Historic New England: Sarah Orne Jewett House Museum & Visitor Center

Located in South Berwick, Maine 一 thirty minutes north of Portsmouth, New Hampshire and an hour south of Portland, Maine 一 Sarah Orne Jewett House Museum & Visitor Center is operated by the non-profit organization Historic New England. This pair of historic buildings were once homes to local romance novelist Sarah Orne Jewett. Literary critics have compared her to a better known American author, Willa Cather, for her use of “local color”, or using dialectical spellings for speech alongside detailed descriptions of the landscape and the people in it. Jewett’s books shared the stories of Maine characters familiar to her and her neighbors.

Jewett’s houses originally belonged to her grandfather and father. The older building, purchased by her sea merchant grandfather in the 1820s, was originally constructed by the Haggens family in 1774 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The house tour covers this space. The neighboring house where Jewett grew up, called the Jewett-Eastman House for its own entry on the Register, acts as admissions, a small gift shop, and an art gallery. Additionally, the house has an elegant and accessible bathroom with blue wallpaper. The entire complex is part of the South Berwick Historic District.

National Register of Historic Places plaque for Jewett-Eastman House
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett
A curios table covered in a white tablecloth with figurines, pictures, and books.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett

The Sarah Orne Jewett House was constructed in the classic Georgian style, its symmetry acting as a symbol of the family’s wealth. The library, parlor, and dining room were all decorated in a mix of Victorian and Colonial Revival styles, with a few special pieces to hint at its famous owner. Porcelain owls refer to one of Jewett’s nickname, “Owly”, for her wide eyes and ability to see everything around her, which she translated onto the pages of her novels. A table in the front parlor held a collection of her favorite things, a common conversation starter for upper-class Victorian era women. The upstairs rooms are similarly decorated, with the highlight being Jewett’s writing desk in the hall near the front window.

Library at Sarah Orne Jewett House; A cozy library with a tiled fireplace, a clock with a lyre shaped body hung on a bright red wall among photographs and paintings, and a table with a red and black paisley table cloth covered with books and an oil lamp.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett
Dining Room at Sarah Orne Jewett House; A dining room with a small wooden table and chairs, a fireplace with a decorative covering, gold-and-blue wallpaper with a matching carpet, and paintings hung on the walls.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett
Upper hall of Sarah Orne Jewett House; A hall with green floral carpeting, matching green and red wallpaper, white crown molding, a wooden railing, and the writing desk of Sarah Orne Jewett in the far right corner.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett

Jewett was a fascinating person, which the tour clearly conveyed. Each unique aspect of her life, including her understanding of herbs and traditional medicine in an attempt to cure her chronic illness, her close relationship with heiress and fellow writer Annie Fields, and the tragic accident ending her writing career, could each be a story on their own.

Library Chamber (Guest Room) at Sarah Orne Jewett House; A bedroom with a poster bed, matching chair, fireplace, and portrait over the mantel.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett
Fancy Visitor Center Bathroom; a blue vase with white, fresh flowers sits on top, while the room is covered by blue and white wallpaper with organic shapes.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett

Tours of the house run on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in June through mid October with tours on the hour at 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The tours last for forty-five minutes. Tickets are standard Historic New England pricing: $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, $7 for students, and $0 for Historic New England members. The house is not accessible by wheelchair, and the stairs might be too steep for people with low mobility, but a virtual tour is available on the website.

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Abigail Epplett

Abigail Epplett leads a dual life as a freelance digital marketing consultant for small humanities-focused organizations and as a customer experience design creative specialist at lab equipment manufacturer Waters Corporation. She holds an MA in Museum Education from Tufts University, where she researched the history of New England from Plymouth to the Civil War. To learn more about her adventures with museums, visit her current blog at abbyeppletthistorian.blogspot.com.