Doors open to history as Akin House hosts tours

Nov 27, 2021

The mantels at Akin House, a preserved historic home at 762 Dartmouth St. that predates the Revolutionary War, were decked in holiday greenery, understated and elegant, as the building was opened to tours Saturday, Nov. 27.

Outside, fresh green wreaths stood on pallets outside, sold to the public by members of troop 2019 who enthusiastically called out to passing drivers.

The two might seem like unrelated events, but in fact, they share a deep-rooted connection: The scouts of troop 2019 strongly support historical preservation. Earlier this year, the scouts used tools of the era to create 18th century benches to serve as extra seating for events at the house.

“Scouting is a great tie-in to preservation because we teach it in the curriculum of Scouting,’’ said Kerri Santos, advancement chair for the troop. 

So the Scouts were familiar with the setting when they were looking for a location to sell wreaths. The house is located along busy Dartmouth Street, with traffic constant on the long holiday weekend.

The scouts approached Diane Gilbert, president of the Dartmouth Heritage Preservation Trust, which oversees the house and its preservation efforts. They asked permission to sell wreaths on the lawn. 

Gilbert immediately agreed, but then had an idea: Why not open the building for tours at the same time? “That would be a perfect partnership,’’ she said, uniting a modern event with a home that stands witness to history.

The house on Dartmouth Street was built in 1762 and purchased by Elihu Akin in 1769, largely, historians suspect, for the land surrounding it, which was used for farming. His other holdings were more vast, including a tavern, larger home and wharf in what is now Padanaram. 

Akin was a prominent supporter of the American Revolution, and was instrumental in forcing three loyalists to leave the Dartmouth area. Some, including Gilbert, believe that his properties were targeted in the September 1778 fires lit by British troops along the South Coast as an act of vengeance.

This house was spared, she said, because “the British probably had no idea this was an Akin house.’’

The house was home to members of the Akin family for nearly 250 years. Because the house was lived in for centuries, the home features elements of many different periods, from Greek revival fireplaces and mantels to a Federal style door and some Georgian elements.

“There’s a ton of history in the house,’’ Gilbert said. 

But by the early 1980s, the home had been left to decay, its history obscured by shag carpets and faux wood paneling. “Most people didn’t think it was worth saving,’’ Gilbert said.

But others disagreed and put time and money into restoring the house.

The house was purchased by the Waterfront Historic Area League, Inc. of New Bedford (WHALE) through Dartmouth's Community Preservation Act Funds and the work to preserve it began. In 2007, the Dartmouth Heritage Preservation Trust, Inc. took over the property and its restoration.

As work continues on the house, Gilbert hopes visitors “get an appreciation for Dartmouth’s history, especially for the Akin family, one of the founders of Dartmouth,’’ in particular South Dartmouth.

With 2022 on the horizon, the country is nearing the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which will be celebrated in 2026.

“This is as good a time as any for people to develop an appreciation for Dartmouth’s history and the role it played in the American Revolution,’’ she said.