James Scott (c. 1802-1860)

Scott House on Scott's Court

c. 1825 - Scott House on Scott’s Court

This building is part of the South Berwick Village District on the National Register of Historic Places. The original owner and date of construction of this strangely situated house are not presently known. According to a map of the mid-1850s, this dwelling had been occupied by James Scott (c. 1802-1860), and the little alleyway bears this name. Ten years later, when a Mr. Gerrish lived here, the fire of July 1870 destroyed a dozen structures located in the present area of the Business Block, and this house was saved only by the use of blankets wet from rain barrels next door.

“The fire rapidly gained force, and the village afforded no means of staying its destruction until the driveway, known as Scott's Court, was reached,” wrote Rebecca Young in her account of the fire of July 1870. “The wooden buildings, with only alley ways between them, more food for the flames, and there was little water to check their fury. The only supply of water was from the wells in the vicinity and that was soon gone. The hose was too short to reach the brook and the engine from Dover, sent to our relief, gave little help. A large house owned by Mr. N. Proal just behind the stores was burned, and Mr. Gerrish's house was saved by being covered with blankets, kept wet with the water taken from the water hogsheads of Mr. Morrison who lived in the Huntress block.”

From a South Berwick map of 1872

The narrow escape of the house owned by S. Gerrish, set behind the row of businesses demolished in the fire of July 1870, is illustrated in the map at left showing the area after the construction of the Business Block that replaced them.

An earlier map, below, shows the area before the fire, when the house was occupied by J. Scott. The shaded area indicates the buildings destroyed in the fire. The original owner and date of construction, perhaps much earlier in the century, are not presently known.

From a South Berwick map of 1856.

Freewill Baptist Church records show James Scott (c. 1802-1860) and his wife Hannah (c. 1808-1876) were received as members on March 2, 1846.  He had come from the Freewill Baptist Church in Strafford, NH , and she from that of Rochester, NH .  “They were active members in this church for many years after,” according to the 1934 “History of the South Berwick Freewill Baptist Church."  “It is for this family that ‘Scott's Court' in our village is named, and many of the business meetings of the church were held at the dwelling house of Brother and Sister Scott there.”

    Today, the placement of the Scott house facing the back of the newer, tall brick stores seems odd to someone unaware of the fire. Perhaps it reflects a time when the road we call Main Street was only one of many routes around a cluster of 17th and early 18th century markets and houses that faced different directions back of Central Square along pedestrian alleys of an era long before the automobile age.