When, in 1819, John Allen bought a parcel of land fronting on what was then “High Street,” his $500 purchase bought him an elevated view to the south that was little more than marsh and cove a distant view of the ocean, where he had spent much of his life.
He and his wife Ruth had plans for a new home.
At 45, John was by then already a noted mariner, and had been a ship master for almost 15 years. Lamson calls him one of the “old Yankee Vikings.” He had captained voyages to Europe and as far as Asia. Captain John must have known full well the risks of the seafaring life: His own father, Azaraiah had been lost on a privateer and his younger brother Isaac died on a voyage to Sumatra. The Allen genealogy is filled with ‘lost at sea’ entries.
Perhaps the brick house that they planned seemed a fitting refuge from the dangers he faced at sea.
Construction took about four years. Allen family lore has it that some of the bricks used in the house were brought from England, stowed in the hull of his ships as ballast.
It was a symmetrical Federalist design, forty feet wide and thirty feet deep, with two full stories and a basement that opened out at ground level in the rear. The walls were solid brick on a Cape Ann granite block foundation. Interior trim was handsome, but simple. The 8 rooms on first and second floors were 15 feet square, with wainscoting made from two-foot-wide white pine planks that spanned the width and length of each room. Windows were beveled casements with inset shutters. The floors had no ornate hardwood inlays but were made of white pine planks up to sixteen inches wide.
John and his wife Ruth (Leach) moved from Union Street into their new home in 1824. They were joined in the new residence by son and fellow mariner Benjamin and his recent bride, Hannah.
Captain John had apparently planned on a “crowd” in the new house: three of the ten fireplaces in the house were built with kitchen ovens.
When John Allen built the house, he was six generations and almost two hundred years away from his ancestor William Allen who came to Cape Ann from Manchester England in 1624. The house that John built would remain in the Allen family for almost another two hundred years, until Bertram Allen sold it to the present owners in 1994.
You can read the complete house history by Robert Booth at the Trask House. The MHM House History and Marker program encourages everyone to appreciate the diversity of stories our architecture tells us about our shared history. Participants receive an extensive history of their house and occupants, a certificate, and a handsome house marker. More information at the museum website.