This is the second home built in Sandwich by settler
Benjamin Nye (abt. 1620-1706). He
travelled from England to Saugus (now Lynn, MA) in 1635 aboard the ship
Abigail, part of The Great Migration.
In April 1637 he joined with a group of 60 families to travel to Cape
Cod to begin the new town of Sandwich.
Benjamin’s parents, birthplace, and exact birth and death dates have not
been confirmed. We do have his
1704 deed in which he conveys lands, housing and mills to his son
Jonathan. From town records we
know that he was an active citizen and a skilled builder.
Katherine Tupper, Benjamin’s future wife was also
aboard the Abigail. They were
married in Sandwich on October 19, 1640, probably living at first with her
parents, Thomas and Anne. Benjamin
was allotted 9 acres of good land at Spring Hill, about a mile east of Sandwich
Village. Here he built his first
house, part of which is still standing.
He and Katherine raised eight children, and from them are descended all
American Nyes of English Origin.
the late 1650s, Benjamin had acquired salt marsh and upland in East Sandwich
adjacent to a small spring-fed pond and stream that ran through salt marsh into
Scorton Creek. In 1665 the town
had a dispute with miller Thomas Dexter, Jr. over the amount of toll
(traditionally 2 quarts per bushel) he could be allowed to take. Consequently the town offered 12 acres of land to anyone who would build another grist
mill. Coincidentally, the land
being offered was “at the river that comes out of the pond at the head of
Benjamin Nie his marsh”.
Benjamin Nye built a dam and mill, which was running in March, 1669,
when town meeting granted him the land.
(From Sandwich Town Records)
In about 1678
Benjamin built a new house next to the mill, now known as the Benjamin Nye
Homestead and Museum. He gave his
Spring Hill farm to his son John.
The new house was 32 X 39 feet, faced south, with a long, sloping north
roof – a “saltbox”. At some point
a barn was built west of the house.
In 1676 Benjamin was given permission to build a fulling mill, used for
processing homespun woolen cloth.
These buildings can be considered the nucleus of the small village that
was to develop over the next century.
This homestead housed seven
generations of Benjamin’s descendants before it was sold in 1911 to a distant
cousin, businessman Ray Nye (1861-1925) of Fremont, Nebraska. After making repairs, he began renting
the house and 37 acres to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and
Wildlife. A game farm (mainly
pheasants) was developed on the northern portion.
southern part, near the Homestead, was added to an existing trout hatchery also
purchased by the state in 1912.
The Homestead became the residence of the hatchery superintendant.
In 1924 Ray Nye gave the house and property to the
Commonwealth “for the purpose of protecting any species of useful wild birds,
quadrupeds or fish, and for aiding the propagation thereof”.
Nye Family of America Association was originally formed in 1903 (see History
page). After a series of
successful reunions and publications, enthusiasm died down. The Association
experienced a dormant period from the late 1920s to 1957, when it re-formed to
address the threat of demolition of the Homestead. After several years of effort, led by Rosanna Cullity, the
Association was able to acquire the house from the Division of Fisheries and
Wildlife in 1962. An additional
1.39 acres was gained in 2009, after the fish hatchery had closed. After years of building the
membership, fundraising, and restoration, the Homestead opened as a museum in
Description of the Homestead & Museum
The Benjamin Nye Homestead & Museum serves two
basic functions. It is the
administrative home of the Nye Family of America Association, Inc. and a
repository of artifacts, books and documents pertaining to Nye descendants
around the country. It is also a
fine example of a Cape Cod farmhouse museum with rooms restored to several
different time periods of early American life. Most of the furnishings have been donated, usually by Nye
descendants, and some antiques have been purchased. An understanding of these artifacts helps to give us a sense
of how our ancestors lived, through cleverness and hard work. However, they also show us something of
the sense of beauty and decoration of past generations, especially during the
visitors are delighted with the rural (for modern Cape Cod) beauty and charm of
the neighborhood. Views of the
salt marsh, the back yard meadow, mill pond and stream running in front of the
Homestead, convey a peaceful feeling.
