Historic New England’s Hamilton House

My second stop on my adventure in Maine was Historic New England’s Hamilton House, located in South Berwick just down the road from Sarah Orne Jewett House Museum & Visitor Center. These Georgian style homes were built around the same time, with Hamilton House constructed around 1785 by wealthy privateer Jonathan Hamilton. He copied and enlarged the architectural features seen at Jewett House. Notable similarities include the layout of the houses, three-story buildings with four rooms on the main floor, a grand central staircase, and a wooden arch in the atrium, reminiscent of a ship’s hull. Hamilton House is more traditionally decorated than its counterpart across town, with Neoclassical wallpaper and white trim. The owner of this opulent manor paid double the taxes of the next best house in town. Due to the high price in upkeep and the economic downturn surrounding the Jefferson Embargo of 1807 and the War of 1812, the Hamilton family was forced to sell the house during the second generation.

Hamilton House framed by a pergola; A Georgian house viewed through a short white wooden pergola in a garden. A stone path leads through the pergola.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett
Atrium archway at Hamilton House; A white, wooden archway in the atrium of a home, near a grand staircase.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett

The homeowners of Hamilton House and Jewett House were well-acquainted for several generations, as they were the wealthiest members of the area even during a bad economy. Sarah Orne Jewett loved the building and convinced her friends, widowed heiress Emily Tyson and her stepdaughter Elise Tyson, to purchase and preserve Hamilton House. She even included the house in her novel The Tory Lover. In return, the Tysons memorialized Jewett’s home on a custom mural painted onto the wallpaper in their Parlor. Created by George Porter Fernald, it depicts architecturally significant buildings in the Piscantaqua River region of Maine and New Hampshire. Additionally, the adjoining parlor was decorated in a Tory Lover theme, with customized valances featuring silhouettes of the main characters.

View from the Parlor into the Hall at Hamilton House; A Neoclassical mural painted on the wall around an open door revealing a large hallway and another room.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett
Dining Room at Hamilton House; A dining room with a square wooden dining table and matching chairs. On the left wall is a fireplace with a mirror hung over the mantel. The back wall has two large windows with sheer white curtains and painted wallpaper. A decorative clock hangs between the windows.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett
Vaughan Chamber at Hamilton House; A pair of twin beds with matching white coverlets and wooden bed frames. Framed paintings hang over the beds.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett
Tyson Chamber at Hamilton House; A bedroom with a poster bed cover by an intricate canopy, a pair of rugs on the floor, furniture, and floral wallpaper.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett

Outside the home is the Salmon Falls River, a tributary of Piscataqua River marking the border of Maine and New Hampshire. The gardens are filled with seasonal flowers. Outbuildings include a rustic garden cottage and a bright red shed. The venue can be rented for weddings, with one being set up during the tour. Photographers will love to linger both inside and outside to capture stunning images.

Garden Cottage at Hamilton House; The front of a small brown house seen across a green lawn. A stone wall stands in front of the house. A large window with a semicircular top takes up much of the front of the house.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett
Side of Hamilton House overlooking Salmon Falls River.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett

Tours run on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from Historic New England’s open house in June through mid October with tours on the hour at 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Tickets are standard Historic New England pricing: $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, $7 for students, and $0for Historic New England members. The house is not accessible by wheelchair, and the stairs might be too steep for people with low mobility. Hamilton House does not have an online virtual tour at this time.

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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.