Old Shipbuilder’s Historic District

Old Shipbuilder’s Historic District
Photo courtesy of Betsy Friedberg, Massachusetts Historical Commission
Located along the shore of Duxbury Bay and the mouth of the Bluefish River in Duxbury, the Old Shipbuilder's Historic District is dominated by Federal period dwellings built between 1780 and 1840. The first formal shipyard in Duxbury appeared by the mid-18th century near the current historic district. Duxbury then experienced an intense period of growth as a direct result of the expansion of its marine-related economy, primarily shipbuilding and fishing. A thriving export trade of iron, timber, fish and charcoal shipped from Duxbury to Boston and other New England markets also emerged at the wharves and warehouses built near the Bluefish River's mouth. With increased orientation toward the waterfront, the Duxbury coastline became an attractive site for residential construction. The Old Shipbuilder's Historic District retains associations with Duxbury's brief, but intense, period of development, and with the shipbuilders and sea captains who contributed to Duxbury's prosperity from 1780 to 1840.

[photo] Two houses in the Old Shipbuilder’s Historic District—the yellow, three-story Nathaniel Winsor, Jr. House and the white two-story Charles Drew, Jr. House
Photos courtesy of Duxbury Rural and Historical Society

The district includes more than 200 buildings. The first houses in the area were modest cottages, many of which were built for mariners along the shoreline at the center of the current historic district. These houses, like the Edward Winslow House (1787) on 105 St. George St., are typically wood frame buildings, often exhibiting fluted pilasters and measuring one-and-one-half or two stories in height. These waterfront cottages were joined by larger two-story, Georgian-style residences in the last years of the 18th century. Several such homes were built for Duxbury ship captains, including the Samuel Delano, Jr. House (1780) at 36 Plumfield Lane and the Benjamin Bosworth House (1794) at 310 Washington St. After 1800, the most popular house of the period was the Federal-style, center-chimney, hipped roof house. A good example of this house type was constructed by shipbuilder Charles Drew, Jr. at 685 Washington St. in 1826. It was donated to the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society in 1916, was restored and now serves as the society's Wentworth Research Library. The Nathaniel Winsor, Jr. House is one of the largest and most architecturally significant houses in the district, the design of which was based on the works of nationally prominent architects Charles Bulfinch and Asher Benjamin. The Winsor family built at least 40 sailing vessels in Duxbury. Nathaniel Winsor, Jr., a carver of figureheads by trade, inherited the family's thriving mercantile enterprise and built this large house for his family.

Duxbury's maritime-related industry in the district reached its peak in the 1830s before declining dramatically. By 1840, the town's more prominent shipbuilders had begun to relocate their works to Boston and development in the area halted. Absent of economic pressures to update the older buildings, the Old Shipbuilder's Historic District remains a virtually unaltered assemblage of late 18th- and early 19th-century residences reflecting Duxbury's greatest period of prosperity.

The Old Shipbuilder's Historic District is located on both sides of Washington St. from Powder Point Ave. to just north of South Duxbury. The Duxbury Rural and Historical Society owns the Charles Drew, Jr. House and Nathaniel Winsor, Jr. House. The Winsor House, the society's headquarters, is open Monday-Friday from 9:00am to 3:00pm. The Drew House is the society's library and archives and is open to the public Wednesdays from 9:00am to 12:00pm. Please contact the at 781-934-6106 for further information. Other houses in the district are privately owned and not open to the public.

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