Probably East Iceland’s oldest house
The Eskifjörður building known as Jensen’s House, likely to be the oldest anywhere in eastern Iceland, has now been restored. Its background is described by Einar Bragi in the first volume of Eskja, his history of Eskifjörður. The house is a wooden building and is thought to have been erected in 1837. At the time it was the first of its type in town, apart from two merchants’ homes.
A cabinetmaker, Páll Ísfeld by name, is thought to have built the house for a man called Jón Jóhannesson, who sold it to another cabinetmaker, Þorgrímur Jónsson, in 1846. According to the 1854 parish member records, the area magistrate Jónas Thorstensen was living in the house at that time. The next to make his home there, from 1861 to 1867, was Bjarni Thorlacius, Eskifjörður’s first doctor. In 1875 a cooper named Jens Pétur Jensen bought the house, and remained there until his death in 1912. Ever since, the house has been named after him, although by 1970 it had been home to numerous other people.
Jensen’s House is small by comparison to modern homes, with a footprint of about 4 x 8 metres, consisting of one storey below a steeply gabled loft. The bottom floor consists of two rooms, one on each end, together with an entryway in the middle that opens to a kitchen and to stairs leading up to the loft. The kitchen has a brick chimney, though it would originally have had an open hearth. The loft has two bedrooms beneath its sloping ceiling, one at each end.
Because of its age, Jensen’s House has been protected as a historical building for many years, but restoration work did not begin until October 1993, when panelling was removed from the interior walls. The original walls had never been disturbed enough to speak of, but had been covered in various ways. Just this past spring, the restoration project began in earnest. A new stone foundation was built beside the house, somewhat higher than the original one, which had sunk. On account of its proximity to newer buildings, the house was then moved a little more than its own width away from the lot boundaries, and now stands near the centre of the lot.
The municipality of Eskifjarðarbær [later within Fjarðabyggð] owns the house and has carried out the restoration, with partial funding from the Building Conservation Fund. The house had previously been purchased by the Eskifjörður Historical Society, with help from the anniversary fund of Landsbanki bank and from other contributors. Architect Þorsteinn Gunnarsson prepared plans and blueprints on behalf of the Building Conservation Committee and the National Museum of Iceland. The project was overseen by curator Geir Hólm, Eskifjörður, in consultation with the carpenter Hans Einarsson and Pétur Karl Kristinsson. Some local teenagers were also involved as they participated in Eskifjörður’s summer work programme.
20 August 1996