The Great Room
The Great Room is, with the room above it, the oldest part of the house, dating to the last third of the 17th century. When new, these rooms were essentially the entire house, except for a lean-to shed where the eastern end of the Kitchen is now. However, the only elements now visible that are from that early period are the long “summer beam” which crosses the ceiling and the chimney girt into which it runs above the fireplace. Col. John Alden added all of the rest of the room; the fireplace paneling, chair rail, cupboards, plaster walls and ceiling, and floorboards, during his renovations of the house between 1711 and 1733. The 1733 is derived from dendrochronological evidence of a floor joist or sleeper added when the floor height changed at the time the paneling was installed.
The plaster, which is by report made with lime with crushed seashells as aggregate and horsehair as binder, dates to this early period. The gray paint dates to the 1960s or later. The original paint in the House appears to be (from surviving examples) two shades of gray – an earlier dark one and a later lighter one, with subsequent overlays of cream or white. The gray shade should be darker, and a flat rather than semi-gloss finish. Some of the window sashes were replaced in the 1950s, but they had been replaced before. The original windows were presumably typical diamond-paned, leaded glass casement windows (that opened out like little doors), as the double-hung, up-and-down sash window was an innovation of the late 17th and early 18th century.
The room was the “hall” (principal function room) of the house, which served as kitchen, gathering room, eating room and even best bedroom, much like the single-room houses at Plimoth Plantation. Even after the house was enlarged and renovated by Col John Alden, the best bed was located in this room, and the “second best bed” in the chamber above. The walls were originally either vertical board paneling or plaster on laths nailed to the external vertical board siding, as is true of the Master Chamber above. Will Gwilliam discovered an older layer of plaster on the external wall behind the present double wall.
Except for some of the chinaware in the cupboards and the artifacts in the glass case, the furnishings are not Alden family relics. They were acquired subsequent to the 1955 auction in which Charles L. Alden’s heirs sold the contents of the house. We therefore have an assortment of significant or well-known colonial objects in the room which may be described individually, but which do not otherwise have any real reason for being together in this room.