In this installment of Wandering Maine, we will be taking a walk through Castle Tucker.
I absolutely love touring this historical houses and learning about their rich history and the history of the people that lived there and I have a lot of it to share with you. If you don’t really care about the history of the house, just enjoy the pictures.
Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas in Lincoln County and a U. S. Congressman, Silas Lee was one of the wealthiest and most prominent citizens in town. In 1807 Silas Lee built a large brick Regency-style mansion at the end of High Street, Wiscasset on a hill overlooking the Sheepscot River. This was to be the Lees’ townhouse, designed for hospitality and gracious living. He and his wife Tempe named the house Elm Lawn, inspired by the two large elms near the house.
Unfortunately that same year, the Jeffersonian Embargo crippled New England’s seaport economy. Silas Lee was heavily invested in shipping and real estate and was hit hard. He died in 1814 in a spotted fever epidemic, leaving his wife Tempe to settle his debts. She sold Elm Lawn and built a smaller house on her remaining portion of the land. Wiscasset went from a sparkling boom town to an impoverished coastal village in a very short period of time
1814 through 1857, Elm Lawn had a series of owners, changes and repairs made to the house during those years and were not documented. In the 1840s and 50s Wiscasset was in a period of prosperity as the cotton trade brought the shipping industry back. In 1856 Franklin Clark, a local politician, bought the house and began what appeared to be significant renovations. These included moving two of the house’s chimneys to the end of each semi-circular bay, replacing central windows that had previously lit those rooms. Unfortunately, Clark did not have the money to pay for these changes or any other of his failed investments. He was apprehended by the local sheriff at the train station trying to leave town, defaulting on all his debts.
Richard H. Tucker Sr. (pictured) was a successful ship captain and owner who had built a fortune shipping goods from New England and Charleston, South Carolina, to Europe via Liverpool and Le Havre. He and his wife Mary Mellus Tucker lived in a small house on Main Street in Wiscasset, where they raised three children, Richard, Joseph, and Mary. They later built a large brick home in the best neighborhood in town on High Street. Franklin Clark was their neighbor and an occasional business contact of Captain Tucker Sr. After it became clear that Clark was broke and had been less than honest in his business dealings, Tucker urged his eldest son to purchase Elm Lawn from the creditors when it came on the market.
In November of 1858 Franklin Clark’s creditors, John B. Swanton and John Jameson of Bath sold Castle Tucker to Captain Richard H. Tucker Jr., for the sum of $10,500. Tucker Jr. had decided to purchase the property after being urged by his father to return to Wiscasset, by that time, the mansion was listed as a country house in the county records. Richard, his young wife Mollie and their newborn daughter Mary moved into the house in December of that same year.
Throughout the 1870s and 80s, money as in short supply and Mollie Tucker was increasingly hard-pressed to find enough to pay the bills at Castle Tucker. She was also burdened with the enormous workload. The Tuckers usually had at least one female servant to assist her, and her daughters helped out during their occasional visits. By 1890 she began accepting summer boarders. This was a very common and accepted practice among upper-middle-class and even wealthy owners of large homes on the coast of Maine at that time.
The Tucker’s youngest daughter Jennie Tucker continued to live at Castle Tucker until her death in 1964. She realized that the family’s thriftiness and relative poverty over the years had resulted in Castle Tucker presenting a unique and almost unchanged look into the nineteenth-century life that was important to preserve. She passed on this belief to her brother’s wife, Ruth Standen Tucker, and their two daughters. Mary and Jane, Jennie left the house to them. Jane Standen Tucker moved east in 1965 after a successful career as an accountant in Alaska, the Middle East, and Europe.
She moved into Castle Tucker and began to preserve and record her family’s history and the house. Working with Historic New England, then known as the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, and other experts for guidance, she undertook repairs and restorations as she could over the years. Jane opened the house to visitors occasionally, she also entertained in the home, providing many Wiscasset residents with fond memories of time spent here.
Jane also established the Wiscasset History Committee, worked with the Wiscasset Library organizing and donating material for their Genealogy and History Room, and served on the board of the Lincoln County Cultural and Historical Association. In 1997 she gave the house and all its contents, along with a large archive of family letters, documents, and ephemera, to Historic New England.
Jane Tucker lived in the house until 2003 while working with Historic New England to catalog the thousands of objects, furnishings, books, prints, costumes, and textiles contained in the house. In 2003 Historic New England opened Castle Tucker as a historic house museum.
Wiscasset isn’t a town I’ve spent any time in before, we have passed through on our way to Boothbay and Bar Harbor but never spent more than a few minutes there. I definitely want to get back there and explore the town itself soon.
Check out more of my Wandering Maine series.