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Rockport’s Historical Buildings–Week 5: The Old Castle

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Rockport’s Historical Buildings–Week 5: The Old Castle

The inside of the Old Castle, the oldest building on Cape Ann that is open to the public

The inside of the Old Castle, the oldest building on Cape Ann that is open to the public

Nathaniel Kirby

The inside of the Old Castle, the oldest building on Cape Ann that is open to the public

Nathaniel Kirby

Nathaniel Kirby

The inside of the Old Castle, the oldest building on Cape Ann that is open to the public

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Following last week’s post on Dogtown, this week, we’ll be looking at one of the first residences in what would become Rockport: the Old Castle.

Jethro Wheeler, a shoemaker in Rowley, moved to Sandy Bay with his family in 1713, after buying the Old Castle property from Joshua Norwood. Previously, Gloucester had parceled off the land in Sandy Bay using a lottery system, so the land likely traded hand multiple times before Norwood became the owner. While the exact date of construction is unknown, it is believed that the house was built before Wheeler bought it for 150 pounds–an unusually large price if only for 100 acres of wooded land. Norwood had previously built his Garrison House, which still stands to this day as a private residence. While it is possible that Wheeler and Norwood worked together on these two houses before Wheeler moved his family to Sandy Bay, a study of wood bores taken from the house and conducted at Oxford University proved that the Old Castle was built in 1712. The Old Castle was a prominent landmark in Rockport, visible from the sea, and far larger than most houses of its day.

The house was passed down through the Wheeler family, though it was most often rented out to other families–often 4 families lived in the house at any one time. Eventually, the house was sold to Henry Story in 1892. Henry Story lived just down the hill in what would become the Story Library. Henry’s wife, Abbie Story was a leading figure in the Pigeon Cove Village Improvement Society, and 40 years later, on March 6, 1929, their descendants donated the house to that organization. The Village Improvement Society maintained the house, preserving its historical value, until 1987, when the Sandy Bay Historical Society took over the Old Castle.

Today, the Old Castle is a prime example of First Period architecture and is believed to be the oldest building on Cape Ann that is open to the public. Visitors can see collections of granite tools, a sewing machine and spinning tools, a doll collection, and even a medical kit, all dating to the 1700s and 1800s. As one of the oldest preserved buildings around, it is definitely worth a visit for anyone interested in Rockport’s roots.

We would like to thank the Sandy Bay Historical Society for helping with the research for this week’s post. To learn more about the Sandy Bay Historical Society, visit sandybayhistorical.org

Next week’s edition will focus on the Congregational Church.

Do you know of a historic building in Rockport? Let us know and we may feature it! Please contact us at tlt@rpk12.org and use the subject line “Rockport History”

About the Contributor
Nathaniel Kirby, Local Events Contributor

Nathaniel Kirby is a junior at Rockport High School and is involved in many of the school's clubs, such as the Green Team and the Math Team. Nathaniel...

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Rockport’s Historical Buildings–Week 5: The Old Castle