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Sarah Orne Jewett's South Berwick

Sarah Orne JewettNovelist, poet and short-story writer Sarah Orne Jewett was one of the luminaries of turn-of-the-century American literature. Her exact, kindly descriptions of the people and places she encountered near home gave Jewett’s writing a freshness that quickly became popular. She brought the world up the elm-lined streets, through the old-fashioned gardens and into the quiet kitchens of this small river town.

Young Sarah Orne JewettSarah was born in 1849 into a town full of family. Her Jewett grandfather and great uncle had made their fortunes trading and building ships on the Salmon Falls River. They owned two of the grandest houses in town,and their children settled nearby. Sarah’s own father was a doctor (and her mother the daughter of a doctor) who often took Sarah on his visits to patients and their families in the neighboring countryside.

As a woman Sarah split her life, living part time with her sister in South Berwick – riding, gardening,and boating on the river – and part time with her intimate friend Annie Fields, traveling abroad or mingling in the artistic life of Boston. She died in South Berwick in 1909.

--From the Sarah Orne Jewett Walking Tour brochure by the Jewett Eastman Memorial Committee, trustees of Jewett Eastman House.

A visitor to contemporary South Berwick can follow in Sarah's footsteps and see much of the built and natural environment that shaped her life and influenced her writing.  The following is a tour of Sarah Orne Jewett's South Berwick. (This article was updated in May 2012.)

 
1. Sarah Orne Jewett House, 5 Portland Street

Sarah Orne Jewett House, South Berwick, Maine

Built in 1774. Jewett was born here on September 3, 1849, the second of three daughters of Caroline and Dr. Theodore H. Jewett. This stately Georgian house was then owned by her shipbuilding grandfather, Captain Theodore F. Jewett. (Read an 1825 letter Capt. Jewett sent home from a voyage.) A few years after Sarah’s birth, her family moved into their new house next door. In 1887, Sarah and her older sister Mary settled back here. By then, Sarah was often in Boston or abroad, but this is the house she called home. The sisters added dormer windows to the attic and repainted the dark exterior white. The colorful interior is much as the Jewetts left it, with the author’s desk still set at the top of the stairs, overlooking the center of town. Sarah died here in 1909. The house is a National Historic Landmark, owned by Historic New England, and is open for guided tours on weekends from June 1 to October 15.  Read more....

--From the Sarah Orne Jewett Walking Tour brochure by the Jewett Eastman Memorial Committee, trustees of Jewett Eastman House.

 
2. Jewett-Eastman House, 37 Portland Street

Jewett-Eastman House, South Berwick, MaineBuilt in 1854. Sarah lived in this Greek Revival house from the age of 5 to 38 and wrote over 140 works, including Deephaven and A Country Doctor, from here.  Many traces of the Jewetts, such as the Delft tiles surrounding the fireplace in what was the family’s living room and the initials Sarah carved into a window pane in the kitchen, remain. The house is owned by Historic New England.The South Berwick Public Library occupied the house from 1971 to 2012.  Read more...


--From the Sarah Orne Jewett Walking Tour brochure by the Jewett Eastman Memorial Committee, former trustee of Jewett Eastman House.

 
3. Jewett Gardens, Main and Portland Streets

Sarah Orne Jewett Garden, South Berwick, MaineSarah’s writing is full of gardens, including those surrounding her two family houses.  Near the museum entrance to the Jewett House a collection of flowers and herbs from Sarah’s most famous novel, The Country of the Pointed Firs, now grows. Further behind the house along Main Street runs the broad aisle garden, planted with perennials and annuals from Sarah’s era. The white rose bush at the northwest corner of the Jewett House and the lilacs along the Portland Street fence are probably the very plants Sarah tended. When the red well house just behind the library was recently restored, a signature by 14-year-old Sarah was discovered. The gardens are open to the public year round. 

--From the Sarah Orne Jewett Walking Tour brochure by the Jewett Eastman Memorial Committee, trustees of Jewett Eastman House.

 
4. Raynes House, 96 Portland Street

Miss Raynes' schoolBuilt c. 1810. Olive Raynes (1833-1923), who lived and conducted school in this house, was Sarah’s teacher – possibly here, or in a building right across from Sarah’s home, where the Mobil Station now stands. Miss Raynes moved her school into this, her parents’ house, about the time Sarah left for Berwick Academy in 1861.  Read more...

--From the Sarah Orne Jewett Walking Tour brochure by the Jewett Eastman Memorial Committee, trustees of Jewett Eastman House.

 
5. Thomas Jewett House, 151 Portland Street

Thomas Jewett House, South Berwick, MaineBuilt c. 1795. Thomas Jewett, who built this imposing house, was Sarah’s grandfather’s brother and business partner. The house was renamed the Grant House in 1979 when it became part of a complex of housing for the elderly. The Civil War Memorial across the street was originally named Jewett Park in honor of the family. Almost 200 men from South Berwick fought in the Civil War, when the town’s population was about 2,600.  Read more...

--From the Sarah Orne Jewett Walking Tour brochure by the Jewett Eastman Memorial Committee, trustees of Jewett Eastman House.

 
6. Senator Elisha and Sally Jewett House, 176 Portland Street

Senator Elisha and Sally Jewett House, South Berwick, MaineBuilt c. 1800. Sally – another Sarah Orne Jewett – and her husband Elisha were both cousins of the author. In 1864, when they were in their forties, their last child, also named Sarah Orne Jewett, was born. All three Sarahs were named after the author’s grandmother. The infant Sarah and her mother died within a year of each other when the future author was a teenager.  Read more...

