Sayward-Wheeler House: Seaside Home of a Tory in York, Maine

For the past six years, a group of my favorite eight ladies have been coordinating a Girls Trip somewhere on the coast in early June. I went the first year, then skipped a few due to life getting in the way, but was excited when I got the invitation earlier this year and that the destination had been decided as York, Maine. I was of course excited to see them, but doubley excited when I realized that there were two Historic New England homes nearby that I could check off my list!

This group of girls are amazing. They’re so supportive & genuine – I mean, I got standing ovation when pulling off an admittedly amazing parallel parking job, and really, who doesn’t need a standing o every once in a while (and definitely when parallel parking)?! I was so happy to have three of them accompany me on the visit to this house, so this is a special one for me!

Historical Highlights

  • While Joseph Sayward was the family member who purchased the already existing home in 1720, the story of the house truly centers around his son, Jonathan. Joseph was notoriously bad with finances, and due to this prominent status in the church of the seaside town of York Harbor, Joseph was actually voted out of debt by the town itself in 1732 (sweet deal if you ask me). His son Joseph then purchased the house from his father for $200 – it’s likely he did so to protect the asset from any future misfortunes on his father’s part, and so it would remain in the family.
  • After Joseph passed away in 1747, Jonathan lived in the house with his wife & mother. At that point, the house was a traditional “two over two”, meaning two rooms on the bottom and two over them on the second floor. Jonathan added some paneling and a small bedroom on the first  floor in 1767, but other than that there have been no major renovations or alterations (even to the furnishings) to the home in over 200 years – which is why it’s considered one of the best examples of an colonial interior in the United States!
  • Jonathan Sayward considered himself a trader, and developed quite a lumber trade, even getting involved in West Indies trading, a very lucrative business at that time. The location where he lived was perfect for it – right on the coast. He solidified his business and furthered his fortune when his only daughter, Sally, married a well known Boston merchant.
  • Jonathan, similar to his father, was always involved & interested in politics, and even became a representative in the General Court in Boston. However – Jonathan was a Tory, believing that the colonies were not strong enough to stand on their own, and was very fearful of the consequences of a failed rising against the British. Obviously, this was not a popular sentiment at that time, but Jonathan stood his ground, even being called out specifically by Paul Revere in a drawing where Jonathan was depicted as being driven into hell by the devil. Yikes.
  • With his strict British loyalties, and his being so vocal about them, you can imagine this had an effect on his business, his involvement in the General Court, and beyond; he was even worried for his personal safety and that of his family.
  • On the tour, the guide will read direct quotes from Jonathan’s journal, which are super eye-opening about this time in American history, as it’s not often that we hear from someone who supported the British. Many of these entries are from 1775, which was a rough year for Jonathan. The revolution was in full swing, his wife died, and he continued to be ostracized by his beliefs.
  • As the years passed and America declared their Independence, Jonathan’s fortune continued to diminish. He passed away in 1797, leaving the home &  contents to his grandson Jonathan Sayward Barrel. It must come with the name, as this second Jonathan was not much better with money than his grandfather. However, we can now thank him as he didn’t have money to put into the house and make alterations or renovations.
  • The family continued to struggle financially, even at one point mortgaging the house to Theodore Lyman (yes, of the Lyman Estate in Waltham – another gorgeous Historic New England home! I love when I find out that all these homes & families are somehow connected).
  • Finally, Elizabeth & Mary Barrel received the title for the house in 1841 and were able to make small adjustments, including a new doorway which faced the road and not the ocean – as times were changing and they were welcoming more people into the home from the road than the sea those days! However, they were very proud of their heritage and were insistent on keeping the home the way it was, even back to Joseph & Jonathan’s time.
  • In 1900, another descent of the family took over the deed to the home and turned it into a summer home, adding on a porch and dormers in the attic for more sleeping quarters (and some updated bathrooms, of course). This family member presented the home in 1977 to Historic New England, asking that it be preserved “as a unified whole” – furnishings and all. And that’s how you see it today!

Favorite Spots

Front Parlor

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This is one of the first rooms that you visit during the tour, and one that you may spend the longest in! Furnishings are almost exact to how the home would have been set up in 1885 – and there is a photo there to prove it! The intricate (reproduction) wallpaper and the larger than life portraits of the family that lived there are really special.

Sitting Room

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You hear a lot about Jonathan in this room, as his writing desk is there and his most prized possession, the clock. It’s easy to image Jonathan writing letters at the desk, hunched over and stressed out about how his loyalties to the crown were affecting his businesses and his family. But, one has to hope that a quick peek out the front windows at the gorgeous view of the river helped to ease his anxiety at least a little bit.

Upstairs Bedroom

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I loved the upstairs bedroom, which would have been a wonderful place to wake up on a summer morning as a guest of Elizabeth or Mary. The views here are again so pretty!

Kitchen

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This was in fact the second kitchen to the home, as the first kitchen was actually what is now called the Sitting Room. However, the big hearth is impressive with all its serving spoons, pots and pans. And, make sure you take a closer look at the mantel – there’s an awesome carving from 1799!

Porch

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Added after 1900, this would be a place that I could easily camp out for the day, week, or even summer!

Eye Spy

  • There is a super friendly kitty cat who wanders the property – make sure you say hello!
  • Make sure to ask about George Octavius Barrell featured in the oil painting at the top of the stairs on the second floor – there’s an interesting story about his wedding ring!
  • The thermometer in the sitting room is like none I’ve ever seen – amazing to see how technology has changed
  • The interior shutters in this home are similar to that of pocket doors – which I had never seen before!
  • Note the top of the clock, the mirror and the desk in the sitting room – what happened there? They were “customized” to fit in the room!
  • I loooooved Mary Barrels trunk in the second floor bedroom – I want one for myself!

Visiting Tips

  • Make a day trip of this one, and I highly recommend bringing a couple of fabulous girlfriends to do so! But really – there are so many other things to do in York, Maine that you simply have to spend the day!
  • Not to mention there are other historic homes nearby, including the Sarah Orne Jewett House and the Hamilton House. I’ve also heard that the Old York Gaol, the oldest jail in the United States, is a must see but I simply ran out of time. Next trip!
  • Lastly – eat some lobster! When in Rome…

Top Photos

Below are some of my favorite shots of the Sayward-Wheeler House but I’ll be sharing more on our Facebook & Instagram pages! Enjoy!

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