An Irish tanner named Thomas Hart arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony on the ship Desire from Baddow, Essex County, England. He was briefly indentured to tailor John Brown in Boston. After ending his servitude in 1637, Thomas Hart settled in Ipswich and by 1639 had become a proprietor. In 1640 he built a one-room starter home, and gradually expanded it. Thomas Hart was widely respected and was one of the town’s first selectmen and a town clerk. Thomas Hart, senior died in 1673 and is buried in the Old Burying Ground along with his wife Alice who lived until 1682. They had two daughters Sara and Mary, and two sons, Samuel and Thomas.
It may be surmised that the junior Thomas continued residence in his father’s home and cared for the family. He was a corporal, then lieutenant in the Ipswich Company of Foot, a representative from 1693-4 and a selectman of the town. He continued his father’s business as a tanner. By the provision of his father’s will in 1674 he received a third of his father’s tannery as well as land about the house and six acres on “Muddy River”. Deeds show that in 1686 John Gaines conveyed six acres in “West Meadow” to Samuel and Thomas Hart, and 5 more acres to Thomas Hart in 1688.
In 1678, the younger brother Samuel Hart and his wife began a new house on the land he inherited from Thomas senior. Until recently historians believed that Thomas Hart’s original two room structure was the oldest section of Samuel Hart’s house, but recent tree ring dating indicates that the timbers were cut around 1680, and thus the name of the restaurant “1640 Hart House” in this building is no longer factual. Samuel’s house was probably similar to the post-medieval one built by his father, a one room first-floor hall (the “Keeper Room”) with an upstairs hall-chamber. Over the years additional rooms were added.
In the 20th Century, the one of the two oldest rooms of the Hart House was moved to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The other room is at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. The Keeper Room and the one above it at the Hart House are exact duplicates of those original rooms.