Edmund Haggens (1759-1829), West Indies merchant; Isaac Hersom (1825-1911), grain merchant
c. 1800– Haggens-Hersom House - 19 Academy Street
This building is part of the South Berwick Village District on the National Register of Historic Places. The family who lived in this house in the 1800s and early 1900s believes it was built by Edmund Haggens (1759-1829), a "trader," about 1800. Haggens' brother, John Haggens, built the Sarah Orne Jewett House, and similarities have been noted in the construction of the two houses.
Just after mid-century, the house was purchased by Isaac Hersom, who was born 15 Jan 1825 and died 04 Apr 1911. A merchant who operated the Hersom Grain Store in the village in the late 1800s, he was one of South Berwick's town assessors in the 1870s, a selectman in 1875, 1876, 1879 and 1882. His grandson, George E. Hersom, had a wood working shop here, and great-grandson Robert Hersom grew up here in the early 1900s.
Daughters of Isaac Hersom celebrating the history of their home, perhaps during the South Berwick centennial of 1914.
Edmund Haggens. John and Edmund’s father, Tilly Haggens, had come from Ireland and in the mid-1700s acquired much of present-day Main Street and South Berwick Village, including presumably some mill rights on the Salmon Falls River. Both father and sons have been described as traders and entrepreneurs. Tilly's locally-built 80-ton sloop, The Dolphin, regularly sailed between Portsmouth, NH, and Barbados in the 1760s, trading cargoes of local wood products for rum, sugar and cotton produced by slave labor.
During the American Revolution, Haggens served in Captain Joseph Pray's company in 1780.
In 1788, Edmund Haggens married Susanna Hamilton, an aunt of Jonathan Hamilton, the Pipe Stave Landing merchant shipbuilder who owned sugar plantations on Tobago and participated in the slave trade. Edmund and Susanna had four children.
In the 1798 Direct Tax Census, John Haggens is listed as one of the two wealthiest men in the town. By 1816 Edmund Haggens was listed as one of the five wealthiest.
It seems Edmund or John Haggens may have met the needs of highway travelers who came this way on the stagecoaches carrying the mail. In 1795, 1807 and 1809, almanacs list as a local stop the name Haggens or Higgins, both common spellings for the family. The location of the tavern is not known.
Maj. Edmund Haggens died in 1827.
Isaac Hersom. Isaac Hersom's father had died young in Lebanon, ME, leaving his wife, Sarah, struggling to support three young children, according to descendants. For some time she walked from Lebanon to work in the Portsmouth Company textile mill in South Berwick after it was built in 1830.
When her son, Isaac, grew up, he owned a feed grain store in downtown South Berwick and became a prosperous merchant. A map in the 1872 Atlas of York County, excerpted below, shows the Hersom grain store in the business block. Isaac and his wife, Emily Merrill Hersom, bought this home and were members of the First Baptist Church.
Descendants say Isaac also had a bar on Salmon Street, later known as lower Main Street. That neighborhood was then part of the town of Berwick.
The Hersoms raised five children in their house. Daughter Addie died of diphtheria at age 8. After Isaac Hersom's death in 1911, his son Frank operated the Hersom Grain Store several more years, at which point it was carried on by daughters Georgie and Carrie ("Cad") until the early 1930s.
Son Isaac "Harry" Hersom, who was born 28 Sep 1866 and married Catharine Gilchrist, became a teamster and worked for the railroad. In the 1905 census his home was listed at Park and Pleasant Streets near the Upper Landing. He died 02 Jul 1933.
Hersom House was then owned by George Edward Hersom, son of Harry. Born 14 August 1894, George was a woodworker at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard during World Wars I and II, and operated a woodworking shop at home. He married (first) Ellen Pearl Butler who died in South Berwick 17 March 1929, and (second) Dorothy May Cox on 10 May 1941.
The South Berwick town report of 1922 contained an advertisement for the George E. Hersom woodworking shop on Academy Street: “Announcement. I wish to inform the people of South Berwick and vicinity, that I have installed the most modern and up-to-the-minute Wood Working Machinery driven by electricity, and am prepared to do all kinds of Wood Work at short notice and at very reasonable prices. When in need of any Wood Work or repairing of any kind, I should be glad to do it for you.”
George E. Hersom died in Camden, Maine, on 13 June 1986, and is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery there. His father and grandfather, as well as other family members, are buried in Portland Street Cemetery in South Berwick.
(Information furnished in 2010 by Robert Hersom and Barbara Fleming, and in October 2015 and August 2016 from Bess Hersom Dexter, including the 1904 South Berwick Register. Additional research by Beth Tykodi and Wendy Pirsig. This web page was updated in December 2020.)