Rebecca O. Young (1847-1927), banker
c. 1875 - Rebecca O. Young House - 315 Main Street
This house is part of the South Berwick Village District on the National Register of Historic Places. “Becca” Young was a close lifelong friend of author Sarah Orne Jewett and her sisters. She was treasurer of the South Berwick Savings Bank that stood on Main Street at the later location of P. Gagnon & Co. Rebecca rode with Jewett on the author’s 1902 birthday carriage ride during which both were injured, and which ended Sarah’s writing career.
“Rebecca Young, who lived a few doors from the Jewetts, was an old classmate of the sisters from the days of Miss Raynes’s school and Berwick Academy and an intimate friend,” wrote Paula Blanchard in her Sarah Orne Jewett autobiography.
Rebecca O. Young was born October 31, 1847, two years before Sarah and about four months after Sarah’s older sister, Mary. That early Young house, which was probably moved to Young Street around 1880, then stood across Main Street from the Jewett compound, where Sarah, Mary and their younger sister, Carrie, were all raised in the 1850s. When the children were growing up, Young Street did not yet exist.
In 1842, Rebecca’s father, William A. Young (1805-1883), had served on the building committee responsible for erecting a new Schoolhouse No. 5, a structure that is now a private home near the Soldiers’ Monument. He was a South Berwick selectman and tax assessor in the 1860s. His wife, Dorcas Nichols Young, lived from 1815-1874. Their daughter, Charlotte, who would have been Rebecca’s older sister, died when less than 3 years old the year before Rebecca was born. Another older sister, 7-year-old Hannah, died when Rebecca was less than two.
“Becca,” as she was known to the Jewett girls, attended Miss Raynes’ School on Portland Street, and she and Sarah appeared in a class photo from the 1850s, shown above, with Rebecca on the left. The Raynes’ school was attended by children of South Berwick’s leading families. When they were older, Rebecca and Sarah also went to Berwick Academy.
The South Berwick National Bank, at left, was founded in 1823 as The South Berwick Bank, according to the History of York County, Maine, 1880. It was made a national bank in 1865, and William D. Jewett (1813-1887), Sarah’s uncle, was president.
Eventually, in 1883, a new brick bank was built, South Berwick Savings Bank, and headed by John Francis Walker (1844-1890). It is shown in the photo at left, three doors to the right of the original bank. The site was later the approximate location of P. Gagnon & Co. oil company.
It is not known when Rebecca Young began her banking career, but when she was only 22, she was witness to the fire of 1870 that greatly impacted her neighborhood in South Berwick Village. “It was a night of fear - even of terror - and of excitement and suspense, and to many a time of sorrow and discouragement,” she later wrote. The bank and her home survived, but many stores were destroyed. They were, however, quickly rebuilt, as shown on the map at left from the Atlas of York County, 1872.
“From the ashes of the little, old, and irregular wooden structures,” Rebecca said, “there have arisen buildings of brick, more modern, more commodious and convenient, and in every way better adapted to their desired purpose.” A progressive and optimist, Rebecca called the fire “a blessing in disguise.”
Soon after the fire, the Youngs’ neighborhood received another jolt of progress when the steam-powered Cummings Shoe Factory was built on what became Norton Street, along with housing for some of the 350 workers, many arriving from Canada, to help manufacture 5000 pairs of shoes per day.
In 1875, Rebecca’s mother died. It seems that about this time, the Young homestead was picked up and moved back away from Main Street, where it is still located today. Young Street was built about 1880, and St. Michael Church in 1887. Nealley Street went through in 1887 and connected Young and Butler Streets across property belonging to Sen. John B. Nealley.
The original William A. Young House is thought to be 30 Young Street, shown here as it is today.
Deed research indicates the house now at 315 Main may have first been owned by merchant John S. Pike, owner of the Union Store and occupant of the Hodsdon House at 31 Agamenticus Road.
But 315 Main soon became the property of Rebecca’s father, William A. Young, and passed to her at his death in 1883. She was then only 36, and lived the rest of her life in this landmark home, for much of it walking to work at the bank a few doors away.
And throughout those years she remained a close friend of the Jewett sisters, Sarah and Mary, who moved into the Jewett House in 1887 and like Rebecca never married, and Carrie Jewett Eastman, who inherited the Jewett girls’ childhood home, the Jewett-Eastman House, with her husband and son.
Rebecca frequently corresponded with Sarah when the latter was in Boston or on other travels, and their correspondence forms part of the Jewett archives in various repositories today.
A favorite pastime while in South Berwick was taking carriage rides together, writes Jewett biographer Paula Blanchard in Sarah Orne Jewett: Her World and Her Work.
“On September 3, 1902, the swamp maples around the river marshes in South Berwick were beginning to flare into color, one here and one there, scarlet torches above the black water. Along the roadsides purple asters and yellow goldenrod rioted discreetly, while bracken ferns, beginning to fade and dry, filled the woods with their spicy fragrance. It was Sarah’s fifty-third birthday and the beginning of her favorite time of year, and she took her sister, Rebecca Young, and another friend for a drive.
“They were descending a hill when the horse slipped on a loose stone and stumbled. The carriage lurched, and both Sarah and Rebecca were thrown out. Rebecca was only bruised, but Sarah suffered a concussion and some damage to the neck, perhaps a fractured vertebra, that was never clearly diagnosed.”
Jewett was bedridden for weeks. Even when her condition improved, she still suffered for the remainder of her life from head pain, memory loss, dizziness, and lack of concentration. Her serious writing ended. Four years after the accident, her health had improved enough to work on correspondence and limited travel, but in the spring of 1909 she suffered a stroke in Boston, and, after being carried back to South Berwick by train, died on June 23.
Rebecca O. Young died on July 2, 1927 at the age of 80.
Throughout much of the 20th century, the house retained a connection to Rebecca’s bank, as the home of Wallace N. Flanders (1895-1986), another bank official. A trustee of the Freewill Baptist Church, Flanders married, in 1917, Eva E. Turner of Rollinsford, and then Mildred Maddox, in 1920. A Berwick Academy graduate of 1915, Flanders served as the academy’s treasurer for 56 years (1924-1970). His daughter, Louise T. Flanders, remained at the Young House and was a member of the Old Berwick Historical Society.
(This summary written by Wendy Pirsig from archives at the Counting House Museum. Revised December 2020.)