The Manchester Historical Museum Presents: The Major Israel Forster House


The Major Israel Forster House, 41 Central Street

This house was built for Israel Forster (1779-1863), shoreman, and wife Hannah Lee, in 1804.  In the 1600s this lot was part of Standish's Orchard.  It passed to the Lee family and in 1802 Jacob Hooper sold the “mowing land” to Israel Forster for $220.

Israel Forster was the son of Capt. Samuel Forster and his wife Bethiah Bennett.     Samuel’s legacy is the surviving “Forster Flag,” carried during the Lexington Alarm by Manchester troops. It is the oldest known American flag designed with 13 stripes to symbolize the colonies.  A replica flag is carried in Manchester’s Fourth of July parade.  In 2000, the Forster Flag was honored with a USPS commemorative stamp. 

Israel and his 10 siblings grew up in the Forster house that stood about where the 131 Bridge Street house is today.  When he was 15 years old, Israel’s father died and left an estate valued at $13,670!  Israel attended Phillips Academy where he met his future bride, Hannah Lee.  He returned to Manchester as "a young man of culture." 

In January 1805, the couple had a daughter.  Sadly, Israel’s wife died that September.  Six months later Israel married another Hannah, daughter of Major Henry and Hannah Story who lived at 52 Central, directly across the street.  One of Israel and Hannah Story’s daughters, Charlotte, married the much- respected Dr. Ezekiel Leach.  They lived in the 41 Central Street house with Israel who never had any sons.  The house is known as the Forster Leach house, owned by the same family for 169 years!

In 1805 Israel was elected a town selectman and served 18 consecutive terms.  He was head of the building committee for the town's 1809 handsome new meeting house.  In 1810 and 1836 he was elected state representative.  Israel owned an extraordinarily successful fish flake business, wharf, grist mill at Bennett Brook and was co-owner of three schooners. 

The design and features of this house are consistent with the work of Samuel McIntire of Salem, the famous woodcarver, furniture-maker, and architect. Its symmetry, McIntire mantel, frieze, urns, woven shutters, hand planed moldings, original hardware, “Indian shutters,” arched brick chimney base, and monitor roof make it a beautiful example of the Federal period.  No other house of the time in Manchester (or Cape Ann) rivalled it for elegant progressive architecture. 

This house was the subject of “The American Historic Buildings Survey,” the nation’s first federal preservation program to document America’s architectural heritage.

Jeff and I are thrilled to be the current stewards of this historic house and I am delighted that Israel is my distant cousin!

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