TWO REMARKABLE SPECIMENS OF THE OVERHANG HOUSE
” Thomas Dexter of Lyn, yeoman,” was the first owner of much of the land on which Lynn, Massachusetts, is built. Evidently he was land poor, for on October 22, 1639, he ” mortgaged his fearme in Lyn … for two oxen & 2 bulls upon condition of payment to Simon Broadstreet of Ipswich £90 the first day of August, the next following with a reservation upon the sale of the said fearme to give the said Dexter the over-flow above the debt and damages of the said £90.”
Six years later the Registry of Deeds at Salem told of the sale, to Richard Leader, Gent, of England, of a bit of the farm on which Governor Broadstreet held a mortgage. Mr. Leader was the agent of ” ye Company of undertakers of ye Iron Works,” and he thought that Dexter had the best location for the purposes of the company that proposed to start what proved to be the first successful iron works in the Colonies. The quaint story of the transaction was entered thus :
” Thomas Dexter of Lyn in the County of Essex ye[oman] for the sum of 40 £ st [erling] hath sowld unto Richard Leder for ye use of ye Iron works all that land, wch by reason of [a] damme now agreed to be made, shall overflow and all sufficient ground for a water course from the damme, to the works to be erected, and alsoe all [the] land betwene the ancient] water course and the new extended flume or water course togeather with five acres and an halfe of land lying in the corn field most convenient for the Iron Works and also tooe convenient cartwayes that is to one on each side of the premises as by a deed indented bearing date the twentie seaventh of January, 1645, more at lardge apth.”
On the ground thus bought a sturdy house, Broad-hearth, was built in 1646. The second story overhung the first story, after the manner of many English houses of the period. The overhang is still in evidence, though a veranda has hidden it except to the careful observer.
The first product of the iron works, a kettle, was made in 1642. This is still in existence. During more than one hundred years neighboring colonists looked to the foundry for their supplies of house hardware, furnishings, and implements of iron. The site of the foundry was opposite the house, while traces of the pits from which the bog ore was dug are easily found in the field at the rear. Remains of scoria and slag are also pointed out to the visitor by employees of the Wallace Nutting Corporation, which has restored the house as nearly as possible to its original condition and has placed in it furniture of the period. A caretaker has been placed in charge who will copy for applicants iron work in the house, or other old examples. Thus, in a modest way, the Saugus Iron Works has been reestablished.
Another specimen of the overhang house is not far away. This is the house built some time between 1649 and 1656 by Samuel Bennet, carpenter. It is famous as the house that has been in two counties, Suffolk and Essex, and in four towns, Boston, Lynn, Chelsea, and Saugus.
That it was once in Boston was due to the narrow strip of the territory of the city that stretched far out in the country, somewhat after the manner of a portion of a modern gerrymandered legislative district. When the district was set off as Chelsea and Lynn, in response to a petition of citizens who were inconvenienced by their distance from town meetings, the boundaries between Chelsea and Lynn were carelessly marked; one line ran directly through the front door and the chimney of the Bennet house. This mistake, which caused annoyance and expense to those who occupied the house, was not corrected for more than one hundred years. Finally Abijah Boardman asked that he be relieved of his double liability to Lynn and Chelsea, and in 1803, by Act of the General Court, the petition was granted.
Bennet, the builder of the house, figured more than once in the courts. In 1644 the Grand Jury indicted him as ” a Common sleeper in time of exercise,” and he was fined 2s. 6d. In 1671 he brought suit against the Iron Works Company for £400 for labor. In connection with this suit John Paule, whose ” constant employment was to repair carts, coale carts, mine carts, and other working materials ” for the ” times ” at the iron works, testified that ” my master Bennet did yearly yearme a vast sum from said Iron Works, for he commonly yearmed forty or fifty shillings a daye., for he had five or six themes goeing generally every faire day.”
Bennets and Boardmans have held the house from the beginning. The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities has interested itself in the protection of the property.