After 5 months of construction, the roof to the Porter homestead was raised on May 27th, 1752. The structure, large and imposing, was simply unlike anything else in the area.
Moses Porter, born on January 13th, 1722, grew up in the center of Hadley with his parents, Samuel Porter III and Anna Colton. The Porters were known for their influence in local trade, belonging to the powerful group of seven families known as the River Gods. At the time, these families dominated social, economic, and political hierarchy in the Connecticut River Valley. Samuel Porter died in 1748, leaving Moses Porter the land known locally as “Forty Acres and its skirts”. Moses built his farmstead on this land and it became known as simply “Forty Acres”.
The home was undeniably innovative and reflected his socially advantageous marriage, successful presence in local trade, and respected ancestry. As Elizabeth Pendergast Carlisle writes, he truly was a “visionary” in his planning. Upon approaching ‘Forty Acres’ in 1752, one would have immediately noticed the rusticated siding that covered the front three sides of the house. The façade is made of wood, carved and finished to resemble stone blocks. The art of imitation was respected and even praised throughout the 18th century, however, rustication was unheard of on residential buildings at the time, especially in rural Hampshire County. This technique required great skill and reflects Moses’ affluence. George Washington’s Mount Vernon featured rusticated siding but was built five years after Moses Porter’s home.
Moses also included stylistic aspects of traditional English manner houses in the design. Segmented pediments and flat arches were carved over the windows and entry, that were a Classical motif of the Italian Renaissance commonly used by English architects of the time. A medieval hewn, similar to one found on his father’s home, created more space upstairs. Additionally, a side door was built modeling houses in Southeastern England in the 18th century.
Within the home, Moses worked with an impressive central-hall plan. This feature was often prevalent in prosperous coastal communities, and ‘Forty Acres’ is the first of its kind in the area. In a typical mid-18th century home, central-hearth plans were much more common. With this method, space was built around a single fireplace- efficient, but lacking in privacy and division. Moses, however, had the means to construct a home that had a fireplace in each ground floor room. Masonry was very expensive, and fireplaces increased property taxes. The central-hall plan created the opportunity for a separation of space: formal from working, private from public.
In Carlisle’s words, “The design of a house is a design for living”. Moses built an impressive and unique home that was more than ample for his family of three and two slaves. The house Moses built has existed through more than 250 years of transition and growth. Upon arrival today, the grand reveal of the estate still invokes that same sense of awe that must have existed in 1752.