The Grange Hall, mill, old trout pools and several other old houses
nearby remind us that it was busy here, too, “back in the day”.
into the Homestead & Museum, the first distinctive feature is the
primitive, worn, pink granite mill stone from Benjamin’s 17th
century grist mill. This is the
original bed stone, as opposed to the runner stone, which also exists at a
The stone is fitted into
the fieldstone foundation, suggesting it was placed there when the house was
built. Though the practice of
setting old millstones as doorsteps was common on Cape Cod, this has to be one
of the earliest examples of this decorative effect.
original layout of the house was common to many New England saltbox
houses. The front faced
south, with a long sloping roof to the north. The front door entered into the stairway hall. There were two large front rooms in
front - the hall to the east and the parlor to the west. In the back of the house was a large
work and storage room, which later evolved into the kitchen. To the east of this was a buttery, and
to the west a small chamber or bedroom.
The original chimney had three fireplaces – the
largest (about 8 feet wide with a bake oven) in the hall, one in the parlor,
and a small one in the master chamber, upstairs. This chimney was replaced in
1816 by a five fireplace design, built largely out of bricks from the
The east parlor, originally the Hall, was the room where in colonial times cooking and
all manner of household work took place – the main living room. When the house was rebuilt in 1816, it
became a nicely finished parlor, with an inner wall for insulation, 6 over 6
windows, a chair rail and other moldings, and a smaller fireplace with a fancy
mantle. During the 2009
restoration of this room it was discovered that the original color of the mantle
was black, and so it was re-painted that color.
The rear portion of the
house still has three rooms, but the buttery is now a bathroom.
The kitchen appears
much as it would have in the late 18th century,
wooden ware, pottery, tin ware and wrought iron
and brass implements.
At our Autumn Gathering and other
we cook and bake in this fireplace.
The small bedroom west of the kitchen is restored to the 1830 period, with a rope bed,
wash stand, a chest of drawers, and other bedroom furnishings. This room was particularly useful for
an elderly or sick person, or as a birthing room. In the closet is a collection of antique quilts. The walls are stenciled in a manner
commonly done in the early 1800s.
The west parlor contains a collection of Victorian antiques, all donated from various
wall, however, is 18th century paneling –
one of the fancier
interior features of the house.
In the front hall
underneath the stairs, a small door enters into the bugaboo room, the irregular dark space between the fireplaces that resulted when the
chimney was rebuilt. It could have
been utilized for storage, drying, or as a warm sitting spot, but it definitely
was used by children as a spooky play area. In this room, the back of the beehive oven can be seen, also
part of the original fireplace, and timber framing details.
There are five rooms
upstairs. The master chamber or
bedroom has an early 1700s look, with a loom, wool
and flax wheels, and other devices used in colonial homes to make cloth from
wool and flax raised on the farm.
The bare wide pine floor and un-plastered ceiling appear as they did
when the house was built. The
walls retain their early plaster, which was likely added, along with pine
casings on the corner posts, braces and beams, within 20 or 30 years after
When the inner wall of this
room was removed in the 1960s, an attractive gray wallpaper was found on the
original outer wall. In the 1960s
Dorothy C. Waterhouse of Waterhouse Wall Hangings in Boston dated the paper at
about 1790, and had her company reproduce it. Certain wallpaper companies still carry “Nye Homestead” wallpaper.
The rear upstairs room, or display
room, contains exhibits of Nye family memorabilia
and artifacts related to local history.
Two small bedrooms are used for storage
Finally, there is the marine room, dedicated to the many Nyes who went to sea or
were involved in related salt water industries. One of the
featured mariners is Capt. Ezra Nye of Sandwich, who set speed records in the
New York to Liverpool packet run.
He gained further fame after an 1852 rescue of passengers from the
British barque Jesse Stephens in a North Atlantic gale. There is an exhibit of South Sea Island
artifacts collected by whaling Capt. John G. Nye of North Falmouth. Visitors to this room also learn about
whaler Peleg Nye, whose boat was smashed by the sperm whale he had
harpooned. He fell into the mouth
of the whale and was pulled some distance underwater, yet survived.
The restoration of the Benjamin Nye Homestead &
Museum is not yet completed. The
next step is removal of the 20th century flooring in the west
parlor, and sill and joist repairs.
The ground surface will be examined by an archaeologist, and several
test pits will be excavated.
The Homestead once had two ells – one on the west
end and another at the northeast corner.
The present day “modern” kitchen/office was built about 1930 to replace
the old ell.
After touring the Homestead & Museum, visitors
are welcome to wander about the grounds, or take a seat on one of several
benches. Please note that dogs
are not allowed. There are several
water features – the salt marsh, the mill pond across the road, and the mill
stream, which cascades into a beautiful pool, and down a fish ladder. At the lower end of the meadow a bird
observation platform overlooks the marsh.
The Mill Pond
The Mill Stream and Fish Ladder
The Bird Observation Platform