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The Balch House



                      


            The Balch House Gains Distinction Long Claimed By St. Augustine

               

                  

                                           This is an article written by Peggy O'Connell, dated November 14, 1959.
                
                     
 Beverly, rich in its tradition as the "Birthplace of the American Navy" in 1775, today
was revealed to have attained a new authenticated distinction -- the home of the oldest
in the United States, the 1636 John Balch House at the corner of Cabot and Balch streets.

       This newest historic fact was revealed by the Balch House Associates and Beverly
Historical Society, which owns the famous dwelling, as efforts were expanded to obtain the
money necessary to restore the 323-year old landmark of the area's early settlers and
preserve it for future generations.

       Long-famed as the oldest frame house about which there was a written record, the
John Balch homestead has now been positively established as the oldest house extant
in this country today.

      Revelation of this followed discovery, as sadly disclosed by Mrs. Dora C. Wiles,
administrative assistant of the St. Augustine, Fla., Historical Society, that recent
archaeological excavations and research disproved that city's previous claim of having
the oldest house in America -- presumably dating from before 1636 in St. Augustine,
oldest city (1565) in the nation.

      The Florida claim was disputed by disclosure that all buildings in St. Augustine were
razed in 1702 by a Governor Moore of South Carolina.  Thus, St. Augustine's "oldest house"
was proved to be a replica instead of an original structure.

      It was Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Balch, then custodians of the Balch House in Beverly, who
learned last spring while on a visit to St. Augustine that perhaps their historic home had
gained new prominence.  Surprised to find that the Florida city's house no longer could
claim the distinction of being the country's oldest, Balch, as president and national
director of the Balch House Associates, set out to confirm the fact that Beverly's Balch
House could now hold the "oldest" distinction.

      Before leaving recently for St. Petersburg, Fla., where the newly-ordained Rev. Mr. Balch
has taken up ministerial work, Mr. and Mrs. Balch informed their colleagues in the Balch
House Associates and Beverly Historical Society that the new claim had been definitely
established.  The fact is now made known publicly for the first time.

      The Rev. Mr. Balch said that he had been able, through much research and checking
of records throughout the country, to confirm that the Balch House, built by his ancestor
of 11 generations back, John Balch, is the oldest original house still standing in the United
States.

      Records at the Essex County courthouse in Salem show that John Balch, one of the
original Planters of the Salem area, signed the deed for his house in November of 1635.
The wooden frame structure was built in the spring of 1636 and occupied by Benjamin
Balch, son of John, in the latter part of the same year -- about the same time that Harvard
College was founded (Oct. 28, 1636).

      John Balch came to America from Somersetshire, England, in 1623, and after
receiving a grant of 200 acres of land in 1635 in what is now Beverly, he built his home and
reared his family.

      The house was occupied by descendants of John Balch until 1914, when it was bought
by a few members of the Balch family.  In 1921, it was transferred to the Balch House
Trust and in 1932 was acquired by the Beverly Historical Society.  During the years when
the Balch House Trust owned the building, some of the older parts were restored, and land
surrounding the house was purchased as a protection against fire.

      Roy W. Baker of Antrom, N.H., who restored the Wayside Inn in Sudbury, surveyed the
Balch House in 1957 and estimated that the preservation and restoration of the Balch House
would cost a minimum of $30,000..  The Balch House Associates hope to raise this amount
in order to preserve Beverly's priceless historic treasure.

      The National Trust for Historic Preservation has indicated that it will urge support of the
Balch campaign for restoration.  The National Trust learned of the critical need for the
Balch Houses's restoration through its colleagues, the National Park Service and the
American Institute of Architects.  The National Trust is an organization, chartered by Congress,
whose function is to place before foundations the needs of historical houses, other edifices
or parks.  The foundations then assist those they deem worthy of such help.

      Everett Balch of Mendon, N. J., former president of the Orange Screen Company of
Orange, N. J., and inventor and industrialist and 11th generation descendant of John Balch,
is vitally interested in Beverly's Balch House, and its original owner.  During a visit to England,
he obtained much information on the English background of John Balch.  Everett Balch now
spends much of his time in an effort to save the Balch House for posterity.

      United Nations Ambassador, Henry Cabot Lodge, a Beverly resident, in a letter to Everett
Balch, has expressed his feelings for the Balch House as an historic shrine.  He wrote:

      In reply to your letter, I am glad to say that I do indeed regard the Balch House in Beverly
as a most interesting monument to the pioneer spirit which made America great.  I
understand that this house was built about 1636 and that now after 323 years, some of
its supports have weakened so that it requires renovation.  In your efforts to raise the
necessary funds to preserve this house, you have my best wishes."

      Former Ambassador William Phillips, also of Beverly, in a letter pertaining to the Balch
House, said:  "Few cities in our country can boast of a monument of such historical and
national importance as Beverly's Balch House.  Built by an Old Planter in 1636, it proudly
surveys from its elevated position on Cabot street the stream of cars that rush past its
doors at all hours of the day and night.  There is quiet dignity and beauty in this relic of our
early history, and yet I fear there are many residents even of Beverly who never heard of
the Balch House, and even fewer who have paused to look inside and examine the world
treasures which its ancient rooms have on display.

      "All school children are obliged to study American history, and how fortunate are the
young people of this area who have this old house as a living exhibit of our early history to
illustrate their history books.  And grown-ups too need to brush up their sense of history by
a glimpse of the lives and customs of their early forebears."

      "But all monuments of the past require constant care and repair to preserve them for
future generations.  And so the Balch House is now calling for help to strengthen its
ancient beams and to protect it from wind and weather.  Beverly should be the first to
respond to this appeal, and I am sure that our fellow citizens will give generously -- for the
Balch House is not only a local shrine but a landmark of national importance."

      The Balch House Associates hope, with the restoration of the Balch House to see a
dream realized, that the house will be saved for future generations to enjoy.  The Associates
are aware throught visits to the Balch House, Beverly residents and persons from all 50
states can momentarily trod back into the past and can contemplate on the spirit of the
intrepid pioneers who withstood all adversity to found his great country.       
                       


                 


                 


            

      
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