John G. Tompson (b. 1799), bookbinder and retailer
c. 1810 – John G. Tompson House - 229 Main Street
This building is part of the South Berwick Village District on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1825, John Goodwin Tompson founded one of South Berwick’s longest-running businesses, a book and stationery store. He lived in this house, and his bookstore, now gone, was several doors away to the south. The business seems to have operated continuously there until, in 1872, about the time of Tompson’s death, his son William took over and ran it into the 20th century.
John G. Tompson was 26 years old when he opened his book and stationery store, according to the 1880 History of York County. A South Berwick map of 1835 shows him living in this house at 225 Main Street, where he remained until his death in 1872. The 1857 Maine Business Directory listed him as a bookbinder.
Tompson's bookstore was several stores away from the house, next to the bank, in a building that once had contained the office of mill owner Thomas Leigh.
John G. Tompson was born on April 30, 1799 in Standish, Maine, according to family records. His father, William Tompson, was the eldest son of Rev. John Tompson, pastor of the First Parish Congregational Church, and had been born in Standish while Rev. Tompson served as minister there before coming to South Berwick at the close of the American Revolution, when William was almost 14. The church – forerunner of the First Parish Federated Church -- was then at the corner of today's Brattle Street and Old South Road (a neighborhood once known as Old Fields), and the Tompsons came to live at the Parsonage at 88 Old South Road. Across the street at today's 89 Old South Road was the home of Dominicus Goodwin, Esq. (c. 1741-1814), the church deacon. When William was 24 he married Goodwin's daughter, Hannah, who had been born in 1775. They moved to Standish, and named their second son John Goodwin Tompson.
John G. Tompson's uncles in South Berwick included William Allen Tompson, the preceptor of Berwick Academy who lived at today's 190 Main Street, and attorney Edward P. Hayman, cashier of South Berwick Bank. When John arrived here and set up in business, he had many other family connections through his mother's family and, of course, his grandfather, the minister, whose new church was built in 1826, a year after the bookstore opened.
An 1856 South Berwick map shows the J. G. Tompson house, the bookstore, and another Tompson building, perhaps a bindery shop, set back from the street.
On February 20, 1827, John G. Tompson married his mother's niece from the Old Fields neighborhood, Olive Elizabeth Goodwin (c. 1803-1864), daughter of Ichabod Goodwin. Their children included Anna Sara (1828-1864), William (1829-1911), Mary Goodwin (1832-1902), Martha Fairfield (1833-1833), John Goodwin (b. 1834), Charles Hayman (b. 1836), Annie, and Maria, who died as an infant in 1839.
Excerpts from a South Berwick map of 1872
A handbill from 1871 in the Counting House Museum archives shows the bookstore seemingly being auctioned off. However, ads in the Independent newspaper from 1905 and 1907 showed William Thompson still in business selling books and school supplies.
William Thompson (the family began using this spelling in the 1800s) was born in South Berwick on October 23, 1829, the second son of John G. and Olive Tompson. On May 23, 1857 William married Martha M. Sanborn (1837-1911). William ran the bookstore business into the twentieth century. He died October 19, 1914.
(Sources: Vital Records of Berwick, South Berwick and North Berwick; Records of the First and Second Churches of Berwick, Maine; History of York County; South Berwick Cemetery Record Book by John Frost; Tompson family records from Ralph Thompson, and research by Herbert W. Geiler Jr. This article was written by Wendy Pirsig and revised in 2020.)