Historic New England Houses

The second place we stayed on this trip was in Maine and had the delightful name of Merrymeeting Retreat. It’s named after the nearby peninsula and bay of the Kennenec River to which it’s possible to walk, through woods, to see eagles nesting and other wildlife.

Our host told us that the house, below, was built in 1780 by Captain Samuel and Hannah Hinton Lilly. It stands next to the very quiet Route 128 (River Road) about 12 miles north of the historic town of Bath and about 8 miles from the equally historic (by American standards) town of Wiscasset to the east.

river road house

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The Old King’s Highway : Route 6A Cape Cod

The final nine nights of our September New England holiday were spent on Cape Cod at one of our very favourite places : The Lamb and Lion Inn at Barnstable. This year was our fourth visit but this shrank in insignificance when we met two couples who had been visiting for their 18th and 23rd times respectively.

The Lamb and Lion Inn right on the 6A

So, I was pretty familiar with the Old King’s Highway but have only on more recent visits realised the full historical significance of this road. When you cross the Sagamore Bridge you join Highway 6 the main dual carriageway that links the Sagamore with Provincetown 72 miles away. However, to reach the Lamb and Lion and follow a slower pace and drop down a gear or two you need to take the Route 6A to the north.

The 6A leaves the 6 at Sagamore and rejoins it just west of the town of Orleans and in total the OKH is 34 miles long and traverses seven towns and is just yards from the beach in some places. In fact it is hard to realise that you are so near the seaside as you drive along but turn left (north) down almost any lane as you drive from Sagamore to Orleans and you’ll find  sandy beaches hugging Cape Cod Bay or, nearest to us at the L&L, the lovely sheltered Barnstable Harbour.

Sunset at Barnstable Harbor Beach

When we stay on Cape Cod we have a very limited “comfort zone” so the part of The Old King’s Highway that I’m going to tell you about is just that between Barnstable and Dennis. I just checked on Mapquest and it’s a distance of about 11 miles.

I have tried to find out exactly which “Old King” the highway is named for but it’s not mentioned in the bits of literature that I have collected and no sign on “Google” either. I assumed King George III but it’s much older than that – a late 17th century extension of the King’s Highway from Plimouth. The whole of it is designated a Regional Historic District and is the largest such district in America. It is also one of America’s most scenic highways.

This 34 mile roadway winds through 7 cape towns, past hundreds of historic sites and landscapes, including farmsteads, cranberry bogs, salt marshes, sea captain’s homes, and village greens.”

In addition there’s America’s oldest library (The Sturgis Library), a famous artist’s home (Edward Gorey), a Coastguard Museum, a unique secondhand bookshop (Parnassus Books), an Historic New England property (The Winslow Crocker House), great eateries and interesting, one-of-a-kind shops and galleries, roadside fruit and veg. stalls (we recommend the heritage tomatoes), shipyards and churches and cemeteries and all of those just within our 11 mile zone.

Historic House plaque – one of very many along the 6A

Deacon John Hinckley House (one of many historic properties along 6A)

Thomas Hinckley Lived Near Here – such signs abound on the 6A!

Inside The Sturgis Library, Barnstable

The Trayser Coastguard Museum, Barnstable

Hallet’s Soda Fountain

My ice cream soda is ready!

Parnassus Books (so much more inside!)

The Winslow Crocker House

(Sea) Captain Bang’s Hallet House

Edward Gorey House

Sesuit Harbor Cafe

Sesuit Harbor

My Historic Maine Coast 1

” The last day of October in 1777, Colonel Jonathan Hamilton came out of his high house on the river bank with a handsome, impatient company of guests, all Berwick gentlemen. They stood on the flagstones, watching a coming boat that was just within sight under the shadow of the pines of the farther shore, and eagerly passed from hand to hand a spyglass covered with worn red morocco leather

‘The Tory Lover’ by Sarah Orne Jewett (1901)

Hamilton House is another property of Historic New England. This beautiful house is situated overlooking a peaceful and very wide stretch of the Salmon Falls River, just a couple of miles outside the town of South Berwick, Maine. It wasn’t always like this. When it was built in 1785 Jonathan Hamilton’s graceful Georgian home overlooked his busy shipping and ship building business and quayside.

The decor of the house today reflects the more recent ownership of Emily Tyson and her stepdaughter Elise. The Tysons made it their summer retreat during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This “Colonial Revival” style characterises the house today. Again no photography is allowed inside but it’s a large, light and airy summer house with breathtaking painted murals on the walls of the downstairs reception rooms. There are antiques, hooked rugs and other handcrafted decorative arts in all rooms.

The house has limited opening hours but the beautiful garden is free for all to visit and admire daily from dawn to dusk.

Sayward-Wheeler House is in York Harbor and like The Hamilton House stands on a bank above a wide river – in this case the York River.

On the obligatory house tour we are told that this house is unique amongst all 36 Historic New England properties in that it is the least changed over the centuries with virtually all its original furnishings, including wall coverings, in tact. The most curious room in the house is the Parlour where the larger items of furniture (that can be dated back to when the house was built) never fitted properly! A clock has had its finials removed, a cabinet, too tall for the room, had its pediment removed and it’s always been a mystery as to how the sideboard ever got into the room in the first place – by its dimensions it could not fit through any of the room’s doorways in any direction!

In The Country of The Pointed Firs

Just before leaving for my trip to New England I discovered the existence of an organisation that sounded like just my cup of tea: Historic New England. A close study of the website lead me to list 3 properties within easy reach of places where I’d be staying AND that would be open on a day or days when I would be able to visit.  I was especially happy to discover an author’s home just a 30 minute drive from our lodgings (The Dunes on the Waterfront) in Ogunquit, Maine.

Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909) lived much of her life in the town of South Berwick, Maine. She was born in this house at 5, Portland Street when it belonged to her shipbuilding grandfather but soon the family built a home of their own next door (now the town’s public library).

Sarah and her sister moved back to the original house in 1887. She spent much of her time in Boston and travelling but this house was always home. No photography is allowed  in the house but it was fascinating to see the decor is still the same as Sarah and her sister Mary chose for it. Following their deaths a lot of the furniture was distributed to members of the family but Historic New England have bought back many original pieces at auction.

Having discovered the existence of the house I was anxious to read one of her books in advance of my visit. I chose a good one! A Country Doctor was first published in 1884. Like most of Jewett’s writing it is concerned with the everyday lives of the people living in the countryside of Maine. In particular Doctor Leslie is based on her beloved father, Dr Jewett.

My friend Marion kindly gave me an illustrated copy of what is probably Jewett’s best known work The Country of The Pointed Firs. Her (Jewett’s) Deephaven is still in print in the USA and is set in the coastal Maine area around Ogunquit. Her books (those still in print) and other related works are available in the shop (where photography was allowed!).

There is a small garden around the house where today a gardener still carefully tends many of the herbs of the types that the Jewett sisters grew there during the nineteenth century.

On my way back to Ogunquit I sought out Sarah Orne Jewett’s grave on Agamenticus Road just outside South Berwick. I had been given instructions as to where to find it by the guide at the house. I expected a well-tended grave and was sorry that I hadn’t brought my own flowers. The tombstone was just about legible and the area filled with weeds. Sarah lies peacefully surrounded by various relatives including her sister. On the following Sunday a special ‘party’ was planned at the house in celebration of her birthday but sadly her grave is rather a forgotten memorial.

“Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away”