Historic Building of the Week: A house divided still stands on Washington Street

The Pritchard House sits at the corner of Washington Street and Franklin Street. Photo by Marblehead Historical Commission

The interesting thing about buildings, and perhaps the most obvious thing about them, is that they can be used for countless purposes. Preserved historic buildings are a perfect example of how a building’s use changes throughout time. In architecture, this is called adaptive reuse. 

Rather than tear down an old home and build something from the ground up, why not use a perfectly fine, maybe a tad old and stuffy, pre-existing building? Not only does it save the hassle of rebuilding, but it also preserves a piece of history. 

Think about the little museums, shops, and venues around the North Shore that look straight out of the 1700s on the outside, but hold something updated and contemporary on the inside. Think, for instance, about 2 Washington Street.

Today, the house, also known as the Pritcher House, sits at the corner of Franklin and Washington Streets. It is sometimes known as the Pritchard House, after its 18th century owners, Charity and Benjamin Pritchard, a tailor. Before them, however, the parcel of land changed hands a number of times starting with the earliest record in 1649.

Pritchard was the first to build a home on the lot. He built the house in 1754, which is evident by the classic Colonial style. What is not evident, though, is the original roof. As it stands now, the building has a gable roof. That is, the sides of the house go straight up to a point. Originally, the house had a hipped roof.

According to a newspaper article, Pritchard died on November 4, 1768, after falling into a well and not being able to get up. 

“[He] fell head foremost into the well and was found the next morning with his head in the mud at the bottom of the well and his feet just out of the water,” the article read. 

According to the paper, Pritchard was the second person to fall into that well and die.

In 1801, Pritchard’s descendants divided the property in half — literally. Two groups drew an imaginary line through the house and dealt with both sections separately. During this period of split ownership, multiple renovations occurred. The first floor was redone and the chimney was replaced.

Later, sometime around 1888, a man named Sam “Cracker” Stone acquired the building and opened a seafood restaurant. Yes, in the late 19th century, a man with the nickname “Cracker” ran a seafood restaurant out of a house. 

The reason Stone’s Restaurant began is often attributed to the advent of street cars, from which summertime vacationers and residents alike could probably smell the food being fried just steps off the street. Prices at the restaurant at that time ranged from a 15 cent lobster roll or fried clam plate or a 5 cent slice of pie or cup of coffee. A whole fish dinner only cost 75 cents. 

The restaurant operated well into the 1937’s until the owner, Bill Howe, died in 1937. The building then returned to residential use, serving as apartments until a fatal fire in 1953. From there, history repeats itself– the building changed hands throughout the 20th century, with some owners renting out parts of the building. 

The Pritchard House is a lesson on what is possible when we make an active investment in history. Each resident (and restaurant owner) made a decision to keep the building’s exterior historic, even if the roof is slightly different. Perhaps the interiors are new and modern, but if you are walking or driving by, you are transported almost 300 years into the past, when a man who fell into a well decided to call Marblehead home.