The Tyler Homestead is a very integral part of the Job Tyler family history. The following presents the best information we have been able to collect on the history of the place, and is taken from interviews with local historians, from “Memory Hold the Door,” written by Arthur Pinkham, from data submitted by The Friends of Witch Hollow Farm, from information gathered at Reunion ’88, from Colonel O.Z. Tyler’s Sweet Land of Liberty, and from miscellaneous collected articles and clippings. (If you know of other good sources, please pass them along.)
The Tyler Homestead in West Boxford, Massachusetts, is the earliest home known of the Job Tyler family. Job, the first Tyler known in America, came to Boxford in 1640 and was one of the very first settlers in the community of Boxford. The first Tyler home was built on a tract of land at the corner of Ipswich Road and Main Street. The hearth of that very early structure is still in the rear of the large white house, sometimes known as the Boxford House.
The oldest part of the house is the dining room, and was built (1694?) by Moses Tyler (#2), son of Job. Moses had come to clear land and establish a farm, and likely Job lived and worked with him at least for a few years. Moses was probably involved with the construction of the barn and the stone wall still remaining on the property, and in some ways the barn should be considered as predating the house. Moses had an earlier dwelling on the property, but it has long since been demolished.
The main house was built by Captain John Tyler (#11), probably with the assistance of Moses, who was in his 80s at the time. A good description of the work during this period come from Volume I of The Descendants of Job Tyler (p. 41).
The house at present standing (that is, the rear part) was built by Moses’ son, Captain John Tyler, probably about the time of Moses’ death, 1727. Some “bricks” have recently been found buried in the present driveway, which would appear to locate the old fireplace of Moses at a few rods to the east of the present dwelling (1666?): and it is not at all unlikely that when the first house was abandoned for purposes of living, it continued to be used as a storehouse, until it finally passed off the scene in decay.
…The present imposing country house is due to the kindly efforts of Gideon Tyler, son of Captain John, who succeeded to the premises upon his father’s death
…Captain John’s “rear rooms” are very well preserved and quaint, being quite low-posted, with heavy beams exposed to view, and the poem of a cozy fireplace…
The second portion of the house was joined to the first in 1748, when Gideon (# 72) was married. Gideon passed the house on to his son, John (#272), who was married in 1791. However, Gideon’s will said rooms had to be set aside for Gideon’s sisters, Mehitable and Anna, who never married. Two rooms with chimneys were constructed in an ell plan specifically for them, where they lived until both died in 1833, when they were in their eighties.
John’s daughter, Mehitable, married Captain Enoch Wood, a sea-captain from another prominent Essex County family. Their daughter, Rebecca Wood, who never married, moved into the Boxford House and lived in it until she died in 1918, giving it the name of Tyler-Wood House.
Arthur Pinkham, a Tyler descendant, learned this was his ancestral home at a meeting of the Whiting Club, a social fraternity, and then read about it in Volumes I and II. Both Mr. Pinkham and his wife had ancestors in the family ten generations back. He went to see it, and bought the property with 120 acres in 1929 for $11,000. The structure was not in good condition, and the Pinkhams began making many necessary interior alterations and gradually did much ot its restoration. Many antique artifacts came with the house. For instance, they found an oaken hand-loom older than one on display at Williamsburg. A wooden keg was found in the Tap Room which had the initials of Gideon Tyler.
The biggest problem for the Pinkhams was there was not water in the well for modern plumbing. When he explained to a neighbor the only problem with the property was there was no water, his neighbor replied, “Why, that’s the only thing the matter with Hell!” They put in an artesian well, which created the lovely pond now found on the property.
The house and barn are historically significant not only because of their important Tyler history, but also because of their age and integrity architecturally. The logs used for the walls were so hard they couldn’t be drilled through to install electrical wiring. The windows still have shutters that are built into the wall, so they could be closed from the inside in case of Indian attack. The interior horizontal paneling is the oldest form found in New England, and is referred to as “thumb and feather” design.
The barn also is a very important structure historically, and at one time was the largest barn in the country. The structure is as it was when originally built in the 1600s. The floor is made of solid wood planks 14 to 16 inches wide. When recent owners needed to replace some of them, they had great difficulty finding boards wide enought to match the original.
After the Pinkhams, the Tyler Homestead property was sold to Edward French in 1958, the first owner who was not in the Job Tyler lineage. In 1970, it was purchased by David and Audrey Ladd. The Ladds continued much of the restoration work, including cleaning of the walls and chimneys and exposing the original surfaces. Audrey Ladd also did much toward recording the history of the place, and was the first to refer to it as Witch Hollow Farm, a name given because of its association with the Salem witch trials. Boxford’s witch, Rebecca Eames, was the sister of Prudence Blake, who married Quartermaster Moses Tyler. Rebecca claimed in court that she had been bewitched by the Devil in the hollow through which Ipswich Road runs. Some of the hangings are said to have taken place at the back of the property. Also, the spirit of Mary Tyler (#3), sister of Quartermaster Moses (#2), is still said to inhabit the house 300 years later.
The property was then purchased by the Rich’s in the 1980s. In 1997, it was designated as a historic site and the house and the remaining farmland were split. The farm was designated as a conservancy preserve and the house was bought by Lawrence and Tina Morris, who give it loving care.