Come Inside for a Tour of the Nye Homestead
This is the second home built in Sandwich by settler Benjamin Nye (about 1620- 1706). He travelled from England to Saugus (now Lynn, MA) in 1635 aboard the ship Abigail, part of The Great Migration. In April 1637 he joined with a group of 60 families to travel to Cape Cod to begin the new town of Sandwich. Benjamin’s parents, birthplace, and exact birth and death dates have not been confirmed. We do have his 1704 deed in which he conveys lands, housing and mills to his son Jonathan. From town records we know that he was an active citizen and a skilled builder.
Katherine Tupper, Benjamin’s future wife was also aboard the Abigail. They were married in Sandwich on October 19, 1640, probably living at first with her parents, Thomas and Anne. Benjamin was allotted 9 acres of good land at Spring Hill, about a mile east of Sandwich Village. Here he built his first house, part of which is still standing. He and Katherine raised eight children, and from them are descended all American Nyes of English Origin.
By the late 1650s, Benjamin had acquired salt marsh and upland in East Sandwich adjacent to a small spring-fed pond and stream that ran through salt marsh into Scorton Creek. In 1665 the town had a dispute with miller Thomas Dexter, Jr. over the amount of toll (traditionally 2 quarts per bushel) he could be allowed to take. Consequently the town offered 12 acres of land to anyone who would build another grist mill. Coincidentally, the land being offered was “at the river that comes out of the pond at the head of Benjamin Nie his marsh”. Benjamin Nye built a dam and mill, which was running in March, 1669, when town meeting granted him the land. (From Sandwich Town Records)
In about 1678 Benjamin built a new house next to the mill, now known as the Benjamin Nye Homestead and Museum. He gave his Spring Hill farm to his son John. The new house was 32 x 39 feet, faced south, with a long, sloping north roof – a “saltbox”. At some point, a barn was built west of the house. In 1676, Benjamin was given permission to build a fulling mill, used for processing homespun woolen cloth. These buildings can be considered the nucleus of the small village that was to develop over the next century. This homestead housed seven generations of Benjamin’s descendants before it was sold in 1911 to a distant cousin, businessman Ray Nye (1861-1925) of Fremont, Nebraska. After making repairs, he began renting the house and 37 acres to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife. A game farm (mainly pheasants) was developed on the northern portion.
The southern part, near the Homestead, was added to an existing trout hatchery also purchased by the state in 1912. The Homestead became the residence of the hatchery superintendent.
In 1924, Ray Nye gave the house and property to the Commonwealth “for the purpose of protecting any species of useful wild birds, quadrupeds or fish, and for aiding the propagation thereof”.
Nye Family of America Association
The Association was originally formed in 1903 (see History page). After a series of successful reunions and publications, enthusiasm died down. The Association experienced a dormant period from the late 1920s to 1957, when it re-formed to address the threat of demolition of the Homestead. After several years of effort, led by Rosanna Cullity, the Association was able to acquire the house from the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife in 1962. An additional 1.39 acres was gained in 2009, after the fish hatchery had closed. After years of building the membership, fundraising, and restoration, the Homestead opened as a museum in 1972.
A Special Doorstep
Upon stepping into the Homestead & Museum, the first distinctive feature is the primitive, worn, pink granite mill stone from Benjamin’s 17th century grist mill. This is the original bed stone, as opposed to the runner stone, which also exists at a neighboring site. The stone is fitted into the fieldstone foundation, suggesting it was placed there when the house was built. Though the practice of setting old millstones as doorsteps was common on Cape Cod, this has to be one of the earliest examples of this decorative effect.
The original layout of the house was common to many New England saltbox houses. The front faced south, with a long sloping roof to the north. The front door entered into the stairway hall. There were two large front rooms in front - the hall to the east and the parlor to the west. In the back of the house was a large work and storage room, which later evolved into the kitchen. To the east of this was a buttery, and to the west a small chamber or bedroom.
The original chimney had three fireplaces – the largest (about 8 feet wide with a bake oven) in the hall, one in the parlor, and a small one in the master chamber, upstairs. This chimney was replaced in 1816 by a five fireplace design, built largely out of bricks from the original.
The east parlor, originally the Hall, was the room where in colonial times cooking and all manner of household work took place – the main living room. When the house was rebuilt in 1816, it became a nicely finished parlor, with an inner wall for insulation, 6 over 6 windows, a chair rail and other moldings, and a smaller fireplace with a fancy mantle. During the 2009 restoration of this room it was discovered that the original color of the mantle was black, and so it was re-painted that color.
