Historic Building of the Week: Gardner Cottage

An undated color photo photograph of the Gardner Cottage with a person standing in the garden. Photo by Marblehead Historical Commission

Usually when I read the Massachusetts Cultural Resources Inventory System (MACRIS) documents for a historic building, there are details about the people who built it, who they were, and why it was built. In other words, I am used to getting a fair amount of information, even if it is basic. 

Today’s building is a little different. The MACRIS records for the Gardner Cottage are sparse, to say the least. Instead of a long list of the cottage’s past owners or details about its construction, the first sentence under “Historical Significance” is “This house, because of its visual charm, has collected stories and traditions, which may or may not be true.”

Not everything about the house is hearsay; there are some facts we know about the cottage. The plaque on the building denoting its historical significance says that it was originally built in 1636 and was a lodging for a fisherman on Marblehead Neck. Sometime in the 1700s, the house was moved (allegedly by oxen) from the Neck to its current location at 7 Gregory St. In 1810, it was converted to “Gardner Cottage.” 

The house first appears on atlases around 1850 and is one of the first structures in the area. As listed in the 1912 real estate atlas, the property was under the estate of someone named W. T. Gardner for some time. The most recent owner is Gardner Cottage LLC, which acquired the property in 2020.

The building itself is subtle, a one-story colonial with a shingle exterior, set at an angle against the road. A rear ell addition, an extension to the length of the building built at a right-angle, was added in 1935.

We do not know as much about the Gardner Cottage as we do about other buildings in town, and what we might know may not be entirely accurate. However, this structure shows us that buildings do more than just put a roof over our heads. They hold people, yes, but they also hold stories, even if those stories are tall-tales.