Dr. Charles A. Trafton (c. 1787-1855), physician; Hon. John B. Nealley (1810-1886), state senator

Mid 1800s Benjamin M. Nealley Double House

Mid 1800s - Trafton-Nealley Double House - 72-74 Main Street

The property at 72-74 Main, South Berwick, was already a rental in 1817, when the heirs of Gen. John Lord, a merchant who owned nine acres and mill rights at the Landing, sold this parcel to Richard Hazeltine, a doctor living there. Hazeltine’s ownership lasted only six months before he sold to another doctor, Charles A. Trafton.  It was then maintained by the Nealley family as a rental housing duplex for employees of the Portsmouth Company cotton mill on the river, which operated from the 1830s to the 1890s.

Dr. Trafton (c. 1787-1855) was 30 years old when he bought the property.  He raised a family here, and was known for an alcohol-based medical elixir, “Trafton's Buckthorne Syrup,” that became controversial during the years of prohibition advocacy in Maine during the late 1840s.  By 1830 there were nine in the Trafton household, and his house, as well as the neighborhood, may have felt crowded.  He sold his property four years later to a house joiner, James Clark, and moved away from the Landing, possibly to Pleasant Street, or to the location on Main Street where his son Charles, also a doctor, later lived (later the site of a parochial school and South Berwick’s town hall).  

It is possible that Clark rebuilt the house as a two-unit property in 1834-35 with the idea of renting half; whatever his plan, it seems it was unsuccessful, since he sold the property in less than two years for little more than half of its purchase price of $2,000.  

The buyer was John B. Nealley, a young man of 24 recently arrived from 20 miles west in New Hampshire.  If Clark did not renovate the house, then Nealley did; in 1838, two years after purchasing it, he sold “the northerly half of the house and land” to his younger brother Benjamin, an overseer in the card room of the mill.   The house remained in the Nealley family for 60 years, almost to the close of the century.  Two other double houses farther up Main Street may have been built in the same period of 1835 to 1845, during the first decades of operation of the Portsmouth Company cotton mill.

The Nealley family were among many industrious newcomers buying up property along Main Street near the bridge in the decades before the Civil War.  The Nealleys arrived in South Berwick from Nottingham, New Hampshire, in the late 1830s.  By 1853 the six brothers owned at least nine properties at the Landing, many of which were related to the mills.  John B. Nealley bought the house at 48 Main that served as a tavern, which he later sold to his older brother Eben, the blacksmith.  Their brother Charles was an overseer in the cloth hall, Andrew owned a store on Main Street, and George was a merchant at the Landing.   And across the street at 89 Main, John owned the two-story house and barn that the Gordons operated as a boarding house.  

John and his younger brother Benjamin, an overseer in the card room, shared ownership of the double house at 72-74 Main.  Benjamin M. Nealley married Abigail Pray in 1836.

John B. Nealley married the niece of a founder of the cotton mill, and raised a family in his large home at 169 Main Street. He became a state senator. By midcentury, the young man who began as a manufacturer and storekeeper had become a lawyer and landlord whose family name dominated the Landing neighborhood.  And the riverbank itself was transformed.  A towering brick edifice with a retinue of offices, boarding rooms, and businesses serving a factory workforce supplanted the cluster of wharves and shops at the head of tide.  The landing place had become a mill village. 

(Posted 2-2016 – Excerpted from a 2015 Historic District Commission Report by Nina Maurer; edited by Wendy Pirsig.  Sources: Old Berwick Historical Society archives; York County Registry of Deeds; Annie Wentworth Baer, “The Landing Mill and its Time,” original manuscript at Woodman Museum.)