This is a second time I have toured the Hamilton House, but I feel like I learned so much more this time. I’m not that crazy about historical museums, but I do love touring old homes like this one, it always feels a little more personal. The house itself is still very much the way the last owners left it in.
Jonathan Hamilton was born in 1745 and was a Berwick native who rose from humble beginnings to in the mid-1780s becoming the most prominent merchant in the region. Between 1785 and 1788 Hamilton created his own country seat at Pipe Stave Landing, building a grand mansion on the bluff overlooking the river. Tax records from 1798 indicate that Hamilton’s house was the highest valued in Berwick nearly double to that of the next largest home in Berwick.
From his new home, Hamilton conducted trade, built and serviced vessels, ran a shop, and became part owner of a nearby mill. After Hamilton died in 1802 his sons did not carry on the business at the same level of prosperity. There are allusions to their lack of ability and integrity, but most likely they were caught in the crunch of the Jefferson Embargo of 1807 and the War of 1812.
The war crippled shipping throughout New England, bring about the decline of many family fortunes and the death of small shipping centers like Berwick. Hamilton’s daughter Olive and her husband Joshua Haven purchased the property from Hamilton’s sons, living there between 1811 and 1815. The property was owned by Nathan Folsom, a former business associate of Hamilton, from 1815 to 1839. Folsom, who purchased the house as an investment, probably leased it during this period.
In 1839 Hamilton House was purchased by Aipheus Goodwin and his wife Betsy. The Goodwins were farmers and, as New England’s economy shifted away from shipping and toward agriculture, it was fitting that the town’s landing now became a family farm.
The Goodwin family raised sheep and a variety of other crops at Hamilton House for several generations. Although the family enjoyed several decades of prosperity, the agricultural economy began to suffer from western competition toward the end of the nineteenth century, causing the family’s resources diminished and the house fell into disrepair.
The old-fashioned look of the house endeared it to local author Sarah Orne Jewett, who feared it might be torn down if sold to the wrong buyer. In 1898 Jewett convinced her friend Emily Tyson, widow of the president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and her stepdaughter Elise Tyson to purchase the house. The Tysons were part of a new wave of summer residents who were caught up in the Colonial Revival romance of owning country houses which reflected the grace and prosperity of colonial forebears and provided a healthful rural retreat away from the heat and pollution of cities.
The Tysons hired Herbert Browne to oversee some interior changes and to design additions to the west and east sides of the house. The Tysons also embarked on creating a grand Colonial Revival-style garden at the east side of the house encircled by an elaborate pergola. Important additions to the property made in the following decade included murals painted in the parlor and dining room of the house by George Porter Fernald and the construction of a garden cottage built from salvaged pieces of a colonial home in Newington, New Hampshire.
After the house tour sat and had a little picnic under a tree by the river. We had salads, coconut brownies, and our friend made the nicest raspberry turnovers that I’m definitely going to try making.
The Hamilton House is by the edge of the Salmon Falls River, about ten miles for the Atlantic Ocean.
After lunch, we wandered through Vaughan Woods for an hour or two, then headed home, stopping in South Berwick to walk past the Sarah Orne Jewett House, and to find coffee.
It was such a lovely day, in a beautiful place.