse summer beams (instead of longitudinal) are on both sides, measuring 11 1/4″ in general, featuring flat chamfers with “lambs tongue” taper stops. Summer beams in the upstairs of the west side are unchamfered. Story posts in the rear section are elaborately molded, similar to several houses in Salem. Simpler gunstock posts are found in other rooms. Downstairs in the entrance and rear room west (later) part of the house, posts and beams have narrower flat chamfers and simple triangular taper stops. Measurements for the joist spacing is about 25″ on center. A reused chamfered summer beam can be seen in the cellar.

Conflicting studies

  • The MACRIS listing and nomination papers for the Joseph Gould house state that the oldest section was always two rooms deep and dates to before the 18th Century.
  • The “Old House Whisper” John Cole and Eleanor Bailey studied the house, and wrote that the earliest part was a one over one room “half house” structure built for Joseph Gould about 1712 at the time of his marriage to Priscilla Perkins. Cole observed a reused summer beam in the basement, and believes the house was expanded to the west and in the rear around 1751 at the marriage of Joseph Gould 2 to Elizabeth Emerson. He does not, however, reconcile the preponderance of First Period (pre-1725) architecture throughout the house with mid-18th Century.
  • Abbott Lowell Cummings is known to have visited the house but his notes and observations have not been discovered.
  • Kari Ann Federer did a comprehensive study of the house in 1989 which is copied in part below.

Capt. Joseph Gould house
Rear, Capt. Joseph Gould house. The left side in this photo is believed to be the older half.

The Joseph Gould House and barn

Kari Ann Federer, Boston University, December 18, 1989 (excerpt)

INTRODUCTION

This is a study of two late first period buildings in Topsfield, Massachusetts, the Joseph Gould House and the barn which stood on the property, until it was dismantled in 1983. Both house and barn were constructed in two phases, the second doubling the original in size and following its plan and form quite closely.

The resulting six bay dwelling was essentially two end chimney houses built back to back, with chimneys up against each other, creating something like a central chimney house. The barn totaling nine bays, consisted of two classic five bay barns side by side with one bay overlapping.

This double house and a double barn existed by the mid-1700s and were occupied, at that time, by two different, though probably related families. Traditionally, the older half of the house was said to date prior to 1700 and the second half shortly thereafter. The popular tale was that the later section was added to make the house into a duplex for father and son. However, research into deeds and probate records has suggested that both of these traditions are inaccurate.

This study is an attempt to shed light on the history of the Joseph Gould farm by examining the original framing and construction of the house and the barn, as well as the overall layout of the farmyard and the changing uses of these spaces.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION OF THE JOSEPH GOULD HOUSE

The eastern half of the Joseph Gould house was the first portion to be constructed. It was initially an end chimney house, two and a half stories high, one room wide and two deep, with the chimney at the west end of the dwelling. The house measured twenty seven and a half feet wide and twenty eight and a half feet deep. The rear rooms were about two thirds as deep as the front ones.

The Gould house is now covered in clapboards, attached with wire nails, which must all be replacements. However, the original house would also have been sheathed in unpainted clapboards. The roof cornice overhangs about a foot along the front of the house and diagonal boarding is said to cover a plaster cove.

The nine over six sash windows now on the Gould house are later eighteenth century replacements. The current configuration of this eastern section of the house is not original, as the chimney has been moved to the east and a room created in what had been the chimney bay. Evidence of this alteration includes Federal mantels on the fireplaces of the southeast rooms upstairs and down, well as the fact the transverse summer beams were off center in these rooms lying closer to the chimney wall than would be expected.

Due to this alteration in the chimney bay of the Joseph Gould house, no evidence of the original entry door, staircase, or fireplaces can be seen. It might be assumed that the configuration of the chimney bay was fairly typical of the late first period. In New England houses of the First Period, the staircase and entry were usually combined, with the stairs rising up across the front of the chimney.

The staircase from the first to second floors of the Gould house may have been a straight run composed partially of winders. The open balustrade, with turned balusters and molded hand railing would have housed within a closed string.

Under the stairs would have been molded vertical sheathing and perhaps a door to the cellar stairs. However, a trapdoor to the root cellar currently exists in the northeast corner room of the house and there is no reason to believe this is not its original location.

In this first half of the Joseph Gould House, the frame would have been entirely exposed, though some members are now boxed. All summer beams are transverse and these timbers are continuous from the front to the back of the house, proving that both stories were always two rooms deep. Joist spacing in this part of the house, is twenty five inches on center; a measurement consistent with the late first period date of the house. Where visible, all summer beams and girts have flat chamfers with lambs tongue stops except for those of the chimney girt in the rear room, which have triangular stops.

As in many other houses with transverse summer beams, the most highly embellished parts of the frame are the story and chimney posts. These have elaborately molded heads with a deep quarter round and two fillets. It seems to be only the rear posts that are fancy, however. Most of the front framing members are now boxed, but the front chimney post can be seen, and this is much simpler with only a very wide flat chamfer on its sides. The rear corner posts are similar to this one, as are all visible posts on the second floor.

