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Red House: Being a Mostly Accurate Account of New England's Oldest Continuously Lived-in House Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (June 28, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142001058
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142001059
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #462,407 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Red House, built by Walter Hatch circa 1647, was one of the first houses in Marshfield, Mass., a coastal community some 30 miles south of Boston. Although it had been stipulated that the house would stay in the Hatch family, descendant Richard Hatch sold it to Messer's father in 1965, impressed with his respect for the property. While Messer didn't obsess over restoring the house to its "original" state, he approached all changes mindful of Red House history. And so the author (now a poet and teacher at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington) grew up in an oddly anachronistic household—with rag rugs instead of shag, Dutch ovens instead of electric ranges, wood instead of Formica. Daguerreotypes of 19th-century and photographs of 20th-century Hatches were carefully preserved; Hatch's original will was displayed on the wall. Although Messer felt like she was "growing up with someone else's history," this dual identity may have suggested her book's unusual form, which weaves Messer's story of growing up in Red House with the Hatch family's story. Her research into New England history unexpectedly fascinates (e.g., how 17th-century settlers would wear masks when carousing drunk to avoid identification; how they earmarked their communally grazing cattle). Beyond giving readers a sense of the liveliness of early New England life and explaining what it was like to grow up in a historic house, Messer gives readers a great sense of the power of a house to pull and shape its inhabitants.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Messer brings a poet's ear, an architect's eye, a historian's attention to detail, and her own firsthand experiences as a resident in this account of "New England's Oldest Continuously Lived-In House." Alternating chapters tell of two family histories, that of Walter Hatch, who built the Red House in 1647 in Marshfield, Massachusetts, and that of Ronald Messer, who purchased the house from Hatch's great-great-great-great-great-grandson and thus broke the string of Hatches who occupied the residence for more than 300 years. By themselves, the family histories are not particularly distinguished; yet, in the slow uncovering and sharing of quotidian events and their historical contexts--Walter Hatch, for example, was born just two years after the pilgrims celebrated their first Thanksgiving in Plymouth--Messer renders these stories unique, indelible, and mysteriously interactive with one another. This book stands as an important historical document, yet it also gives informed insights into the eternal dynamics of family life, the nature of happenstance and fate, and the sadly detached circumstances in which so many Americans now find themselves. Alan Moores
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Corinne H. Smith VINE VOICE on July 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover
...and the Red House in Marshfield, Massachusetts, is fortunate enough to have one-time resident Sarah Messer as its storyteller. Englishman Walter Hatch built the original structure in 1647. Ownership passed through 9 or 10 generations of Hatches until 1965, when it left Hatch hands and Messer's parents bought the house. Thus is the author linked to her subject.

She alternates between her own family's history and that of the Hatches, tracing both the fate of the individuals and the imprint each left on the house. There are additions, renovations, fires and restorations. Relatives move away and others come back. Time passes, and the Red House outlives all of its inhabitants. And all along the underlying question is: Whose house is it, really?

"The house contains both the living and the dead, and there are always traces, because the house is not separate, has not one owner but many, has many beams, many different panes of glass, the way a body might have many lovers, the way each owner might look at the house as if at the body of a lover. If the window is removed, is it still a part of the house? If the fireplace swing-arm is taken and put in a museum, is it no longer a part of the house? Can the house be removed from itself? The owner, the past, the parts of the house. I thought: Who can steal a house? Who owns the lover but the loved?" (p. 234)

This reader cannot help but be reminded of a farmhouse in her own past: one that's been in her family since 1915 and might not survive the decade with that surname on the mailbox. But that's a story for another day.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By P. Greer on May 16, 2009
Format: Paperback
The Red House is the oldest continuously lived in house in New England. It was built by Walter Hatch in 1646. When he died, he left a will sayaing that the house could never be sold. It was to be passed down from generation to generation. It was, for over 300 years, until 1965 when Sarah Messer's parents bought the house. The author alternates between telling early history of the house and her own family's history. She does this only marginallly successfully. The historical stories of the house are interesting, her family's stories are not. Some of the family stories are relevant and relate to the house, but then others seemed to be tossed in for no apparent reason.

At one point, the author describes one of her boyfriends: "He smelled like geraniums, screen doors, metal screws. Once, while walking, he grabbed a handful of apple petals and stuffed them into a tree. "There, this is you," he said."

Snippets and memories like this are tossed in amongst the house's story. It is jarring, and I found myself reading over them quickly, except some of them are just so odd, like the one above, that I tried to figure out the reasoning for including them.

I'm giving this 3 stars based on the parts having to do with the house, the rest would get zero to one stars.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Paula Higgins on August 23, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is beautifully written and in many places, it reads like poetry. Having come from Scituate, Massachusetts myself I know how accurate her descriptions of old houses are (I do not know the author). She has a true feel for the early period of this country and what life was like at that time. Mr. Murena (another reviewer) you are wrong. Ice did actually form in water bowls even in rooms with fireplaces if they were placed at the opposite end of the room. This is documented as fact by people living in early American homes in New England even into the 19th century. It's true that forks were in use in England by 1608 by the very privileged Mr. Murena, but they were not in use in early America until much, much later. Especially not by the early settlers. So she got that right too. Check your facts, she did.

So back to the book. It's a wonderful read. I couldn't put it down and finished it in one night. Her descriptions of the early overgrown road behind the house is just like one that ran behind our house in Scituate. The book evokes accurate images of the past in wonderful detail. She alternates the story of the Hatch family, who originally built and lived in the house, with the story of her own family. The house is fascinating enough on its own, but the families are what gives it life. It even has a ghost or two. What more could any reader want. I strongly recommend this book. I intend to read it again.

Paula Higgins
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Anne D. Hernandez on February 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I started to read this book on a Saturday and invented excuses on Sunday so that I could stay at home and finish it. It will definitely merit a place on my shelf of favorites. The intertwining of the story of the house and the story of the Messer family is masterful, and the writing itself is so flowing that you just can't stop at the end of each chapter. I highly recommend this book to anyone with a love of New England history, old houses or just a good story!
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By E. A. Smith on August 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book on several levels. First, a disclaimer, I'm a friend of the author's sister. So the book was interesting from that perspective. But I loved reading about the generations of the Hatch family as well as the impact of living in a centuries old house on the Messers. Anyone who has a relationship with a house which goes beyond the mere structure can relate to this story of emotional attachment to the building known as home. And Sarah Messer's poetic talents are evident in the beauty of the prose.
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