581 Boston Post Road
Built in 1685, the Deacon John Grave House is one of the oldest houses in Madison. It is believed to be one of the first homes built in the eastern settlements of Guilford. A unique aspect of the property is that it housed nine generations of the Grave family, all the way until 1978. A logbook kept until 1797 by the first four generations of this productive clan provides fascinating details about the transactions made by the family—their debts, their household inventories, and other important records of their lives and occupations.
The very first Grave to live in Guilford—John Grave I—served for more than two decades as deputy to the General Court of the Connecticut Colony; during much of that same period, he also served as the town clerk of Guilford and was a deacon at the first Guilford meetinghouse. The very last Grave descendant to live in this house—Mary Elizabeth Redfield—also carried on the Grave tradition of public service until her death in 1933. A teacher at Lee’s Academy, she served on the board of education and held the curious position of School Visitor. As far as we can determine, in that capacity she went from district school to district school, ensuring that they were well managed and running smoothly.
The house, built on land deeded to John II by his father, John I, has served a variety of purposes over the course of three and a half centuries. First and foremost a home for his large family, John Grave II also used the house as a tavern/inn from 1703-1715, thus placing the property as a social center for the town. When John II began to teach school in 1707, offering lessons to his two sons and seven other male children, the classes may have been held in the house, but that detail is not documented. Two inhabitants, John Graves III and his son Elias Graves, served as Justice of the Peace, and they used portions of the house as a courtroom and judgment room. The house served briefly as a hospital for wounded soldiers in the French and Indian War, as well as a storage space for military supplies. Slaves, servants, and boarders are all among the hundreds of people who lived and worked in this remarkable home.
A unique architectural feature of the house is the small, hidden compartment built in its attic. Located on the north side of the house at the back of the central chimney, the purpose of this space is uncertain. Access to the area, which measures about 8 feet x 5 feet, requires the removal of loose boards. Also notable is the home’s massive chamfered summer beam with lamb’s tongue stops.
Today a visit to the house offers a lively tour that provides vivid detail of the entire history of the house. Summer visitors will also enjoy the lovely perennial border in the rear garden, stewarded generously by the Garden Club of Madison.
Tavern nights and hearth cooking are among the events visitors can also enjoy here. In 2006 The DJG Foundation produced an excellent fact-filled book called Making Ends Meet: Financing Every-Day Life for a Madison Family 1685-1865.Available for purchase or as a gift with a donation, it explores the ways that early New England financial affairs affected the daily lives of the Grave family and their community. It also provides a brief history of the settlement of the town and much other wonderful detail that will add to a visitor’s understanding of colonial life and the development of a new nation.