This historic red house which has been the Huss family home for the past 42 years, was built in 1725 by Samuel Lee, Jr., a local “housewright” who owned a large tract of land on what is now School Street. Lee did his work well: beautiful paneling, wide floorboards, four fireplaces, summer beams, gunstock posts, wrought iron hardware, all lovingly preserved and in working order after nearly 300 years.
Upon completion of the house, Lee sold it, along with two acres of land including an orchard, to Ezekiel Knowlton, a 22-year-old cordwainer (shoemaker) and fisherman who was married to Amy Foster. In 1735 Ezekiel was lost at sea off the fishing grounds of Nova Scotia. His widow, Amy Knowlton, never remarried, but was able to raise a family of six children while pursuing her career as a “doctress,” a female physician.
The house passed from the Knowlton family to Captain Ezekiel Leach in 1787. Leach fought in the Revolution first as soldier, then as captain of a privateer. Captured by the British, he was eventually released, returned to Manchester, and bought the house. In 1787, Leach sold it to John Lee, another successful retired captain of a privateer.
For the next 172 years, the house at 78 School Street remained in the Lee family, and over time has become known simply as the Lee House. None of its owners made more of a mark on Manchester than “Squire” John Lee (1813-1879), a lawyer, justice of the peace, historian, author, orator, and a state representative.
John Lee recorded all sorts of town doings in a diary. Here is an amusing entry from1838. “There has been a lecture in the Town Hall this evening showing the effect of gas inhaled into the human system. After the lecture, several persons inhaled the gas which made them crazy for a few minutes. They danced, sang and cut various capers around the room!”
On a more serious note, John Lee was a fervent abolitionist which may explain one unique feature of his former home. Visible in a small first floor closet are the remains of a secret staircase climbing alongside the chimney breast to the second floor. This suggests the Lee house was a stop on the “Underground Railroad” which helped African American slaves find safe passage to Canada as they fled the South during the Civil War.
78 School Street…so many fascinating tales to tell, so many well-preserved architectural features to enjoy. Sally and I feel fortunate to be the latest stewards of this sturdy survivor of Manchester’s proud past!