fb-pixel Skip to main content

Still ‘authentic’: Lizzie Borden house renovations preserve history behind infamous unsolved murders

Tour guide Ryk McIntyre held a replica hatchet in the front room where the funeral services were held for the Borden parents during a tour of the Lizzie Borden House.RaRaRA

FALL RIVER — At 230 Second St., a green clapboard house sits eerily quiet. An American flag pokes out of the doorway, flapping in the wind, as shrubbery lies beside the steps leading up to the house.

The home blends in with the rest of the houses in Fall River — if it weren’t for the signs indicating it was the location of an infamous 1892 unsolved double murder and a hotspot for paranormal activity.

The Victorian-era home where Lizzie Borden was accused — and acquitted — of murdering her father and stepmother has undergone numerous renovations to preserve its dark history since Lance Zaal, CEO and founder of US Ghost Adventures, took ownership of the house in May 2021. Coming up on two years of ownership, the company gave the Globe a tour of the upgrades, expected to wrap up later this year.


“We have a duty to make sure that the house is taken care of,” Zaal said. “We get so many guests every year, and it’s an important piece of of New England history and Fall River history.”

Tour guide Ryk McIntyre stood on the front steps at the start of a tour of the Lizzie Borden House. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

The site where prominent Fall River residents Andrew and Abby Borden were found murdered by a hatchet has served as a museum and popular bed and breakfast since 1995, according to the museum’s website.

Restoration efforts began in the summer of 2021, according to Zaal. This included strengthening the foundation of the house, removing asbestos from the basement, and repairing a bulging wall along the house’s stairs, as well as modernizing touches, such as smart locks and a new stove.

“A lot of the renovations didn’t really disrupt [tours and overnight stays] at the house,” Zaal said. “We did it during the winter, our slow period.”

The house has long attracted ghoul lovers and ghost hunters hoping to experience a brush with the paranormal. While the home’s floral wallpaper is pristine and the ornate furniture is new, the abundance of old-timey patterns, toy dolls, framed pictures of Lizzie Borden, and other knickknacks transport visitors to the late 1800s.


A portrait of Lizzie Borden. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

And then there are the ghosts. Andrew and Abby Borden are said to haunt the house, Zaal said, and many guests tell him they’ve seen a woman in a white dress.

Tour Guide Ryk McIntyre claims he once saw a woman wearing a black, Victorian dress, hat, and veil while pulling his car into the parking lot behind the house. He noted Lizzie Borden often dressed that way, according to a book about her case. When McIntyre got out of the car, he said the woman had disappeared.

Most of the ghostly sightings, however, are reported in the basement, where McIntyre said a young girl once told him she saw the shape of an arm reaching out to her at the stairs.

On the back wall in the basement (behind the only spot in the house where the Borden family had running water), you can see what's looks like a face. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

But Zaal said restoring the home wasn’t just about keeping a local tourist attraction open; it was an effort to preserve a piece of history that has fascinated the nation for more than a century.

Portraits of the sheriff investigating the case and news sketches of the trial displayed throughout the house also showcase how the justice system worked at the time, and the feminist politics at play behind Borden’s defense, Zaal and McIntyre said.

“Besides bringing up the psychological element of the murders, there’s aspects that have been brought up like class privilege, the interplay of gender,” McIntyre said. “There’s so many aspects to look at the case.”


US Ghost Adventures has also created a Fall River ghost tour to showcase other parts of the city’s history, according to Zaal.

“Fall River has some really incredible, interesting, and tragic history,” Zaal said. “And we want to really tell that story of the city and kind of take a look at more than just the Lizzie Borden house.”

The house currently has six bedrooms available for guests, as well as one bedroom in the basement that will open in the spring.

Zaal said the company is waiting for zoning approvals to continue renovating the house. But there are already some significant changes.

Starting last summer, staff began moving museum artifacts, such as ceramics and books owned by Lizzie Borden, into protective display cases, said Jared Robinson, manager at the Lizzie Borden House.

“That was something that’s never really been done in the past,” Robinson said. “People can see all sorts of different angles of it here and [we can] make sure that those artifacts are protected.”

Zaal said he also wanted to improve the experience for overnight guests by installing smart locks and thermostats, as well as removing safety hazards.

One hazard was the antique gas stove used to cook breakfast in the kitchen. Guests or a breeze from open windows would frequently blow out the stove’s pilot lights, causing gas to leak and forcing guests to evacuate, Zaal said.


Now, the antique stove sits as display next to a new, modern stove.

“It doesn’t pose a threat to burning down the house or a gas leak, and doesn’t waste the local government’s resources with having to send out a fire car,” Zaal said. “That’s just a matter of being a responsible business and a good neighbor.”

Tour guide Ryk McIntyre stood in the second floor bedroom near where Lizzie Borden's step mother Abby Borden's body was found. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Another change to improve the guest experience was switching the old mattresses in the bedrooms with new ones, Robinson said.

“We did that last year and I haven’t heard a single complaint about our mattresses since then,” Robinson said.

Kaitlynn Borden, with her father, Ralph Borden, during a tour of the Lizzie Borden House. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Ralph Borden, a Fall River native and relative of Andrew Borden’s touring the home, said the renovations didn’t take away from his experience, and he felt as if he was in the 19th century.

“The house still looks very authentic,” Borden said, even with smart technology. “While it can seem out of place, it’s for the better.”

Zaal said restoring the house pays homage to the two victims and their stories.

“The great thing about this story is that people can listen to the facts, look at the house and how it’s laid out,” Zaal said. “Then come to a conclusion on their own about how a murder could have happened.”

Ashley Soebroto can be reached at ashley.soebroto@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ashsoebroto.