--From the Sarah Orne Jewett Walking Tour brochure by the Jewett Eastman Memorial Committee, trustees of Jewett Eastman House.

 
7. Portland Street Cemetery, Agamenticus Road

The headstone of Sarah Orne JewettEstablished in 1818.  Sarah, her parents, two sisters, grandparents and many other members of the Jewett family are buried here. The author and her immediate family are buried in a plot to the right of the central alley, about halfway up the slope, just beyond the large Burleigh mausoleum. The inscription on Sarah’s gravestone, “Until the day break and the shadows flee away,” comes from the Song of Solomon 2:17.  Read more...

--From the Sarah Orne Jewett Walking Tour brochure by the Jewett Eastman Memorial Committee, trustees of Jewett Eastman House.

 
8. Odd Fellows Block, Portland Street

Odd Fellows Block, South Berwick, MaineBuilt 1845. The Odd Fellows is a benevolent fraternal order. Sarah’s father and two of her cousins, John Nealley and Elisha Jewett, were among the ten men who founded this branch in 1845. The Odd Fellows met upstairs, while merchants, including Sarah’s uncle William Jewett, had shops on the ground floor. Read more...

--From the Sarah Orne Jewett Walking Tour brochure by the Jewett Eastman Memorial Committee, trustees of Jewett Eastman House.

 
9. Old Jewett Store, 10 Portland Street

Old Jewett Store, South Berwick, MaineBuilt 1815. Sarah’s grandfather and great uncle ran a shop here. Writing in the 1890s, Sarah’s sister Mary described some of their stock: “Who nowadays would know what Rouen cassimere was, or calimanco, or paduasoy, and yet all these and many other like materials were of common use a hundred years ago, and perhaps later.” Read more...

--From the Sarah Orne Jewett Walking Tour brochure by the Jewett Eastman Memorial Committee, trustees of Jewett Eastman House.

 
10. Business Block, Main Street

The Business Block in South Berwick, MaineBuilt 1871. The crossroads of Main and Portland streets, also called Central Square, where the road from Portland meets the road to Portsmouth, was still lined with gabled wooden shops in Sarah’s childhood. On the night of July 25, 1870, a fire grew too fast to quench with well water, and the row of shops and houses burned to the ground. The Jewett House across the street was saved by being covered in wet blankets and carpets. Within the year, the shops were replaced by the current brick structures.  Read more...

--From the Sarah Orne Jewett Walking Tour brochure by the Jewett Eastman Memorial Committee, trustees of Jewett Eastman House.

 
11. Cushing House, site of Central School, Main Street

Cushing Mansion, South Berwick, Maine Central School was built in 1925 when the town modernized its school system by replacing the many neighborhood school houses with a single downtown building. In Sarah’s lifetime,the Cushing House, a mansion on the scale of the Nealley House next door, was here.  When the reclusive Elizabeth Cushing died at age 92 in 1886, Sarah wrote to Annie Fields: “Her mother was a kind of little old duchess with great social faculty, a friend of Lafayette in the war times, so that on his royal progress he took pains to come see her. I used to hear the call related with great particularity when I was a little girl.” Read more...

--From the Sarah Orne Jewett Walking Tour brochure by the Jewett Eastman Memorial Committee, trustees of Jewett Eastman House.

 
12. Hon. John B. Nealley House, 169 Main Street

John B. Nealley House, South Berwick, Maine Buiit c. 1830. This grand house, perhaps based on a design by architect Asher Benjamin, was home to Sarah’s cousin Mary E. Jewett (1817–1890) and her husband John Nealley (1810–1886), who practiced law and served in turn as town tax collector and as a state senator. Their children attended Miss Raynes’ School on Portland Street with the Jewett girls.  Read more...

--From the Sarah Orne Jewett Walking Tour brochure by the Jewett Eastman Memorial Committee, trustees of Jewett Eastman House.

 
12a. Capt. Samuel W. Rice House, 151 Main Street

Capt. Samuel W. Rice House, c. 1800A map of 1856 indicates this was the home of packet captain Samuel W. Rice, who lived from 1784 to 1858.  He was probably Sarah Orne Jewett's great uncle, is buried in the Portland Street Cemetery near author's family, and would have helped inspire her many stories about sea captains.

Read more...
 
13. First Parish Federated Church, Main and Academy Streets

First Parish Federated Church, South Berwick, MaineBuilt 1826. The First Parish Congregational Church was founded in 1702 and moved to this site in 1826. When the Jewett family attended services, the parishioners sat in high square pews, later replaced by modern bench pews. Note this structure’s similarity to the Baptist Church a block downhill – the same builder is believed to have constructed both.  Read more...

--From the Sarah Orne Jewett Walking Tour brochure by the Jewett Eastman Memorial Committee, trustees of Jewett Eastman House.

 
14. 1791 House, Berwick Academy, Academy Street

1791 House, Berwick AcademyBuilt 1791. The oldest school in Maine, Berwick Academy was founded in 1791 as a boys’ private secondary school and voted to admit girls six years later. The Jewett sisters attended school here, as did generations of town children until South Berwick built a high school in 1960. Now the academy is a private day school offering kindergarten through high school. This is the original academy building. When the school outgrew it in the late 1820s, the house was pulled by a team of oxen down Main Street and used as a private residence. In 1966, it was returned to the hilltop in celebration of the school’s 175th anniversary. 

--From the Sarah Orne Jewett Walking Tour brochure by the Jewett Eastman Memorial Committee, trustees of Jewett Eastman House.

 
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