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Old Berwick Historical Society
Francis Brown Hayes (1819-1884), railroad executive
Francis Brown Hayes (1819-1884), railroad executive
early 1800s - F. B. Hayes House - 30 Middle Street
The house now at 30 Middle Street was probably constructed sometime during the 1830s or 40s by an heir of Gen. John Lord, a merchant who lived from 1765 to 1815. Today’s Middle Street, previously called Tremont, is now a dead-end street, but once diagonally connected Main Street to Liberty Street and the Landing. In the 1700s, this short street allowed ox teams hauling giant masts to round the corner and descend to the river. The logs had been cut in the forests of Berwick, Lebanon and beyond. John Lord owned mill rights at the Quamphegan waterfall. He also built ships at Pipe Stave Landing, and was a partner of Jonathan Hamilton, shipbuilder and West Indies merchant who built the Hamilton House about 1785. Nine acres of Lord property at Quamphegan included “an old mansion house, large barn, store, and dwelling house, mechanic shops and other buildings,” according to deeds.
After Lord's death, a son, Samuel Lord, and son-in-law, William Allen Hayes (1783-1851), owned the property now at 30 Middle Street. After the Portsmouth Company cotton mill was built by the waterfall in 1831, Lord/Hayes family members built the house, likely as a rental property or boarding house serving workers. Then, for 30 years, it was owned by John Lord’s grandson, W. A. Hayes' son Francis Brown Hayes (1819-1884), a director of the Boston and Maine Railroad and South Berwick's most prominent citizen of his day, who lived at his family’s homestead on Academy Street and in Lexington, Massachusetts.
30 Middle Street picturing tenants Ida Martin and Rose McNally
A graduate of Berwick Academy, Francis Brown Hayes attended Harvard and Harvard Law School. According to a later article in the Cambridge Chronicle (1882), Hayes was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1842 and began practicing law in Boston.
Meanwhile, a new mode of transportation was making its way through New England and through South Berwick—the railroad. In 1835 the Boston and Maine Railroad was chartered in Massachusetts, and in 1841 the Maine legislature approved an act to establish a small railroad company running through South Berwick, the Great Falls and South Berwick Branch Rail-road Company. Among the dozen or so founders were William Allen Hayes and John P. Lord, two brothers-in-law invested in the remains of the Lord estate at the Landing. By the 1840s the small company had merged with the Boston and Maine on a line running to Portland, and in the 1850s was laying tracks across Main Street up the hill from the Landing.
1856 map excerpt
William Allen Hayes died in 1851, not long after transferring 30 Middle Street and the house next door to his son Francis B. Hayes. A map from that decade shows the newly-built railroad and the South Berwick Station depot opposite the Baptist Church on Main Street.
By then railroads were also entwined with Francis Brown Hayes’ life. “Early in his legal career he studied especially into the laws governing railroad and other corporate interests,” the Cambridge Chronicle article relates, “…and his business soon grew to be the largest in this line in the city of Boston.” At age 30 his successful investigation into a mismanaged railroad company, Old Colony, led to its reorganization and his directorship of the Boston and Maine. He eventually became an executive of several railroads, including the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad.
Francis B. Hayes likely did not reside at 30 Middle Street, occupying instead his family’s home on Academy. He also succeeded his father as president of Berwick Academy during the years Sarah Orne Jewett, the author, was a student, and years later she remembered his leadership during the school’s major crisis of that century, at a time when it served as the town's high school. In 1849, arsonists protesting Maine’s temperance movement – and perhaps the Lord and Hayes family’s association with it -- burned the academy, and the library it contained, to the ground. Plotting at the home of Benjamin Stillings, nearby on Pleasant Street and shown on the above map, they also struck the Methodist church next door to Francis B. Hayes' house at 30 Middle Street following a sermon by Rev. John Lord, a cousin of Hayes. Two years later Stillings and his co-conspirators burned the Portsmouth Company cotton mill and Hayes's own home on Academy Street.
Academy built by Francis B. Hayes after 1851 fire
Hayes oversaw the construction of a new school building. At the end of his life, he led planning that eventually brought about the creation of the Fogg Memorial Building, which also contained the town library until the mid-20th century. Hayes' portrait and a marble bust remain in the historic Fogg library room to this day.
In 1861 Hayes purchased a “summer home” at 45 Hancock Street, Lexington, Massachusetts, according to a 2010 history in the Lexington Comprehensive Cultural Resources Survey, which describes Hayes as “among Lexington's most prosperous late 19th century residents …railroad official, lawyer, state senator and U.S. Congressman.” He eventually bought over 400 acres, and in 1883-4, just before his death built a 32-room fieldstone mansion called "Oakmount.”
Hayes served as president of the Massachusetts Horticulture Society and pursued an avid interest in agriculture at the Hayes estate in South Berwick. Among his bequests at the end of his life were $10,000 to Berwick Academy. His son who died in 1895, also named Francis B. Hayes, bequeathed funds that were used to create the statue of the Minuteman at Lexington, Massachusetts
On a map of 1872 the house at 30 Middle Street is listed as occupied by John Plumer, the baker, who died in 1873. In 1880 the house was acquired by his son, John Henry Plumer, who owned a livery stable across Main Street. Among the tenants of this period may have been a Hanson family, as well as Ida Martin and Rose McNally, who appear in the photo above. The Portsmouth Company ceased operations in 1893, and in 1907, the house was purchased by the merchant John Flynn, who lived with his wife, Elizabeth A. Flynn, and five children, Frank J., Anna T., John V., Harry W., Arthur A., and Mary. They lived here until 1919.
(Posted March 2016 by Wendy Pirsig with information from the Old Berwick Historical Society archives, including deed research by Tracey A. Fortier. Revision added August 29, 2018.)