In the attic, one can see that both halves of the Joseph Gould house are constructed with a principal rafter, common purlin roof system. Each half of the house consists of four pairs of rafters, bridled at the ridge, creating two three bay sections. On each slope of the roof are five purlins trenched over rafters, with the ridge purlin resting in a notch cut into the upper rafter. Massive long collar beams tie together the rafters in the older (eastern) half of the house. These ties, along with the rafters, are finished with narrow flat chamfers.

The rafters are doubled at the transition point between the two sections of the house. When the second half was added, another complete house frame was built up against the old one. Visible in the ridge between these two frames, are original clapboards from the exterior west gable end of the earlier house. The roofing system of the second half of Joseph Gould house is very similar to that of the first. The frames line up exactly, though the later section has slightly heavier purlins and no collar beams, but struts rising up from tie beam to rafter instead.

In plan, the second half of the Gould house copied the original. However, the west half is about six feet narrower, being only twenty one feet wide. The basic configuration of this half of the house has not been altered. The five foot wide western chimney bay is in its original location, though the chimney stack is now smaller than it would have been.

The stairs from the first to the second floor and also up to the attic, are still in their initial location in front of the chimney. The staircase is typical of the late First Period, with turned balusters, but a plain newel post. Molded paneling under stairs makes it clear that there were never cellar stairs there. A trap door to the root cellar also exists under this half of the house. The staircase was probably a double run with landing, originally. The current unusual configuration was most likely created when the chimney was rebuilt and narrowed. An empty space was left behind the chimney and it was logical to use this as an easier way to reach the rear chamber.

The summer beams are also transverse in this second half of the Joseph Gould house. Much of the frame is now boxed, but it is visible in the rear rooms, upstairs and down, and in the front entry. Typical of the less decorative embellishments of the end of the First Period, very narrow chamfers with taper stops can be seen in rear rooms. The rear story post has a fancy molded head, similar to those in the older half of the house. However, all other posts in the rear room are simple with only very narrow flat chamfers on their sides. In the west front entry hall, the front chimney and corner post can be seen and these are very plain with almost no chamfers at all. Upstairs, the rear posts are undecorated and here the summer beam is the only chamfered member.

Sometime later in the 18th century, the frames in the west front rooms of the Joseph Gould house were boxed and the first floor room was embellished with a corner cupboard. Some of the feather edged panels on the fireplace wall of this room may date from the construction of the house, as this became very popular in the early 18th century. The raised paneling in the west front chamber may also be original. This type of decoration came into use by about 1725 and like other new fashions, was often tried upstairs in the chambers first.

Typical of the First Period, the Joseph Gould house was built facing due south, while the barn backed up to the north west wind.This created a sheltered farm yard in front of house and barn and later outbuildings added between the two protected it even more.First Period barns were often located in front of the house, closer to the road, in order to show off the family’s stock and store of supplies. As the location of man-made structures helped to bring coherence into a chaotic world, the forty five degree angle between the ridgepoles of the Gould house and barn enforced the disjunction between the artificial rational world of man and the irrational dirty world of livestock.

BACKGROUND OF THE GOULD FAMILY AND THE SETTLEMENT OF TOPSFIELD

The area which is now the town of Topsfield, Massachusetts was originally part of the seventeenth century plantations of Ipswich and Salem. During the 1630s and 1640s, large grants of Topsfield land were given to Ipswich Residents. The land where the Joseph Gould house stands was part of the Captain Patrick Grant, which like many of these large land holdings, was soon divided and sold. In 1644, three hundred acres of it were purchased by Zaccheus Gould (1589-1668), who had arrived from England in 1639 and decided to settle in the newly developing community of Topsfield. Twenty years later, in 1664, it is estimated that Zaccheus Gould owned some 3000 acres, 580 in Topsfield and the rest in neighboring Boxford. At this tine, Zaccheus sold his entire estate and house in Topsfield to his only son John Gould (1635-1710), who had come with him from England as a young child. John Gould lived in his father’s house, past which Washington Street was laid out late in the 1660s. He and his wife Sara (Baker), who were married in 1660, raised eight children, one of whom was Joseph, born in 1677.

CONSTRUCTION HISTORY OF THE JOSEPH GOULD HOUSE AND BARN

Although Joseph Gould is traditionally said to have built his original house prior to 1700, there is no recorded deed giving him land until March of 1709. At this time, John Gould, who was nearing the end of his life, divided his estate among his surviving sons. Joseph was given sundry parcels of upland, meadow, and woodland in Topsfield and Boxford. This deed was not specific about the boundaries or acreage of the property, but it should be noted that it did not mention any buildings on the land, nor does it indicate that Joseph Gould owned any of the abutting land previously.

In 1709, Joseph Gould would have been 32 years old, but still unmarried. It seems quite likely that the first half of his house was not constructed prior to this time. This conclusion is supported by a map of Topsfield printed in 1950 for the town Tercentenary, which labels the house “Abbott 1709” (Abbott being the owner at the time). This date also coincides with that which First Period barn expert Robert Blair St. George has assigned to the earlier half of the Gould barn.

