History of the Square House
The Square House, (labeled in the 1797 map on the right as the “Stage House”), has stood through 21 owners, starting with Jacob Pierce, a yeoman farmer who purchased the land from the original settlers of Rye prior to 1675. Pierce, a soldier in the Connecticut troops, built his house sometime between 1675 and 1683 and died around 1690 while on an expedition in northern New York.
Pierce’s widow and her new husband sold the property to Peter Brown who built a new house on the site in the early 1700′s. That house now forms the left side of the current structure. It is thought that Brown used Pierce’s house as his kitchen, but any remaining part of the Pierce house was demolished in 1905 when the building became the municipal hall. Brown also built a mill on the Blind Brook behind the Square House.
After Brown’s death, the house was sold to a blacksmith and then to the Rev. James Wetmore, whose son Timothy first operated it as an inn and tavern beginning in 1760.
The Revolutionary War
The Square House was transferred twice more before being acquired by Dr. Ebenezer Haviland, a surgeon and a barber, in 1770. Dr. Haviland, a prominent member of the Rye community, acted as town supervisor, town clerk, and leader of the Rye Patriots. On August 10, 1774, a meeting of Rye residents was held, probably at the Square House, in response to the Boston Tea Party. The residents formed a committee, headed by Dr. Haviland, that supported the Continental Congress in Philadelphia and protested taxation without representation. During 1774, John and Samuel Adams stayed at the Square House as they traveled to and from the Continental Congress.
On August 4, 1775, Dr. Haviland was appointed as a surgeon in the Continental Army. He remained in the military until his death on July 28, 1781 in Connecticut. It is not known whether he died of battle wounds or disease.
Widow Haviland’s Tavern
Mrs. Haviland left the Square House during the war out of concern for her family’s safety. She returned around 1779 and continued to operate the tavern and inn until 1799. Dr. Gilbert Budd, Mrs. Haviland’s uncle, owned the property during this time period. In the 1780′s, he added the right side of the building containing two rooms on the first floor (now combined into one large room) and the ball room on the second floor. One of Mrs. Haviland’s daughters was an accomplished piano player and probably entertained their guests in the ball room.
Several prominent political figures visited the Square House during the late 1700′s and early 1800′s. In addition to John and Samuel Adams, George Washington stayed at the “Widow Haviland’s” twice in 1789. He famously wrote in his diary that “After dinner through frequent light showers we proceeded to the Tavern of a Mrs. Haviland at Rye who keeps a very neat and decent Inn.” During August, 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette dined at the Square House, then known as “Penfield’s Inn”.
Later History and Preservation
After Widow Haviland’s tenure, the Square House continued as a tavern under various owners until 1835 when David Mead, postmaster of Rye, purchased it and returned it to a private home. The Mead family owned the house until 1903 when John and William Parsons and John Howard Whittemore purchased the house to preserve it. The Parsons and Whittemore subsequently offered the property to the Village of Rye as a municipal hall. The property continued as the municipal hall until 1964 when it was leased by the Rye Historical Society, restored and turned into the current museum.
The Square House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has also been designated as a landmark by the City of Rye.