Thursday, March 17, 2011

In My Footsteps: Trip 107: Newbury, Massachusetts

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 107:  Newbury, Massachusetts
January 9, 2011

            Newbury should be included in any travels up to the North Shore.  I separated it from Newburyport and Plum Island of my last article so as to make sure that it got its just due.  The village of Plum Island as well as the villages of Old Town, known as Newbury Center, and Byfield are included when one speaks of Newbury.  Newburyport is its own separate town.  The first settlers of Newbury came from the town of Wiltshire, England and landed first in modern day Ipswich, then known as Agawam, before stopping where Newbury currently stands.
Coffin House
            The history in Newbury extends nearly all the way back to the first settlers.  That was apparent with the first place I visited, the Coffin House built in 1678.  Located on High Road the house was originally purported to have been built in 1654 by descendant Joshua Coffin who wrote the history of Newbury in 1845.  Modern science has come up with the more accurate date.  It is set back a bit from the road brown with a blood red door.  Walking up to it proved a bit tough as the snow surrounding the house was deep.
            The house has more than doubled in size since 1712 as pieces were added to accommodate a growing family allowing them all to live under the same roof.  The Coffin House was divided into two separate dwellings by two of the Coffin brothers in 1785.  There are rooms in the home depicting life in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.  It is open to the public on the first and third Saturdays from June through mid-October.
Swett-Ilsley House
            Only a stone’s throw away from the Coffin House on High Road is the Swett-Ilsley House.  Though it does not look the part it is actually older than the Coffin House having been built in 1670.  The reason that this house appears to be more modern is the fact that the original home was only one room and it has been expanded many times with its appearance now of  20th century duplex.
            This property was the first to be bought by the Historic New England group in 1911.  When purchased some of the modern building layers were carefully removed to expose as much of the original parts of the house as possible.  The Swett-Ilsley House can also lay claim to one of the largest fireplaces in New England at an impressive ten feet wide.  Imagine what you could fit in there?
            In keeping with the theme of 17th century homes there is also the Noyes-Hale House on Parker Street.  This home was built in 1646 by Rev. James Noyes, cousin to Rev. Thomas Parker.  Parker was the first pastor in Newbury after originally landing in Ipswich.  As interesting as the historic homes of Newbury were there were a few other items that made this trip stand out.
Milestone 33 in front of Gov. Dummer Mansion
            Located all over Newbury are a series of Milestones, stone mile markers.  Though there are many stones located all over the region there seem to be a cluster of them in Newbury.  The stones were made famous by Benjamin Franklin in the 1760’s as he wanted mile markers at every mile on post roads in Philadelphia and then extending up the coast from New York City  into New England.   Milestones however had been around since the beginning on the 1700’s with the many in Newbury having been carved by John Dummer who was the grandson of the first settler in Newbury.
            Finding all of the stones can be an adventure that would talk all day, I chose a few and was only able to find one located on Middle Road.  Known as Milestone 33 this stone ironically was carved by John Hartshorn and not John Dummer.  The text on the stone is deciphered as ‘N5’ meaning five miles north to the center of Newbury, ‘B33’ meaning thirty-three miles to the center of Boston.  The year of the stone, 1708, is featured near the bottom, unfortunately despite wiping the stone with a towel the snow made it tougher to see all of the carvings clearly.  Still it was a really cool piece of history sitting rather unsuspecting at the edge of the road at a quiet intersection.
The Witch's Stone
            The only thing neater than Milestone 33 was getting a chance to lay my eyes and hands on something that seems very much out of place in Newbury and the United States as a whole.  ‘The Witch’s Stone’ sits out on rural Coleman Road and is one part awe-inspiring and one part creepy.  It is said to have been carved in 1723; visiting the stone as the sun began to sink in the sky only added to the mood around the stone as it was bathed in an orange glow.  The ‘witch’ the stone is named for looks like something that should be on an ancient cave wall rather than on the North Shore in New England.
            Finding information about the origin, history, and carver of the Witch’s Stone has proven to be very difficult.  All I can say is that it is an impressive sight even if it does look like something that was torn from a cave wall and placed in the middle of an old stone wall in Newbury.  Not knowing why the stone is there or where the inspiration came from should not ruin the experience of seeing it.  Historic homes make up a lot of what is unique about Newbury but the Milestones and the Witch’s Stone make for an amazing historic scavenger hunt that not many other towns can offer.  Have fun and happy traveling!

            My first book, In My Footsteps: A Cape Cod Travel Guide, is now available at,, and, soon to be in stores everywhere!  Follow me on Twitter!

DirectionsCoffin House:  From I-95 North take exit 57, turn right for Rt. 113.  Continue onto Rt. 1A/High St., drive a total of 3.5 miles off highway, Coffin House is on right.
            Milestone 33:  From I-95 North take exit 55 for Central St., continue onto School St., slight left at Elm St.  Follow 1.2 miles, turn left at Middle Rd.  Follow to intersection with Elm St.  Milestone is on the corner of intersection on lawn of Gov. Dummer Mansion.
            Witch’s Stone:  From I-95 North take exit 55 for Central St., continue onto School St., slight left at Elm St.  Turn right at Coleman Rd., the Witch’s Stone is on left .1 miles up.

ReferencesHistoric New England - Coffin House     
            Historical Society of Old Newbury
            Town of
            Stone - Milestones

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