The architecture disappeared
By Charles W. Brewster
Editors Note: C.W. Brewster was a Portsmouth columnist in the mid-1800's. This article includes his opinions and may not reflect current research or current values.
Description of the Whipple Garrison House--Construction and use.
OUR last ramble closed at the Whipple garrison house. These places of protection from the Indians were formerly quite numerous in this neighborhood, and within fifty years many of them were standing; but they have, one by one, given place to more convenient dwellings, until scarcely any are left. Already a generation of men has arisen who do not know these objects even by sight; and the historian has scarcely given that description of the structure and the uses of garrison houses, which will enable their memory to be preserved, when the old houses shall be no longer seen. And as a description of one is substantially a description of all, we will describe the Whipple house, so called, being the last one, so far as we know, which was left in this neighborhood.
It was built on the east bank of the Piscataqua, about a mile from its mouth, in Kittery, opposite the Navy Yard. The house was only a few yards from the water, and stood on a spot of ground very well chosen for its purpose, having a cove (now called Whipple's cove) running half way round it, so that no savage could come that way unperceived. It also commanded a view of the harbor up and down, for a considerable distance.
The size of the house as it now stands is fifty-four by thirty-four feet, two stories high,-- though when used as a garrison it was probably about thirty-four feet square; the remainder of the length being of a later date, is framed in the common way. The repairs made by the present owner, Mr. Jesse Philbrick, in the past fifteen years, have removed all the former external appearances.
The garrison part of this house was constructed of hemlock timber hewed square, dove-tailed together at the corners; when the present owner put the building in repair, this timber was found to be perfectly sound, and likely to last for centuries unless destroyed by fire. This house, like nearly all the garrison houses, was built with the upper story projecting beyond the lower about eight or ten inches on every side. Some of them projected twice as far. The design of this projection was not, as some supposed, chiefly to afford good loop-holes, through which to fire muskets at the assailants, though they might be used for that purpose, but the projection, with its loop holes or scuttles, was intended to give the women in the house a chance to pour down boiling water, at once to scald the Indians and put out the fires they almost always kindled in their attacks. The form of the building was doubtless copied by the colonists from European houses, in which projecting upper stories were common; and the preference for timber over stone probably arose from the destitution of lime in early days.
Many of the garrison houses were much larger than this; and their great size, their awkward structure, and the difficulty of repairing them when the lower timber became rotted, has caused them to disappear. For very obvious reasons, they had but few windows, and those of small size, especially in the lower part of the house; and these furnished with strong shutters. The door was a ponderous thing, in some cases made of timber or joist, sometimes of oak, and not unfrequently hung on wooden hinges; generally, but not always, opening in two parts, well braced and barred.
Every neighborhood, of three or four farm houses, used to have one of them a garrison house, built in this way by the united efforts of the neighbors, but held as the private property of one man, and used as the residence of one family. In times of apprehended danger nearly or quite all the neighbors lodged at the garrison. This house seems to have been the capital of a little hamlet at Whipple's cove, and was probably built by all the neighbors, at an early period. The house may, not improbably, be nearly two hundred years old. It was, at a later date, the residence of Robert Cutt, who died in 1717, and whose daughter was the wife of William Whipple, senior, whose name is still retained for the house and cove.
There was a garrison house in another part of Kittery, near York, on a
farm afterwards owned by the late Judge Sherburne, of this city. One at
Portsmouth Plains; one at Newington; both demolished. There were also
many others, but these all stood until within a few years.
Related Outside Garrison Links
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The Gilman Garrison House in Exeter (SPNEA)
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