THIS HOUSE. I’m in love.
The Hamilton House was a hop, skip and a jump from the route that I was taking to the house I was sharing with eight of my girlfriends for the weekend on the coast of Maine so thought it would be perfect for a quick visit on my way, and admittedly I was already jazzed up. I skipped out of work early, and it was an absolutely GORGEOUS day, especially since the weeks before had been full of rain. So I think that between the picture perfect day, anticipation of seeing old friends, the wonderful tour guide, and the overall gorgeousness of this house there was nothing I could do but but fall in love with it.
Text Message to my Husband just after the tour wrapped up:
“This home tour was amazing. I’m not leaving and am moving in. Please come see me as time allows.”
- Jonathan Hamilton was a successful ship merchant, and native to Berwick, Maine. The majority of his business started in Portsmouth, NH but in 1783 he purchased the land where Hamilton House is today, and it was a perfect spot for him. It sits right on Salmon Falls River, only 10 miles by boat to the open ocean. A previous home did sit on the land, but likely burnt as there was no record of it after 1777, but had the moorings for a wharf which Hamilton put to good use. He amassed a fortune in the trade business, became a shipbuilder, a partial owner of local mills and more. He also owned sugar plantations on the island of Tabago and used his trading business to import rum & molasses (yay!) and as were the times, slaves (disgusting).
- Hamilton’s mansion, and it’s placement overlooking the river, truly are amazing. It quickly became the most lavish home in town, with records showing that it was the highest valued home in Berwick (double that of it’s next “competitor!).
- Jonathan Hamilton died in 1802, and unfortunately his two sons were not the acute business man that he was. They also took over the family business at a very hard time for American’s, with embargo’s and the War of 1812 knocking on the door. Hamilton’s daughter, Olive, and her husband bought the home from her two brothers and lived there herself from 1811- 1815, but at some point sold it to former business associate of her father’s, who owned it until 1839.
- In 1839, the home was sold to the Goodwin’s, a family of farmers. New England’s economy was quickly shifting towards agriculture, and it’s easy to see when you visit that the land that Hamilton House sits on would have been perfect for it. The story is that the Goodwin’s used even the attic to store grains and hay – great for the mice, terrible for the house. As time passed and the economy continued to change, the family’s resources started to dwindle, the house fell into disrepair, and it was put up for sale.
- One of Maine’s first women authors, and who also has a historic home essentially down the street, Sarah Orne Jewett, was enamored with the house and was concerned that due to it’s disrepair anyone who bought it would likely tear it down. So, she contacted her good friend Emily Tyson (widow of a railroad tycoon) and encouraged her to purchase it as a summer home. It wasn’t long before Emily and her step-daughter Elise were swept up into the beauty of the home, especially since it was very popular at that time for the wealthy to have a “summer cottage” in a colonial style where they could escape the hustle & bustle of the city. They ended up finally purchasing the home in 1898.
- Emily & Elise made a few renovations to the home, bathrooms and a new kitchen, but are also credited for the gorgeous gardens, the murals you see inside on the walls, and the adorable garden cottage. Lucky for us, Elise loved taking photographs and took many of her and her step-mother enjoying their summer home.
- After Emily passed in 1922, Elise and her husband met William Sumner Applegate (founder of Historic New England) and when they bought another home in Massachusetts, he convinced them to keep the Hamilton House, where they continued to summer until 1949 when Elise passed away. The home was eventually turned over to Historic New England, who manages it today!
I’m an absolute sucker for a formal garden. Not quite sure where it comes from, other than my castle/PBS/British obsession, and it is a far cry from what my actual backyard looks like. But this garden has it all – hedge walls, a fountain & sundial, an arbor, and a stunning view of the river. The peonies were just about to open up – there were SO many buds, I can’t even imagine how pretty they would have been just a few days after my visit!
The murals in this room are stunning. They were commissioned by Emily & Elise, and there are other Historic New England homes within the mural! It were painted over the existing wallpaper (if you look closely you can see the pattern peeking thru!) and became a mixture of a French scene and New England buildings. There’s a similar but different mural in the dining room, as well!
This is now the Welcome Center, but was built by Elise & Emily to entertain their guests after a long carriage ride thru their acres of woods next to the river. (which is now a state park, Vaughn Woods after Emily’s husband) Not a bad place for a drink and a bite after a “long” day of relaxing at your summer home!
While I actually think Emily got the pick of the litter (her room across the hall has views of both the river and the garden!), Elise’s room just had more character to it. The trim work was amazing (and very similar to what I saw at the Sarah Orne Jewett Home) and it just was full of bright light bouncing off the river below.
Grand Staircase & Entryway
Before I knew of the connection between Emily & Sarah Orne Jewett I stepped into the grand entryway and knew it looked familiar. The reproduction wallpaper is beautiful, and I love the peek you get up to the second floor with the ship in the window.
- I loved the window valences on the first floor of this home – I had never seen any like them before! Plus, the ones in the second parlor on the first floor have a special significance to their friend Sarah Orne Jewett, which I thought was really special.
- All of the materials used to build the garden house are what we would call “reclaimed” today – they came from other homes at that time period. Take a closer look!
- In the kitchen, note the color coding of the china inside the butlers pantry cabinets- they match with each bedroom! I think I would have liked the green room :0)
- Make sure to ask about the millstones you see throughout the garden!
- Honestly – just visit! I took the last tour of the day, and remember saying out loud to myself in the car “I don’t want to leave yet!”. I easily could have brought a picnic and sat staring at that river on that gorgeous afternoon for hours. (I have no idea if this is allowed, but I also already stated I’m moving in soo….)
- York, Maine is not far away, and as mentioned there are two other Historic New England Homes in the area – Sarah Orne Jewett Home and the Sayward-Wheeler House.
- With my Hamilton music obsession (just bought tickets for my second show!) – can you believe I didn’t even think to ask if there was a connection?! Can someone find out?