Thomas Boylston Parks (1789-1861), merchant; Samuel Harding (c. 1780-1844), sea captain; Dennis Ferguson (1815-1900), tanner
c. 1808 - Parks-Harding House – 184 Portland Street
This house is part of the South Berwick Village District on the National Register of Historic Places. It was likely built about 1808 by Jacob Heard (1771 - 1844). From 1814 to 1833, it was the home of merchant Thomas Boylston Parks (1789-1861), who was associated with the nearby Baptist Church and the Parks Store on Main Street . The house then passed to the family of Capt. Samuel Harding (c. 1780 - 1844), a sea captain. The Hardings, also Baptists, owned the house until 1865.
This house was described by author Sarah Orne Jewett as a home that “people of refinement and cultivation had planned … and lived in … with elegance and hospitality.”
The Heard family. County probate records (YCRD 97/126) suggest that Jacob Heard (sometimes spelled Herd or Hurd), who lived here with his wife Sally, may have built the house. He was born in 1771 and died in 1844, and owned the property from 1807 to 1810. Vital Records of Berwick, South Berwick and North Berwick indicate that five children apparently were born to Jacob and Sally here between 1798 and 1805: Vilruveus, Phendeus, Ira, Cylene, and Mary Jane. Apparently the family then moved to Sanford, where Jacob and Sally Hurd and their children and grandchildren were eventually buried off what later became Route 4 near Country Club Road.
County records show the property next belonging briefly to Robert Butler and then Robert Foxwell Cutts. On June 4, 1814, 25-year-old merchant Thomas Boylston Parks (1789-1861) bought the house (YCRD 146/113) and started a family who lived there a little over 19 years. Parks expanded the property with two separate purchases in 1814, and the property is described as being "an acre, more or less."
The Parks family. The Parkses -- Thomas B.'s parents and siblings -- were energetic entrepreneurs who had come to South Berwick from Boston via New Hampshire just after 1800, when Thomas, the youngest, was still a boy. They were Baptists associated with the meeting house on the Plain, on the site of the later Soldiers' Monument. The church had been in existence since the late 1700s, and in 1817 the minister, Rev. Ebenezer Boyd, owned the Lambert House next door to the Parks home. Along with many Portland Street neighbors, the Parkses were active in Baptist affairs and rented a center pew in the meeting house. In 1818 Thomas was listed as a teacher in the Sabbath School.
By the mid-1800s members of the Parks family owned so much property around downtown South Berwick, that they sometimes called the town “Parksvill” as a joke, according to family letters. Their most notable South Berwick retail business, the Parks Store on Main Street, is shown on a map of c. 1835 as being owned by Thomas and his older brother Samuel. Over the years their brother-in-law, Job Harris (c. 1773-1869), who in 1828 had married their sister Mary Parks (1779-1860), was a partner. In 1819 Thomas B. and Samuel Parks shared ownership of an earlier store that seemed to be on Portland Street not far from the Parks-Harding House and that of another sister, Jerusha Parks and her husband Jedediah Jenkins.
Elcy Connery Parks
Thomas Connery Parks
Also in 1819, Thomas married Elcy Connery of Boston in South Berwick, according to vital records. The next year Elcy died, at the age of 23, after giving birth to Thomas Connery Parks.
Known in the family as Connery, the eldest son of Thomas B. Parks was among the children who welcomed the Marquis de Lafayette in 1825, according to family tradition. As a child he would have attended a Portland Street one-room schoolhouse that stood on the site of the later Schoolhouse No. 5. In the 1830s he briefly attended Berwick Academy, and was among the first of the academy boys to receive a Bible from the Lord Fund (established in 1817). He then spent one term at the Baptist school known as the New Hampton Academical and Theological Institution, now New Hampton School, NH.
Thomas Boylston Parks
Sarah Jackson Parks
In 1824, when Connery was four years old, Thomas B. Parks took a new wife, Sarah Jackson of Boston, daughter of Ward Jackson (1768-1845), deacon of the Charles Street Baptist Church. Originally from Scituate, MA (same town as John Cushing), Deacon Jackson was remembered by descendants as “hard shell,” according to Ted Spencer, great-great grandson of Thomas B. and Sarah Parks, and much of his wealth went into building the Charles Street Baptist Church.
At this moment, South Berwick's Baptist community was going through changes that are not now fully understood. In 1822 the Parks family seems to have been part of a group of 10 members, including Thomas's sister, Mary Parks, who broke away from the meeting house at the Plains to form a new Baptist Church, according to research by Ted Spencer. Thomas was a Sunday school teacher in the new group. A meeting house, the present First Baptist Church of South Berwick, was built in 1826.
During the first nine years of their marriage, Thomas B. and Sarah Jackson Parks lived at the Parks-Harding House. They raised Connery and had three more children, Lucy Jackson (1826-1879), Nancy Jackson (c. 1828-1895), and Ward Jackson (1830-1910).
Ward J. Parks (1830-1910)
In 1833 Thomas B. and Sarah Parks and their four children sold the house and apparently moved to Somersworth, NH. The deed (YCRD 146/114) says the house at the time of sale was occupied by Rev. Joseph Ball, and Parks had opened a store at the Great Falls bridge in present-day Berwick, according to the History of York County, 1880. Thomas B.'s sister and brother-in-law, Mary and Job Harris, seemed to move with Thomas's family and continued to be associated with the store at Great Falls for many years. Both families and their children retained close ties to South Berwick, especially to the Baptist community and the families of their close relatives, Samuel and Marianne Parks and Jedediah and Jerusha Jenkins. As a young man, Thomas Connery Parks often worked in the Parks Store on Main Street and his father's business in Berwick.