The rear portion of the house still has three rooms, but the buttery is now a bathroom.
The kitchen appears much as it would have in the late 18th century, with wooden ware, pottery, tin ware and wrought iron and brass implements.
At our Autumn Gathering and other events, we cook and bake in this fireplace.
The west parlor contains a collection of Victorian antiques, all donated from various Nye descendants.
The fireplace wall, however, is 18th century paneling – one of the fancier interior features of the house.
In the front hall underneath the stairs, a small door enters into the bugaboo room, the irregular dark space between the fireplaces that resulted when the chimney was rebuilt. It could have been utilized for storage, drying, or as a warm sitting spot, but it definitely was used by children as a spooky play area. In this room, the back of the beehive oven can be seen, also part of the original fireplace, and timber framing details.
Upstairs, there are five rooms. The master chamber or bedroom has an early 1700s look, with a loom, wool and flax wheels, and other devices used in colonial homes to make cloth from wool and flax raised on the farm. The bare wide pine floor and un-plastered ceiling appear as they did when the house was built. The walls retain their early plaster, which was likely added, along with pine casings on the corner posts, braces and beams, within 20 or 30 years after construction.
Finally, there is the marine room, dedicated to the many Nyes who went to sea or were involved in related salt water industries. One of the featured mariners is Capt. Ezra Nye of Sandwich, who set speed records in the New York to Liverpool packet run. He gained further fame after an 1852 rescue of passengers from the British barque Jesse Stephens in a North Atlantic gale. There is an exhibit of South Sea Island artifacts collected by whaling Capt. John G. Nye of North Falmouth. Visitors to this room also learn about whaler Peleg Nye, whose boat was smashed by the sperm whale he had harpooned. He fell into the mouth of the whale and was pulled some distance underwater, yet survived. He was later dubbed “The Jonah of Cape Cod”. For more, click on the book cover below:
The restoration of the Benjamin Nye Homestead & Museum is not yet completed. The next step is removal of the 20th century flooring in the west parlor, and sill and joist repairs. The ground surface will be examined by an archaeologist, and several test pits will be excavated.
The Homestead once had two ells – one on the west end and another at the northeast corner. The present day “modern” kitchen/office was built about 1930 to replace the old ell.
After touring the Homestead & Museum, visitors are welcome to wander about the grounds, or take a seat on one of several benches. Please note that dogs are not allowed. There are several water features – the salt marsh, the mill pond across the road, and the mill stream, which cascades into a beautiful pool, and down a fish ladder. At the lower end of the meadow, a bird observation platform overlooks the marsh.
Overall Description of the Homestead & Museum
The Benjamin Nye Homestead & Museum serves two basic functions. It is the administrative home of the Nye Family of America Association, Inc. and a repository of antiques, artifacts, books and documents pertaining to Nye descendants around the country. It is also a fine example of a Cape Cod farmhouse museum with rooms restored to several different time periods of early American life. Most of the furnishings have been donated, usually by Nye descendants, and some antiques have been purchased. An understanding of these artifacts helps to give us a sense of how our ancestors lived, through cleverness and hard work. However, they also show us something of the sense of beauty and decoration of past generations, especially during the 19th century.
Outside, visitors are delighted with the rural (for modern Cape Cod) beauty and charm of the neighborhood. Views of the salt marsh, the back yard meadow, mill pond and stream running in front of the Homestead, convey a peaceful feeling. The Grange Hall, mill, old trout pools and several other old houses nearby remind us that it was busy here, too, “back in the day”. The Grange Hall next door is available to be rented for weddings, concerts and other functions.
The small bedroom west of the kitchen is restored to the 1830 period, with a rope bed, wash stand, a chest of drawers, and other bedroom furnishings. This room was particularly useful for an elderly or sick person, or as a birthing room. In the closet is a collection of antique quilts. The walls are stenciled in a manner commonly done in the early 1800s.
When the inner wall of this room was removed in the 1960s, an attractive gray wallpaper was found on the original outer wall. In the 1960s, Dorothy Waterhouse, of Waterhouse Wall Hangings in Boston, dated the paper at about 1790, and had her company reproduce it. Certain wallpaper companies still carry this “Nye Homestead” wallpaper.
The rear upstairs room, or display room, contains exhibits of Nye family memorabilia and artifacts related to local history. Two small bedrooms are used for storage.
Benjamin Nye Family Homestead & Museum
85 Old County Road, East Sandwich, MA 02537