Oldest Stone House in New England: Henry Whitfield Museum

    ACS had the privilege of conducting an archaeological survey on the grounds of the oldest house in Connecticut and the oldest stone house in New England. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with the house slated for a variety of improvements. The house was built under the direction of Henry Whitfield, a practicing reverend from England who also served as one of the founders of Guilford, Connecticut.


The Henry Whitfield House and Museum


    Background research indicated that the Whitfield House was built around 1639, possibly with the help of local Native American inhabitants who were thought to have assisted in the transport of fieldstone from a local quarry for the construction of the house. Prior archaeological excavations on the grounds revealed numerous aboriginal lithic artifacts as well as the remains of a temporary or seasonal structure occupied by Native Americans, or possibly the Whitfield family until the stone structure was built.


Etching of the Whitfield House from an 1836 publication nearly 200 years after the house was built. 


    Field testing around the perimeter of the stone house revealed a mix of mid 18th through mid 20th Century artifacts. The materials were predominantly structural in nature, including slate roofing tile fragments, mortar, highly patinated window glass, and a variety of cut and wire nails. The majority of tests also revealed a builder's trench with a general lack of stratigraphy above a sterile substratum of glacial outwash sediments. The builder's trench features date to the 1868 reconstruction of the house which included a re-tiling of the roof and a re-mortaring of the stone walls below the surface, a conclusion supported by the chronological assessment of artifacts as well as the recovered mortar fragments which lack the yellow clay and crushed shell used in the original construction of the house according to historic accounts. The artifact assemblage also included a moderate density of household debris such as ceramics, glassware, domestic animal bone, shell, and a number of personal items reflecting an intermittent use of the house by tenant farmers for the bulk of its recorded history.


    One test adjacent to the house also produced a quartz Levanna projectile point typically found in Late Woodland sites (ca.1,000 to 350 years ago). The crudely formed point may date to the early part of the Contact period when the Whitfields purportedly engaged the services of local tribe members to assist in the construction of the house. It remains undetermined in the archaeological record whether the aboriginal materials and other structural features recorded to date are contemporaneous with the earliest Euroamerican occupation of the site. The Whitfield Site, however, provides the exciting possibility of documenting Native American and Euroamerican interactions in an agrarian, Contact-period setting.


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