Durham Historical Society member, John Ertle, will lead a hike to the Pest House on Saturday, April 26. Everyone is welcome. The town Pest House was built in the 18th century as a place to quarantine townspeople with infectious diseases, mainly small pox. The town voted to build this structure and by December 1760 it had been completed and was in use. The Pest House was a 20 by 30 foot wooden structure and had a cellar, fireplace, and well. By 1790 the Pest House was no longer needed and the structure was sold. All that remains today is the foundation, a well, and a small gravestone for Timothy Hall. Hall’s family also placed a memorial stone in the Old Durham Cemetery that reads: “This Monument is erected over an empty Tomb to the memory of Mr. Timothy Hall who died with the small pox July 29th, 1775 in the 50th Year of his Age as his remains was interred near the Hospital in this Town.”
Records indicate that several people were buried near the Pest House, but no definitive number has been confirmed with any archeological investigation. In Fowler’s history of Durham, published in 1866, the author noted that there are a few stones marking graves and that the area was quite neglected. The site remains largely untouched even today. Other families purchased memorial grave markers for their loved ones who died from the small pox but were not brought back into town for burial for fear of spreading the infection. The memorial stone for Mr. Phinehas Spelman, also located in the Old Durham Cemetery, reads “In Memory of Mr. Phinehas Spelman who fell victim to the Small Pox December 30th AD 1783 in the 47th Year of his Age.” The Pest House property, and surrounding land, was bought back by the town of Durham in 2000 as open space.
Anyone interested in participating should gather at the historical society (38 Town House Road, next to the Town Hall) at 9 a.m. We will all proceed to the site from there. Please dress appropriately for the hike and the weather and bring a camera if desired. Members of the historical society will be available to answer questions. You may contact Sarah Atwell at (860) 716-5497 with any questions.