John Frost (b. 1794), postmaster and store keeper
early 1800s - The John Frost Store - 4 Portland Street
Part of South Berwick Historic District, this building is also part of the South Berwick Village District on the National Register of Historic Places. Born in 1794, John Frost was the eldest son of Sarah Frost, a widow who had owned the next door Frost Tavern since 1816. John owned a shop and post office at this location in the early to mid 1800s. Perhaps when teenage Sarah Orne Jewett first began posting her stories to magazines to be published, this was the post office from which she mailed her manuscripts. Today the building contains a local business.
A map of South Berwick c. 1835 shows that by that date, John Frost occupied a building on this site. He would have been 41 years old.
Sarah Frost had likely bought the property as part of a seven-acre parcel that included the future hotel in 1816. The daughter of Nathan Bartlett, Sarah Frost was born on October 4, 1776, perhaps in Kittery. In 1794, she married George Frost (b. January 14, 1776). The Frosts’ children were John (b. 1794), Mary (1797-1804), Sarah Shapley (1800 -1805), Charles Chancey (1805-1826), Dorcas Hubbard (b. 1807), and Elizabeth Caton (b. 1812). (Sources: letter of Ralph Bartlett and Vital Records of Berwick).
Frost family graves at Portland Street Cemetery reveal that Sarah’s husband, George Frost, was lost at sea in January 1815, at age 40. Left with at least three children ranging in age from 3 to 18, Sarah Frost went into business as owner and manager of the Frost Tavern in the newly incorporated South Berwick, and managed the inn for over 30 years.
After Sarah Frost’s death in 1848 and the transfer of the hotel to Josiah Paul, for whom Paul Street was named when it was created later, John Frost continued to operate the nearby store. The Maine Business Directory of 1857 lists him as operating a “country store.” A map of South Berwick about 1860, when Frost would have been 66, indicates that the post office was also located in his store. He seems to have had a home in a separate house set back from the street.
Mary Jewett wrote in her memoir of South Berwick village, “The Frost store next the hotel was owned by John Frost, a son of the former owner of the hotel who was a most masterful woman, if all tales were true. Mr. Frost had ceased all active business for many years until he had the post office for a time before his death. Since the property fell into other hands it has had varying fortunes but no specially noteworthy thing remains to be said.”
Perhaps when teenage Sarah Orne Jewett first began posting her stories to magazines to be published in the mid-1860s, this is the post office from which she mailed her manuscripts, next door to her late grandfather’s old Jewett Store.
On a map of 1872, the store was occupied by J. S. Meserve. A comparison of the two photos below, both showing the Jewett Store on the left with the soldiers and the Frost Store on the right, shows that the Frost roofline was modified sometime after World War I. In both photos, the building contains a restaurant and drug store owned by John T. Driscoll and family during the 1910s and 1920s.
(Written by Wendy Pirsig, revised in November 2020.)