Welcome back to Period Dramas, a weekly column that alternates between roundups of historic homes on the market and answering questions we’ve always had about older structures.
After the past week of 90-degree-plus heat in NYC, we’re fantasizing about spending the rest of the summer by the ocean, something New Yorkers have been doing for centuries to find relief from scorching summer temperatures.
Sometimes, that migration gave rise to a new type of architecture—like the Shingle Style, which gained popularity in the Newport-like Gilded Age destination of Elberon, New Jersey. Those shingle-clad houses follow the tradition of seaside houses in New England, which also feature that same type of siding.
It’s those quintessential New England houses that we’re going to be looking at today. It’s more uncommon to find antique houses by the ocean: The more impressive homes—typically belonging to sea captains—were built inland to protect against the harsher weather conditions close to the water’s edge.
That meant houses closer to the ocean were a bit more modest—and might lack the structural integrity to stand up to not only the weather, but also to time. Thankfully, a few historic waterfront houses survive—here are some of our favorites.
Old Saybrook, Connecticut (3 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, $1.999 million)
Completed in 1700, this 2,600-square-foot home, known as the “Robert Bull House” features a gambrel roof, two massive chimneys, and over 400 feet of frontage on North Cove, just a quick train ride from New York City.
While it maintains some of its original charm—the shockingly wide floorboards are especially lovely—the house was thoroughly renovated not too long ago. Yes, it is move-in ready, but it has a feel that’s more like a 21st-century home with 18th-century touches, rather than the other way around.
That being said, the house comes with a guest house and deep-water dock for handy access to Long Island Sound, meaning if you love entertaining—and maybe the occasional nautical jaunt—this house is hard to beat.
Chatham, Massachusetts (5 bedrooms, 5.5 bathrooms, $5.6 million)
When looking at antique houses by the water, it’s not uncommon to find modest homes that have been substantially altered or added onto over the years. That’s not entirely surprising—as the communities that populate these towns change, so to do the houses.
Take this sprawling home in Chatham on Cape Cod, for instance. It was completed around 1790, when Chatham was a shipping and whaling juggernaut. The original section of the house was probably the central portion in the aerial shot. Thankfully, details in that section of the house have been preserved. The second photo shows a wooden mantlepiece, original floorboards, and a paneled door with hand-forged metal hinges that are almost as wide as the door itself.
However, the house, which most likely started off as an 18th-century sailor’s home, has grown into a 21st-century summer getaway, which has received a few additions that incorporate things like a huge kitchen and den with a cathedral ceiling.
But all the new construction is easily forgotten when you walk outside: The acre of land the house sits on is bordered by water—quiet Oyster Pond River, which leads out to a harbor—on three sides. And to make it better? A deep-water dock.
Wiscasset, Maine (4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, $395,000)
Not every waterfront house has been ruined by a 21st-century addition! Also they’re not all multimillion-dollar properties. Case-in-point: This Federal house on the Maine shoreline, about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Boston.
The 1807-built house is located just across from Sheepscot River, meaning every room has a water view—even the kitchen, which is renovated but maintains its cooking fireplace and original beehive oven.
The house has received necessary updates over its two-century lifespan, but it has fully maintained its creaky, quirky charm. The doors are slightly askew, the floors seem uneven, and even the fireboxes appear to sag a bit with age—but it’s a sort of age that’s been maintained with love rather than accrued over decades of neglect. And with a water view, how could that be beat?