The Hardings. From 1833 to 1865, the Parks-Harding House was owned by the family of a sea captain named Samuel Harding (c. 1780-1844) and his wife Lucy, who also seem to have been Baptists. The Hardings had several children, four of whom seem to have been married in South Berwick.
In August, 1835, vital records show, Capt. Robert Harding, one of the Hardings' three sons, married Abby H. Seaver, daughter of a former preceptor of Berwick Academy named Josiah W. Seaver, who also was a founder of the new First Baptist Church on Main Street according to the History of York County. A Dartmouth graduate, according to historian Marie Donahue, Seaver served two terms in the state senate after Maine became a state in 1820, and in the state house of representatives in the 1830s. Seaver's first wife, Abby's mother, was a daughter of Gen. Ichabod Goodwin, whom Seaver succeeded as sheriff of York County in 1824.
Capt. Robert Harding apparently took Abby to sea, from a letter from Sarah Parks to her son Ward, away at school (June 23, 1844): "I passed the afternoon in South Berwick last week. I called to see Captain [Samuel] Harding. He still lives, but fails every day. He appears happy in the prospect of Death. He is anxious to live till Robert returns; he is expected home in a few weeks. And will remain at home for some time. I understand he has had a very rough passage, came very near being shipwrecked. Mrs. Seaver says if Abby ever lives to get home, she thinks she will never go another Voyage with her Husband."
Capt. Samuel Harding died July 23, 1844, at age 64, and was buried in Portland Street Cemetery. His will (YCP 56:203) reads in part as follows:
“SAMUEL HARDING of South Berwick, gentleman, Being weak in body
“To my wife Lucy Harding, the use and occupation of my dwl house (except as hereafter excepted), out houses, garden and appurtenances in South Berwick, it being my mansion house and h/h furniture to hold the same to her for her home du her nat life.
“Should my daughter Lucy P.S. Illsley become a widow bef the death of her mother, I giver her a home in my mansion house...
“In case my dau Joanna L. Harding should become of age bef the dec of her mother, I then give her the use and occupation of a front chamber in my mansion house and furniture suitable for the same...
“On the dec of my widow, I order my exers to sell my house and appurtenances, h/h furniture for the most it will bring and divide the avails and any other property among my chn...“To my wife Lucy Harding, my patent lever watch.
“To my son Samuel Harding, my quadrant and nautical books.
“To my son Robert Harding, my sextant.
“To my sons Samuel and Robert, all my charts and other nautical instruments to be div eq betw them and also my common sea clothes.
“To my son George T. Harding, my portable writing desk.
“My best clothing I leave in charge of my widow and exers. (...)
“Signed 8 April 1844
“Witnessed by Josiah W. Seaver, George Gilman, Wm. A. Hayes, Jr.”
Before and after his death, two, and perhaps three, daughters of Capt. Harding married into active Baptist families of New York. By then, Thomas B. Parks's youngest son, Ward, was in his late teens and working for a New York merchant, and visited with the Hardings' friends and relatives there.
In 1837 Lucy P. S. Harding married Rev. Silas Ilsley, who was assigned that year to a church in Brooklyn, according to The Consolidated City of Brooklyn, 1860. South Berwick vital records show the Ilseys were married by Rev. Ebenezer L. Boyd, the Baptist minister at the Plains church who at that time lived in the Lambert House, next door to the Hardings.
In 1841, Mary B. S. Harding married Elijah Lewis, Jr. of Brooklyn. In 1823, an Elijah Lewis, perhaps his father, had been a founder of Brooklyn's first Baptist congregation. “During the prevalence of the yellow fever in New York, in the summer of 1822, Elijah Lewis and Eliakim Raymond removed to Brooklyn as a retreat from the scourge. Finding in the village five other Baptists, they commenced a prayer meeting, occasionally procuring preaching for twenty or thirty persons whom they could gather to hear a Baptist minister.” (The Consolidated City of Brooklyn)
Another daughter of Capt. Harding, Joanna L. Harding, married a Joseph E. Camp of New York in August 1852, according to South Berwick vital records. She had apparently gone to Brooklyn as a single woman as early as 1847, perhaps visiting her sisters. Connery Parks had apparently courted her in Maine before she left. Sarah Parks wrote in a letter, “I suppose Joanna Harding will be unwilling to leave Brooklyn, if she is slaying so many hearts. I think Connery [Parks] has a poor chance to get her heart if she has elicited so much attention from the City Beaus."
Later years. All the adult Harding children seem to have moved away from South Berwick in the mid-1800s. The South Berwick map of 1856 identified Mrs. Harding at the house on Portland Street. By that time, the Baptist Church had become the Town House.
The Parks children all moved away as well. Unable to find suitable work in the South Berwick area, both Connery and Ward went into business in Boston after their marriages in 1850 and 1854, respectively, and settle near each other in Newton, MA. Their sisters, Lucy and Nancy, single at the end of their lives, lived there as well. Ward died in 1910 and Connery in 1912.
The Parks-Harding House was restored in the 1960s by Burton W. F. Trafton and known as “Elm Shadows.”
(Summary by W. Pirsig with research assistance from Tom Johnson, Thaxter Parks Spencer, Mary Vaughn, and Herbie Geiler. Updated December 2020.)