George Campbell Yeaton (1836-1918), Smuttynose murder prosecutor and Sprague murder defense attorney
1903 – Attorney George Yeaton House - 15 Academy Street
This building is part of the South Berwick Village District on the National Register of Historic Places. George C. Yeaton, Esq., built this home at the height of his career. His famous cases included the 1873 trial in Alfred of the Smuttynose murders at the Isles of Shoals, and his successful 1901 defense of South Berwick selectman Edwin H. Knight in a sensational trial for the murder of his housekeeper, Fannie E. Sprague. Later in the 20th century the house became a restaurant and then an inn. It then became a student residence owned by Berwick Academy and called John Hancock House.
Prominent South Berwick lawyer George C. Yeaton built this Grand Colonial style Victorian home on the site of his previous residence. Begun in 1899, the house was completed after four years of construction at the height of Yeaton’s career, and featured oak wainscoting, carved fireplaces, Austrian crystal chandeliers and leaded glass windows.
George Campbell Yeaton was born in South Berwick on May 22, 1836. His father was Isaac P. Yeaton, owner of Leigh’s Mills grist and lumber operations on the Great Works River during the mid to late 1800s.
South Berwick in the 1850s, showing Yeaton’s Mills at present-day Leigh’s Mill Pond, where George Yeaton was probably raised. He eventually built his house across Academy Street from the Congregational Church, top.
Yeaton attended Berwick Academy and Bowdoin College, and practiced law in South Berwick for many years. His first office was near Central Square at Main and Portland Streets and was destroyed in the fire of 1870. A Dover newspaper, the Enquirer, reported that Yeaton “lost everything, including some valuable documents belonging to different individuals.” He re-established his practice back at the Corner afterward, at an address not presently known.
Yeaton’s famous cases included the 1873 trial in Alfred of the Smuttynose murder at the Isles of Shoals. He served as York County Attorney from 1871-1874, according to the 1880 History of York County. At the time of the trial, he was living on the site of the present house, and shared the property with the minister of the Congregational Church across the street, Rev. Silvanus Hayward.
In 1901, with the new house under construction, Yeaton defended Edwin H. Knight in a sensational South Berwick trial for the murder of Fannie E. Sprague, and was known all over New England if not the country.
At the turn of the century, elm-lined Academy Street was the route of the South Berwick trolley, and riders could take "elegant" electric cars to Dover, Portsmouth or York Beach.
The home remained in the Yeaton family until the late 1950s when it opened as the Homestead Restaurant, an upscale establishment that sometimes attracted nationally acclaimed actors from Ogunquit Playhouse among the clientele.
In 1962 Berwick Academy obtained the house for use as faculty housing and then a dormitory. Eventually it also became the headmaster's residence. In 1972 it once again became a private home, and later a bed and breakfast inn.
(Article by Wendy Pirsig. Updated December 2020.)