The Square House has stood through 21 owners, starting with Jacob Pierce, a yeoman farmer who purchased the land from the original settlers of Rye prior to 1675. Pierce, a soldier in the Connecticut troops, built his house sometime between 1675 and 1683 and died around 1690 while on an expedition in northern New York.
Pierce’s widow and her new husband sold the property to Peter Brown who built a new house on the site in the early 1700′s. That house now forms the left side of the current structure. It is thought that Brown used Pierce’s house as his kitchen, but any remaining part of the Pierce house was demolished in 1905 when the building became the municipal hall. Brown also built a mill on the Blind Brook behind the Square House.
After Brown’s death, the house was sold to a blacksmith and then to the Rev. James Wetmore, whose son Timothy first operated it as an inn and tavern beginning in 1760.
the revolutionary war
The Square House was transferred twice more before being acquired by Dr. Ebenezer Haviland, a surgeon and a barber, in 1770. Dr. Haviland, a prominent member of the Rye community, acted as town supervisor, town clerk, and leader of the Rye Patriots. On August 10, 1774, a meeting of Rye residents was held, probably at the Square House, in response to the Boston Tea Party. The residents formed a committee, headed by Dr. Haviland, that supported the Continental Congress in Philadelphia and protested taxation without representation. During 1774, John and Samuel Adams stayed at the Square House as they traveled to and from the Continental Congress.
On August 4, 1775, Dr. Haviland was appointed as a surgeon in the Continental Army. He remained in the military until his death on July 28, 1781 in Connecticut. It is not known whether he died of battle wounds or disease.
WIDOW HAVILAND’S TAVERN
Mrs. Haviland left the Square House during the war out of concern for her family’s safety. She returned around 1779 and continued to operate the tavern and inn until 1799. Dr. Gilbert Budd, Mrs. Haviland’s uncle, owned the property during this time period. In the 1780′s, he added the right side of the building containing two rooms on the first floor (now combined into one large room) and the ball room on the second floor. One of Mrs. Haviland’s daughters was an accomplished piano player and probably entertained their guests in the ball room.
Several prominent political figures visited the Square House during the late 1700′s and early 1800′s. In addition to John and Samuel Adams, George Washington stayed at the “Widow Haviland’s” twice in 1789. He famously wrote in his diary that “After dinner through frequent light showers we proceeded to the Tavern of a Mrs. Haviland at Rye who keeps a very neat and decent Inn.” During August, 1824, another famous guest, the Marquis de Lafayette dined at the Square House, then known as “Penfield’s Hotel”. (for more on General Lafayette's tour click here.)
LATER HISTORY AND PRESERVATION
After Widow Haviland’s tenure, the Square House continued as a tavern under various owners until 1835 when David Mead, postmaster of Rye, purchased it and returned it to a private home. The Mead family owned the house until 1903 when John and William Parsons and John Howard Whittemore purchased the house to preserve it. The Parsons and Whittemore subsequently offered the property to the Village of Rye as a municipal hall in 1904. The property continued as the municipal hall until 1964 when it was leased by the Rye Historical Society, restored and turned into the current museum.
The Square House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has also been designated as a landmark by the City of Rye.
Inside the Square House
The Square House was an ideal spot for an inn due to its location on the Boston Post Road. One of the oldest highways in the United States. Most visitors would have entered into the entry hall through the front door. Travelers could place their cloaks, hats, and lanterns on pegs on the wall. An entry hall in colonial times was a basic utilitarian space that could hold tables and chairs if the tavern room was overcrowded.
The tavern room in the Square House was frequented mostly by men of the community and travelers. The room served as a type of restaurant, bar, and social center for men of the community. They could relax, play games, read the newspaper, pick up their mail, and enjoy drinks such as hard cider, rum, beer, toddy, and wine. Weary travelers could enjoy a simple meal, have a drink, and talk to locals. The tavern room was also used as a meeting place for political and church groups.
The Square House’s warming kitchen was one of the building’s two kitchens. An extension at the back of the house, which was removed in 1908, was possibly another, larger kitchen. Kitchens were the household production centers of the home. They were where clothing was washed, candles made, where spinning and weaving took place, and where food was prepared and preserved. Women’s work centered in this room, and young girls were taught the domestic skills necessary to run a household.
The council room and the ballroom were both added to the house in the 1780’s. When the village of Rye was established in 1904, the Square House became the municipal hall. This room became the council room, where the council met. In 1964, a new city hall was built, and the Rye Historical Society was created to take care of the Square House. The room also holds photographs of the “presidents” and mayors of Rye from 1904 to 1964.
The ballroom’s exact purpose is not known, but it may have been used an entertainment room, meeting space, or an extra room for dining and sleeping. Now, it is used as a changing exhibit space.
The tavern keeper’s bed chamber was a room where friends and guests would be entertained. Therefore, the bedroom was where items of wealth were displayed. A bed and textiles were some of the most valuable items a family could own. An entire family slept in one bedroom, with the parents in the bed and the children on mattresses on the floor. Rooms were often cold and drafty at night.
The hands-on room represents a bedroom for travelers in the 18th century. Accommodations were often uncomfortable, and lacked privacy. As they paid for the bed, and not the room, travelers would commonly share a bed with up to four people. The rooms were sparsely furnished with only the essentials, and mattresses were stuffed with straw or cornhusks.
The hands-on room allows visitors to pretend to be a traveler from the 1700’s. Feel free to lie in the bed, sit in the chairs, or touch the artifacts. Everything in the room is an accurate reproduction of what an 18th century tavern bedroom would have been like.