In the process of establishing his own farm, Joseph Gould probably built the first halves of his house and his barn in 1709 to 1710. A few years later, in 1712/13, Joseph married 23 year old Priscilla Perkins. The two immediately began a family, Priscilla giving birth to their first child in 1714. The Goulds had eleven children, but only six survived past early childhood. The only surviving boy being Joseph Gould (2).

The second half of the Joseph Gould house was traditionally thought to have been added to the west of the existing house, built between 1700 and 1720. Perhaps the later end of this range is correct. No documentary evidence could be found for the construction date of this portion of the house. According to the probate inventory of Joseph Gould (1) it was certainly in existence by 1753. The features of this western end of the house are typical of the late First Period and thus it is unlikely that it could have been added any later than the 1720s. The second half of the barn was also standing by 1753 and Robert St. George felt it must date from between 1720 and 1750.

The traditional story tells that the second half of the Joseph Gould house was built to make a duplex for father and son. However, as Joseph (2), the only surviving Gould son, was not even born until 1725, it seems impossible that it could have been constructed specifically for his use. None of the Gould girls were grown and married by the 1720s either.

On the other hand, there are no deeds indicating that Joseph Gould sold off a portion of the house, or even any land near his house. It has been suggested that the addition of the western half of the Gould house was simply an unusual way of enlarging the original dwelling. Building two complete frames up against each other makes the house appear to have been constructed as a duplex, but this was not necessarily the case. Perhaps Joseph Gould made the addition to his home during the 1720s in order to house his growing family. He may have had in mind that one of his children would occupy half of the house, later when the family had grown, and thus built the house so it could easily accommodate this purpose.

The farm was indeed being used as a two family home in 1753, when Joseph Gould’s inventory included only the easterly end of the dwelling house and half of the barn. The inventory does not make clear who owned the other halves of the buildings and there is no evidence that Joseph Gould (1) ever sold them to anyone else. Therefore, it does seem probable that Joseph Gould (2), who was married in 1751 at age 24, was the occupant of the western half of the house and barn by the time of his father’s death. This could have been the origin of the story about the father and son duplex. Joseph (2) was willed the remainder of his father’s real estate and by the 1760s was being taxed for the entire farm.

–Kari Ann Federer


Images

Joseph Gould house, Topsfield MA
Joseph Gould house, Topsfield MA
Stair railings and sheathed wall in the Capt. Joseph Gould house
Main stair rail, turned posts and vertical sheathing in the Capt. Joseph Gould house
fireplace, Capt. Joseph Gould house
Living room fireplace Capt. Joseph Gould house
Post and beam in the in the Capt. Joseph Gould house
Post and beam in the in the Capt. Joseph Gould house
Kitchen rear wall, ornamental post in the Capt. Joseph Gould house
Kitchen rear wall, several ornamental posts in the Capt. Joseph Gould house are very similar to posts in the 1675-1693 Stanley-Lake house in Topsfield, the “1675” Jonathan Corwin house in Salem, and the 1679 Balch house in Beverly.
Gunstock post in Captain Joseph Gould house
Gunstock post, beam and girt in the Capt. Joseph Gould house
Capt. Joseph Gould house
Summer beam, rear kitchen in the Capt. Joseph Gould house
Joseph Gould house
Rafters and purlins in the Joseph Gould house.
Window in the Joseph Gould house in Topsfield
Front window in the Joseph Gould house. Angled jambs and casings are similar to those found in the c1730 Richard Nichols house on Franklin St. in Reading.

Capt. John Gould (1635-1709)

John Gould inherited part of the 3000 acres of land owned by his father Zaccheus Gould (1589-1668), whose home is believed to have been nearby on Washington St., and was already an important citizen of the town of Topsfield. During the Revolution of 1686 for which Ipswich claims fame, Capt. John Gould was imprisoned for opposing Gov. Andros. He served as selectman, and gave a depositoin agains Sarah Wilds, his neighbor, who was hung as a witch during the Salem hysteria. Capt. John Gould and his wife Sarah (Baker) Gold conveyed their farmlands to their five sons.

Capt. Joseph Gould (1677-1753)

Joseph, who married Priscilla Perkins, received the homestead. Like his father, he served as selectman, and was elected to the General Court for seven terms. In his will, dated March 1753, Capt. Gould gave his household goods to his wife, and one third of the use of the estate, as was customary at the time, with “the liberty of the Great Room in my Dwelling House and the improvement of half the cellar und Said Room.”

Major Joseph Gould (1726-1803)

At the time of Joseph Sr.’s death, Joseph Jr. was living in the westerly wing with his wife Elizabeth Emerson Gould, and assumed ownership of the farm. Joseph Gould Jr. is said to have played an important role in the Battle of Concord and was made a major in Col. John Cogswell’s Regiment. At his death, the house was inherited by Joseph 3, who married Ruth Porter of Danvers. In 1867, the house passed out of the Gould family.

Joseph Gould house Topsfield about 1900
The Joseph Gould house and the Gould barn, about 1900.

Sources:

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