Great Estates: Hamilton House in South Berwick, Maine

Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff

Summer is the perfect time to explore lesser-known historic house museums, and Hamilton House in South Berwick, Maine—one of Historic New England’s thirty-six sites and a National Historic Landmark—is one such gem. Situated on a bluff that overlooks the Salmon Falls River, the house and grounds offer an idyllic retreat, and, as the slideshow below demonstrates, is an inspired setting.

Built around 1785 for the prominent local merchant Colonel Jonathan Hamilton, the 80-acre estate changed hands three times before it was purchased in 1839 by Alpheus Goodwin for use as a farm.  As agricultural production in New England declined over the succeding decades, Goodwin gave up his farm, and the property was purchased in 1898 by Emily Tyson, widow of the president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and her stepdaughter Elise as a fashionable summer residence. Tyson discovered the property through Sarah Orne Jewett, a close friend and neighbor, who used Hamilton House as the setting for her well-known novel, The Tory Lover.

With the help of architect Herbert Browne, the Tysons made renovations to the estate, including the addition of porches and a kitchen wing, while maintaining the integrity of the original historic structure and interiors, which they filled with period antiques including Sheraton-style furniture of the early 19th century, fancy painted chairs, colored glass, Chinese lacquer, and hooked rugs. One distinctive feature of the house is the striking pillar-and-arch wallpaper that lines the 45-foot long grand entry hall that was reproduced by the Tysons to match a pattern originally installed by Colonel Hamilton. The Tysons also commissioned George Porter Fernald to paint charming murals over existing foliate wallpaper depicting historic house of the Piscataqua region in the parlor, and classical ruins in the dining room. Maritime objects, including ship models and artwork collected by the Tysons, are scattered throughout the house.

The Tysons also cultivated a vast colonial-revival garden that is a striking feature of the estate. Arranged in garden rooms with period garden ornaments, it has been meticulously restored. Every Sunday in July Historic New England hosts a summer concert series in the garden beginning with Sunday July 5 with a performance by local musician Harvey Reid. Concerts start at 4 pm, and visitors are encouraged to bring a picnic.

Hamilton House is located at 40 Vaughan’s Lane in South Berwick, Maine, and is open Wednesday through Sunday from June 1 to October 15. Tours of the house are available on the hour from 11 am to 4 pm; admission is $8, and free for Historic New England members and residents of South Berwick. The grounds are open from dawn to dusk.

For additional information visit www.historicnewengland.org, or contact the South Berwick Office of Historic New England at (207) 384-2454. For details on the concert series visit www.southberwichmaine.org.