History comes alive at the Akin House

Jun 23, 2019

As Dartmouth Heritage Preservation Trust staff led visitors through the Akin House, there was one person in the audience who did not need a refresher on the history of the historic Dartmouth family.

Kayra Dobbin is a descendant of the Akin family, and traveled all the way from Salt Lake City, UT to attend the Trust’s first living history event at the 1762 house, located on Dartmouth Street.

Surrounded by historical and genealogical data of her own heritage, and artifacts and documents collected at the site her family once called home was a moving experience.

“It’s so exciting to be here, and see the restoration of my family home,” Dobbin said. “It brings me to tears, feeling these walls, it’s like their souls are here.”

Restoring the house is a project the Trust has been working towards for years. The house had been abandoned since the early 1980s, after members of the Akin family called it home for nearly 250 years. It was initially a project of the Waterfront Historic Area League, Inc., but the Trust took it over in 2007.

Currently, the Trust is in the third phase of the project, explained Diane Gilbert. While work on landscaping and interior restoration is ongoing, the property was open for tours on June 23 during a special living history event called "Never Idle Hands: Living in Early America"

“We’re really trying to focus today on the 18th century — this is a 1762 house after all,” Gilbert said. “That’s what this is about, how it was back then.”

In front of the house, an array of common 18th century activities were ongoing. Leah Cairrao, dressed in historical attire, tended an open flame cooking roast beef covered in a variety of spices.

She and several other members of the Tea to Sea historical cooking group based the recipe off of reproductions of era cookbooks.

“It’s amazing what people cooked back then,” she said, noting that one of her cookbooks includes a recipe for onion rings.

Nearby, Jerry Vinci from Adriance Furniture showed visitors the process of smoothing out imperfections on a wooden table he was making. The company specializes in producing one-of-a-kind handmade furniture, an art which Vinci noted is underappreciated in modern times.

“It’s a difference between a piece that lasts you for 20 years, or a piece that lasts 250 years,” he said as he scraped away.

John Belcher, Brian Santos, and Steven Pacheco were on hand, dressed the part, to represent the colonial-era militia. John Belcher brought a collection of flintlock rifles he crafted himself, using historical designs to guide his work.

“Each one takes me two to three months,” he said.

Dean Rantz set up a blacksmith’s workshop on the lawn, with a bellows and hot coals to produce simple hooks and fittings.

“It’s something simple so people can see the process from start to finish in five minutes or less,” Rantz said.