Living History: The 332 year history of Wareham’s oldest house

Mar 11, 2015

From the outside, it looks like any other home in Wareham, but the little blue house at 13 Great Neck Road holds an incalculable number of secrets.

At 332 years old, it’s the oldest house in Wareham, making it even older than the town and the country it sits in.

What’s even more impressive is that the current residents, Carolyn and David McMorrow, are just the third different family to live in the house in the past three centuries.

“I feel like I was born 200 years too late,” said Carolyn McMorrow.

According to Gerry Pearle, McMorrow’s friend and previous owner of the house, the house was built in 1683 by Josiah Morton. Morton was involved in the Agawam Purchase, one of the first land purchases in Wareham. Pearle said Morton’s nephew then sold the hose to the Burgess family in 1709.

The house would stay in that family for more than 250 years. Prince Burgess was born in the house in 1749. He would go on to be a Lieutenant in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and fought in the battle of Rhode Island.

Pearle, who now lives in Marion, said the last Burgess who lived in the house was Lillian Burgess, who died unmarried in the middle of the 20th century.

The house then fell into disrepair as a local man bought it but was never able to find any tenants. By 1971 the house had a hole in the roof, boarded windows and the floors moved when you walked on it, but Gerry and Paul Pearle were coming to save the house.

That year, Gerry was living in Marshfield and came to Wareham with her friend to buy bread at a bread outlet. “For some reason or another,” Pearle made a wrong turn down Great Neck Road and discovered the broken- down house.

She said she immediately knew the house was a gem, and that standing in the living room, looking at the sky through the hole in the roof, she could feel the spirit of the home.

“It was waiting for us to come and fix it,” she said.

The Pearles bought the house in 1973 and began the restoration process. Paul Pearle was a master craftsman in many disciplines and worked restoring houses across the South Coast. It was during the restoration process that Paul found a brick with “1683” engraved on it in the fireplace in the main living room. Although the brick was misplaced by another worker, the Pearles knew how old the house was.

The original house contains three rooms on the first floor and two large bedrooms and a corridor on the second floor.

All of the original floors, walls (complete with horse hair insulation), low ceilings and hinges are still in the house and there is a fireplace in nearly every room.

“You can feel the house telling you its secrets,” Pearle said about living in the house. She said she used to tell neighborhood kids the house was haunted. Then one day she realized that might be true, as her son Matthew said he saw the ghost of a maid talking to him in the upstairs corridor.

The Pearles added a few large rooms to the house in the 1970s for workshop and storage space for both Paul and Gerry.

Gerry ran an antique shop, which is how Gerry and Carolyn got to know each other, through their love of things from the past and passion for holding on to history.

“It’s our duty to preserve what we have,” McMorrow said.

The McMorrows moved to Wareham from Bridgewater in the 1980s and have been living in the 1683 house for the last ten years.

The house is filled with homemade or centuries-old furniture and furnishings. In one of the rooms on the original side of the house, where Carolyn said she spends most of her time, is an area filled with Abraham Lincoln memorabilia, including a copy of the New York Herald from the day after his assassination.

One of Carolyn’s passions is baking, and she does it the (really) old-fashioned way, with implements and recipes from the 1700s and 1800s. She also cooks in a hearth in the kitchen.

Although the house is not without its modern amenities, there is a refrigerator hidden behind a cabinet door.

When asked if she ever considered making the house more modern when putting on all the additions, Pearle said, “We couldn’t do that.”

McMorrow feels similarly, stating: “I hope and pray someone comes along after us to preserve it.”

For 332 years, the house has been a part of the community and history of Wareham.

Thanks to people like the Pearles and the McMorrow’s, the house will almost certainly be a part of its future.