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The Peak House: Medfield's Most Recognized Building

Richard DeSorgher explores the rich and controversial history of the historic landmark on Main Street.

 It is the most recognized building in town. It is featured on more Medfield memorabilia than anything else; even the high school yearbook is named after it.

“It stands in quiet testimony to the belief of our nation’s founding fathers that the common man is important. Here is a house which exemplifies only the common man. It has had neither famous residents nor celebrities within its walls. It has merely endured these 300 years as a witness to the poverty of material possessions and wealth of moral values from which the nation descends.”

It is perhaps the one thing that is most unique to Medfield—It is, of course, the Peak House.

 Startling new information uncovered this past fall has, for the first time in memory, given conflicting details about the history of Medfield’s most famous building. The sign, installed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1930 and located in front of the Main Street house, proclaims its construction date to be 1680; rebuilt after it was burned in the attack on Medfield during the King Philip War in 1676. 

Their supporting evidence comes from state records showing owner Benjamin Clark receiving payment in relief of taxes in 1680, due to the hardships suffered with the burning of his home. With that, he was able to rebuild. This 17th century date has the support of famed architectural historian Abbott Lowell Cummings, director of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA), who studied the house a number of years ago ... not so fast.

William Tilden, famed Medfield Town Historian and author of the History of Medfield says in his publication: “The house was burned out by the Indians in 1676, but rebuilt upon the same spot. What is called the Peak House is an addition subsequently made to Benjamin Clark’s second house, in or about 1762. After the decay of the old part, “the Peak House section” was moved about 100 yards forward towards Main Street to its present location.”

Now for the new startling information; this past fall an attempt was made to find the exact date of the Peak House by the dating of growth rings in the Peak House beams, a process known as dendrochronology. The results put the date of the house at 1711. Professionals hired by the Historical Society bore their tiny drills inside six of the house’s massive beams, corner posts and timbers and all were found to have been felled during the winter of 1710/11.

According to the professionals, “Given the perfect alignment of felling dates to the same year and season, it is fairly certain that all timbers were cut specifically and locally for the construction of the Peak House and that it was constructed during 1711.” So is the house 311 years old, as stated on the sign, 249 years old as stated by historian William S. Tilden or will it be celebrating its 300 anniversary this year as dated by the growth rings in its beams?

No matter what its age, it remains uniquely Medfield. It is another example of what makes Medfield, Medfield. The house is so named because of the steep pitch of the roof. So far as is known, the Peak House is the only surviving example of this style of architecture in the United States. It is officially registered as a State and Federal Historic Landmark. Facing deterioration and possible demolition in the 1920’s, a grassroots effort of town citizens was able to save the Peak House and it was turned over to the Medfield Historical Society in 1924. It was then completely renovated to its original Colonial style. 

It remains under the care and ownership of the Medfield Historical Society today. It is also interesting to note that the first Catholic Mass celebrated in Medfield took place at the Peak House in 1854. James Griffin, living in the house at the time, gathered together the approximately 20 Medfield Catholics and led by Father Patrick O’Beirne of Roxbury, Mass was celebrated right there in the Peak House.

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