Judge Benjamin Chadbourne (1718-1799)

The Chadbourne House, South Berwick, MaineThe house of Judge Benjamin Chadbourne still stands today at the corner of Vine and Liberty Streets in South Berwick and is part of South Berwick Historic District.

During the year of 1643, a wealthy Englishman, Humphrey Chadbourne, bought from the Native Americans a large stretch of land comprising the confluence of the Great Works and Salmon Falls Rivers. The deed between Chadbourne and Sachem Rowls is said to be one of the oldest deeds in the United States. Chadbourne’s father, William, had arrived in 1634 with Thomas Spencer and constructed one of the first waterpower sawmills in North America. The remains of Humphrey Chadbourne’s homestead were discovered in 1995 and have been the focus of an Old Berwick Historical Society archaeology project, with artifacts on display at the Counting House.

On June 12, 1770, the great-grandson of Humphrey Chadbourne, Benjamin, built this house. Benjamin Chadbourne (1718-1799) had served in Sir William Pepperrell’s expedition against Louisbourg in 1745, and later became a judge of the Court of Common Pleas. He represented the Berwicks in the Massachusetts Congress from 1756-1771, and was a member of the Governor’s Council.

The judge is said to have been a wealthy aristocratic type who loved to give lavish parties.  In 1791 Benjamin gave ten acres of land and a sum of money to initiate the founding of Berwick Academy, today the oldest school in Maine, and served as its first president.  He also sent elm trees from his property to his friend, John Hancock, to plant on Boston Common.  

The Chadbourne House, still occupied by descendants of the original Chadbournes, is considered to have been one of the best-built frame houses of its time. The cellar floor, originally a dirt floor, now cement, has a foundation made of stone. The cellar houses a huge chimney in its center and is enclosed with a brick archway.  Each chimney interior wall measures 64 inches wide, large enough to serve five separate fireplaces providing ample heat throughout the house.

The main fireplace, largest in the house, is eight feet wide and contains a Dutch beehive shaped oven.  Hot coals from the fireplace were placed into the Dutch oven daily for baking.

The main house has eight rooms.  The interior walls are solid plank.  Many of the doors are double cross (“Christian”) doors.  As well as beautiful paneling, every corner flaunts a six-inch by six-inch floor-to-ceiling molding.  Several rooms contain Indian shutters, which slide in front of the windowpanes inside the windows.   A replica of the Viola Repard, which sailed from New York commanded by Horace P. Smith, the father of the previous owner of the house, is displayed in the keeping room adjacent to the kitchen area.

The main stairway curves upward with two landings and a hand carved banister.  The second floor displays ornate ceiling moldings, wainscoting and original wide pine floorboards.

The ell was renovated in the spring of 1992 and maintains the integrity of the structure.  Brick walls (pumpkin brick) were exposed, beaded wainscoting was recreated, and door and window styles are in keeping with the style and function of the colonial period.  The family room restoration was completed in June of 2002.  The wood wainscoting was removed, resurfaced and refinished.  Shelving and cupboards were built utilizing 150-year-old wood found stored in the barn. The barn/carriage house was restored in 2013, incorporating a 2 car garage and the Jefferson Atwood Smith barn room.

The Chadbourne House remained within the family for 150 years after its construction, and then was owned by Judge Benjamin Greene for a very short period of time.  Next, Richard Davis and Abram Gilpatrick operated a tinsmith shop on the property.  When the partnership ended, Gilpatrick moved an early ell from this house to the land next door where it is still standing.  The well serves as a divider between the two properties.  The Chadbourne House was subsequently owned by Davis’ daughter, Louise B. Davis, her niece, Florence Mary Smith Stevens, and Mrs. Stevens’ cousin, Freeman J. Smith, father of the present owner, Virginia Smith Alterio, who is a descendant of Patience Chadbourn, sister to Humphrey Chadbourne. As mentioned earlier, their father, William, and Thomas Spencer arrived in 1634 and operated the earliest waterpower mill in North America.

-- Written in 2014 by Marc and Virginia Smith Alterio