The 1640 Hart House was built in Ipswich, Massachusetts only twenty years after the arrival of the Pilgrims. The house, originally one room, was the home of a local tanner named Thomas Hart who became the town’s first selectman. As one of the oldest homes in the country, the house is well-known for serving some of the first steins of ale in the nation during the late eighteen or early nineteenth centuries. Featuring five distinct levels and staircases, 363-year-old fireplaces, and wall panels with Colonial hand-painted tea boxes illustrate why the house remains a prime example of early American Architecture.
The First Family of Ipswich
Ipswich town records first listed Thomas Hart in 1637 at the age of 28 soon after he arrived from England with his parents, Isaac and Elizabeth. Hart married a local girl named Alice and started a family that would include two sons and two daughters.
Like most families of that era, Hart built a single room as his initial home. This room, now called the Keeper’s Room, was used by the young family as a parlor, kitchen, and even bedroom on cold winter nights. The replica of the original Keeper’s Room is one of the most popular dining rooms at the house.
Although the Hart family enjoyed ever-increasing privilege when Thomas was elected a selectman, the family endured its share of scandal. Thomas Hart’s aging mother was accused of practicing witchcraft and sent to Boston. There she remained for six months until Thomas presented a petition attesting to the lack of overt signs of witchcraft. After a short trial, Elizabeth was allowed to return to Ipswich. Soon after she and her husband died. Thomas Hart died himself during the winter of 1673 or 1674 with a mystery surrounding the whereabouts of his remains. Some old-timers claim it was too cold to bury Hart outside that time of year and so he was buried in a tiny cellar a few feet below the living room. It is in this dirt and slate cellar that Mr. Hart supposedly remains — waiting for the frost to finally thaw.
End of the Hart Era
The home remained in the Hart family until circa 1755 when it was sold to Philip Lord. The Lord family had the rare distinction of sending five sons, the youngest being fourteen, to the battle of Bunker Hill. Philip Lord died in 1816 and willed the house to his daughter Sarah Lord Kimball, who in turn willed it to her son Isaac. Several additions were built during the Lord-Kimball possession and some say this was the time when the house became a stopping ground for locals in search of ale. However, it was not until the Hart House was sold to noted antique dealer Ralph W. Burnham in 1902 that the home made the official transition to become an inn and tavern. In due course, Burnham took on new interests to further his antique trade and sold the home to Martha Lucy Murray in 1911. Murray ultimately gave into pressure from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Winterthur Museum to sell the original rooms of the house. In 1936 the rooms were dismantled and brought to New York and Delaware and replicas were built in their place.
Past Acclaim and Present Glory
Ipswich enjoyed its greatest popularity in the heydays of the thirties, after prohibition ended, when the likes of James Cagney, Eleanor Roosevelt and other well-known actors and Boston personalities used the Hart House as a summer retreat. Today, the Hart House continues to keep pace with the times while still maintaining its historical significance. New owners since 2003 Jim Lesko and Kim Costello continue to cultivate this renewed spirit thus making The 1640 Hart House one of the most unique dining experiences in the Boston area.