What do we know about the construction of the Jason Russell House?

Robert Nylander published a report in 1964 that suggested that Jason Russell built the house in two stages: one part in 1740 and an addition around 1750, around the time of his marriage to Elizabeth Winship. Jason’s grandfather, also called Jason Russell, had built a house on the property too, coinciding approximately with his marriage in 1684. Nylander rejected Russell family lore, which had long held that the house had been built in one campaign in 1745. In his report on the archaeological dig in March 1985, Mark Boulding suggested that perhaps Jason Russell the grandfather had built the original house and that the younger Jason Russell, after inheriting the house in 1738, had moved in.

In 2012, further research led to new conclusions. Samples of timbers from various parts of the house were sent off to a lab in Oxford, England, to be analyzed to determine their age. This sampling is called dendrochronology, the study of tree rings, whereby rings from one piece of wood can be matched with known tree rings from a timber of a known date from a different building to yield a year (or even a month within a year) in which the timber was felled.

Sampling of beams, joists, and roof components from various parts of the house indicate that the trees from which the house was built were felled around 1661-1662, 1684-1685 (structural timbers), and 1740-1750 (samples from interior timbers). These results, combined with the knowledge that felling dates in this era usually coincided with building, suggest that Jason Russell did indeed build the entire house around 1745, using new wood for the main structural components of the house and re-used timbers from his grandfather’s older house for the interior beams.

Taken March 27, 2012 by Dr. Dan Miles of the Oxford Dendrochronology Lab, Mapledurham, Oxford, UK
Jason Russell House core samples.  Taken March 27, 2012 by Dr. Dan Miles of the Oxford Dendrochronology Lab, Mapledurham, Oxford, UK

2012. Miles, D.W.H. The Tree-Ring Dating of the Jason Russell House, Arlington, Middlesex County, Massachusetts. Report 20012/45, unpaginated (ms. available at the Arlington Historical Society).

1986. Boulding, Mark E. Archaeological Excavations at the Jason Russell House in Arlington, Massachusetts. Boston: Center for Archaeological Studies, Boston University.

1964. Nylander, Robert Harrington. Jason Russell and his House in Menotomy. Boston: Bulletin of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, Serial Number 198.

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