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Local News

April 25, 2007

Tests cast doubt on Balch House's 'oldest' claim

BEVERLY | Discovering you are younger than you thought might sound like good news | unless you're a historic house.

In a report long awaited by local historians, two scientists from England have concluded that the Balch House is Beverly was built around 1679, not 1636 as the Beverly Historical Society had claimed.

The evidence refutes the society's long-held contention that the Balch House is the oldest surviving wood-frame house in the United States. In fact, the report suggests the Balch House was not even built by John Balch, but rather by his son and grandson.

When asked if the news was disappointing, Beverly Historical Society director Stephen Hall said, "I'm never disappointed in the truth."

But he did say the Historical Society will probably drop its claim to national status.

"I don't think I'd present it as the oldest wood-frame house in the country anymore," he said, "until we found additional evidence to support that."

The study to determine the exact age of the Balch House was commissioned by the Beverly Historical Society last year. Hall had read a newspaper story in which someone from the Fairbanks House in Dedham questioned the Balch House's status as the oldest wood-frame house in America. The Fairbanks House makes the same claim and has backed it up with scientific evidence.

The Beverly Historical Society sought the same kind of evidence by hiring two scientists from the Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory in South Oxfordshire, England, for $3,500 to test the age of the Balch House timbers through a method known as tree-ring dating.

Daniel Miles and Michael Worthington traveled to Beverly in February 2006 and spent a day taking samples from the Balch House. They brought the samples back to their lab in England for testing and finally issued their report last month.

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