Isaac L. Moore (1826-1886), shopkeeper

Moore House - 3 Liberty Street

On an 1872 map, this house is shown as the home of Isaac L. Moore (1826-1886), owner of Moore’s store at the Pleasant Street corner.

Isaac Moore was born into a large farming family in Newfield, Maine, about 40 miles north of South Berwick. His father died when when Isaac was only nine years old, and within a few years the family moved to South Berwick, where his older brother found work as a teamster, driving wagons. Later Isaac took work as a clerk in the grocery store of Benjamin Doe at the Landing. By the age of 22, Isaac was a partner in the grocery business of Doe and Moore. When Doe left for California to mine for gold in the Gold Rush of 1849, Moore stayed on as storekeeper at the corner of Liberty and Pleasant streets, opposite the cotton mill.

Early in the 1830s, attracted by the huge profits of textile mills built upriver, four local merchants bought property near the log dam at Quamphegan Falls with a plan to harness water power and manufacture cotton cloth. The Portsmouth Company produced cotton sheeting and drilling (used for bedding and clothes) in a four-story brick textile factory at the Landing. The factory building stretched along the riverbank below the falls and housed a spinning room, a card room, two weave rooms, and a cloth hall where finished goods were inspected. A bell in the central tower of the factory rang to call workers to and from their shift each day. By 1880, the company operated 216 looms and employed two hundred workers.

Moore’s store prospered as the mill neighborhood expanded. Local historian Annie Baer remembered Moore’s store from her childhood days in the 1850s:

“Isaac L. Moore’s store was a place of much business; he supplied most of the boarding houses with their provisions, and it was a general gathering place in the few holidays then observed [such as the Fourth of July].”

Moore Grocery advertisement from the South Berwick Cornucopia, June 22, 1871.

An advertisement in the Cornucopia newspaper from 1871 describes Moore as a “Dealer in West India Goods and Groceries.” West India goods were foreign cargoes imported by ship, including salt, sugar, molasses, rum, cocoa, tropical fruits (like bananas, oranges and lemons) from the West Indies, which are islands in the Caribbean Sea; and dishes, tea, silks, cotton cloth, dyes (such as blue indigo) and spices (like cinnamon and pepper) from Asia. Moore’s grocery also sold locally made provisions, such as bread, soap, flour, cornmeal, oats and rye.

Isaac married his wife Sarah about the time he started his grocery business. They had three daughters—Ellen, Abby and Geneva—who grew up at the Landing in a house Isaac built at 3 Liberty Street, next door to the store. By 1860 his household numbered 16 people, including his family of five, the family of Benjamin Johnson, his store clerk; and three young boarders working in the cotton mill. His daughter Ellen later married a store clerk, Fernando Harvey, who boarded with the Moores. But in 1886, when Isaac Moore died, his grocery business was taken over not by his children, but by two nephews from his hometown of Newfield.

The Maddox Store at the Landing about 1890. The wagon driver is Joseph and his son Albert stands in front in a white clerk’s coat.

Joseph A. Maddox and his younger brother Norris had never owned a business before they came to South Berwick in the mid-1880s. They both started work at the Hargrave Woolen Mill in Shapleigh, Maine, as teenagers, and had worked in damp, loud mill conditions all their lives. The incentive for Joseph, age 39, and Norris, age 32, to leave mill work must have been great. Joseph bought the store on Liberty Street, and Norris was the clerk there until 1888, when he took over another grocery on the corner of Main and Garland streets, just two blocks away. Eventually, Joseph and his son Albert owned a chain of five grocery stores—three in South Berwick and two in Milton and Lebanon, both mill towns on the Salmon Falls River.

The Joseph A. Maddox and Son stores operated for over 60 years until the 1940s. The corner lot on Liberty Street remained a grocery supplying food and household goods to the neighborhood through three families—Lord, Moore and Maddox—for over 150 years, anchoring the Landing community during its transformation from a wharf-lined harbor to a water-powered industrial site. 

(From an article written by Nina Maurer for the Hike through History.)