Timothy Ferguson (c. 1788-1839), merchant and cotton mill founder; Benjamin Nason (1788-1875), merchant; and John Francis Walker (1844-1890), banker
1816 and 1886 - The Ferguson-Nason-Walker Estate – 99 Portland Street
This house is part of the South Berwick Village District on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1886, John Francis Walker (1844-1890), treasurer of South Berwick Savings Bank, built this fine Victorian house on the home site of Timothy Ferguson (c. 1788-1839), merchant and cotton mill founder, and later of Benjamin Nason (1788-1875). merchant and bank president. For 50 years, Nason operated a store in the Odd Fellows Block and the building that preceded it at the Corner.
Timothy Ferguson. Ferguson was a prominent merchant and investor of South Berwick and a founder of the Portsmouth Company textile mill in 1831. He came to South Berwick from Eliot, where he was a fifth-generation descendant of a 17th century Scottish prisoner of the English, Daniel Ferguson. When Timothy was 28, he was operating a store in town, and two years later he bought a lot to build a new store of his own.
To say that Ferguson was an enterprising lad would be an understatement. Beginning in 1816 he bought land along Portland Street here and more lots at Quamphegan Landing with wharves, a cooper shop, and a store, as well as a sawmill on the nearby Great Works River. He married Eliza Goodwin, the local blacksmith’s daughter.
In those days, Portland Street was coming into its own as part of the Boston to Portland Turnpike, with stagecoaches carrying the mail and travelers moving overland for the first time throughout the new United States. Ferguson built a house at today’s 99 Portland Street in the late 1810s, a time when most of the road was surrounded by open countryside.
In the 1880s, the Timothy Ferguson House, shown in recent photo at left. was moved to Silver Street, Rollinsford, NH, where this photo was taken around 2000.
Benjamin Nason. In 1822, a few years before co-founding the Portsmouth Company cotton mill at Quamphegan Landing, Ferguson appears to have swapped houses with another local merchant named Benjamin Nason. In 1798 Nason's father, Bartholomew Nason (c. 1757-1822) had returned his family from Boston, where they had been living, to the Nason family mansion at 80 Main Street near the Landing. At the corner of Portland Street at the Main Street, where roads to Boston, Portland and Berwick all met, Nason recognized a commercial location on the current site of the Odd Fellows Building. He opened a store with his son, Benjamin, who had been 10 years old when his family moved to Maine. Their store can be seen on a South Berwick Village map of about 1835. When South Berwick was incorporated as a separate town in 1814, Bartholomew Nason was on the committee and was made a town official.
When Bartholomew died, his son Benjamin Nason was operating his father’s business, and he evidently wished his home to be closer to it, on Portland Street, while Ferguson preferred the Landing location of the Ferguson home. So in 1822 each man sold his home to the other.
Benjamin operated the Nason store at the Corner for 50 years. He may have built the Odd Fellows Building in 1845. Like many of South Berwick’s leading citizens of the day, his business pursuits ranged far from the village, but he also contributed to the community’s welfare. According to the History of York County published in 1880, Nason built a sawmill, engaged in lumbering, and owned interest in ships sailing out of Portsmouth. A faithful member of the First Church of Berwick (Congregational) at the time of its move to the village from Brattle Street, he was responsible for the construction of the new Main Street meeting house in 1826, later the First Parish Federated Church. In 1842 he was on the committee in charge of erecting the new Portland Street school that came to be known as Schoolhouse No. 5.
Benjamin Nason married Olivia Hubbard (1794-1885), daughter of lawyer Dudley Hubbard, who built the Hayes House on Academy Street. They lost two of their sons in the Civil War, Augustus killed in the battle of the Wilderness, and Charles in the naval service.
Nason was known as “a temperate man in the strictest sense of the word,” according to the History of York County. “In his early days, when intoxicating liquors were in almost universal use,” says the account, “he was a total abstinence man.”
Nason became a director of South Berwick National Bank, which had been built in 1823 on Main Street near the later site of South Berwick Central School. In 1858 he was made bank president, holding the post for the last two decades of his life.
John F. Walker. Nason’s successor at the bank was John Francis Walker (1844-1890), who also became treasurer of South Berwick Savings Bank. Under Walker’s leadership, a new bank was built in 1883.
After the death of Nason’s widow Olivia in 1885, Walker acquired the Nason homestead.
The Walkers removed the Nason home that had originally been Timothy Ferguson's and in 1886 built a Victorian house, where his wife lived until 1934. Walker had married Mary Lizzie (Elizabeth) Hobbs, a South Berwick woman who had attended Berwick Academy at the same time as Sarah Orne Jewett. Now neighbors on Portland Street, the Walkers were friends with the Jewett sisters for the rest of their lives. One of the Walkers’ daughters married Frank Marshall of York, whose grand Marshall House hotel was on the later site of the Stage Neck Inn.
The home contained the Walkers’ crystal chandeliers, hand-carved fireplace mantel, and crown molding into the 21st century. Stained glass adorned the front hall, and the front and rear porches retained their original copper roofs. In 1958 artist George MacLean painted a mural on the dining room walls.
(This summary by Wendy Pirsig from archives at the Counting House Museum. Updated 2020.)