Micajah Currier (1774-1818), postmaster and merchant; Hannah Brown, shopkeeper
c 1800 - The Currier-Brown Store - 12 Portland Street
Part of South Berwick Historic District, this building is also part of the South Berwick Village District on the National Register of Historic Places. The date of this building has not been determined, but there is evidence it could be among the oldest buildings in the village and belonged to merchant and town postmaster Micajah Currier, who died in 1818. Currier left the store to his widowed sister, Hannah Brown, and Sarah and Mary Jewett’s generation referred to it years later as the Brown Store. Thomas Jewett seems to have been in business with Currier briefly before building the Jewett store next door.
In the late 1800s, Mary Jewett, sister of author Sarah Orne Jewett, described as “the oldest store” one that stood where a Portland Street auto repair business is today. That store, Mary wrote, was “said to have been the first store built in the village, with the Brown Store … a close second.” With the older one now gone, it would seem that the Brown Store now ranks as the oldest store in town, though we don’t know just how old.
On a South Berwick map of 1835, a building at this location is said to belong to a Widow Brown. A South Berwick survey and map of 1805 also mentions a Brown having a store in this area. But earlier, it seems to have belonged to a merchant named Micajah Currier, who was the town's postmaster in 1816. At the time of his death in 1818, Currier was a member of the Baptist Church that stood on the Plain at the present site of the Soldiers Monument, according to a pew rental in the archives of the Old Berwick Historical Society. He lived at the Currier House, now 85 Portland Street.
A daybook of Currier's store from 1808 to 1818 is in the archives of the Winterthur Museum in Delaware. Their records say his business seemed to be a general store, but transactions also included the sale of lottery tickets to support the construction of a canal, presumably one of Currier's business ventures. We do not know where the proposed canal would have been.
The widow was likely Hannah Brown, who had married Jonathan Brown in 1806, according to Vital Records of Berwick, South Berwick and North Berwick. The date of Jonathan’s death is not known, but in 1817 Hannah’s brother, Micajah Currier, who apparently was childless, made out his will leaving his store to Hannah.
“To my sister Hannah BROWN and her children,” he wrote, as reported in York County Will Abstracts, “the house they now live in with the land adjacent the same and the rent of my store in South Berwick during the life of my sister, and after her decease I also give to my nephew Micajah BROWN, her son, the store aforesaid.” Thus the store had been Currier’s for some time. The location of the Browns’ house, probably nearby, is unknown.
In her memoir in the late 1800s, Mary Jewett tells that the old Jewett family retail business, prior to its longtime address at 10 Portland Street, had once been in a different location than and that “a certain Mr. Brown owned and occupied the building.” In a deed of July 1815, Thomas Jewett, the great uncle of Sarah Orne and Mary Jewett, bought property that seems to be next door at 10 Portland Street. The deed makes reference to the Currier store, and the fact that Currier and Jewett briefly owned it together, calling it “Micajah Curriers Store now in the occupation of Currier and Jewett …”
Micajah Currier and Hannah Brown had a sister, Deborah. In 1817, the year Currier wrote his will, Deborah married attorney William Burleigh. Currier’s will bequeathed his house and land, perhaps the property where the Burleigh House was built soon after at 79 Portland Street.
In Currier’s will he also directed his executors to “purchase a good bell of size and weight eq to the bell now suspended over the meeting house in Dover,” inscribe it with Currier’s name, and erect it “for the use of the inhabitants of South Berwick forever,” provided they furnish a building for it within two years of his death. This bell has not been found, but Currier had another important legacy, the creation of a new municipal burying ground, Portland Street Cemetery. Currier’s tomb, shown above, was the first to be placed there, in 1818, when he died a year after writing his will.
On the South Berwick map of 1872, the name Hanson appears on the property. Nicholas Hanson, Jr., who owned a drugstore across the street in the Business Block, sold furniture and general goods here at that time. He probably grew up at the Hanson Homestead on Main Street. Hanson's sign appears to be the one in the photo to the left.
Writing some time later, Mary Jewett still thought of this building as the Brown Store, and because so many of its neighbors had been altered, she appreciated its antique appearance. “The Brown Store,” she wrote, probably about 1890, “is the only one left showing its original shape of roof, nearly or quite all the other old buildings left having been changed from this shape at one time or another to their present ones.”
Today the building still contains many of its original features. (This article was written by Wendy Pirsig and revised in November 2020.)