William Allen Tompson (c. 1786-1835), Berwick Academy preceptor; Dr. Caleb Sanborn (1814-1871), physician; and Madison C. (Mattson) Sanborn (1844-1872), soldier
c. 1780 – Tompson-Sanborn House – 190 Main Street
This building is part of the South Berwick Village District on the National Register of Historic Places. Perhaps one of several structures moved to make way for highway improvements about 1805 during the stagecoach days, the house was probably built decades earlier. In 1815 a new young preceptor of Berwick Academy, William Allen Tompson, moved here with his bride. He later sold the house to his sister, Sarah Hayman. Their father, Rev. John Tompson, had been pastor of the nearby First Parish Congregational Church just before it was built in 1826. Beginning in the 1840s, physician Dr. Caleb Sanborn raised his family in the home while practicing medicine during a long career in South Berwick. Sanborn descendants owned the house into the 20th century.
Home of Preceptor Tompson. Probably built at another location as a center chimney structure sometime between 1770 and 1780, this house was moved to this site and occupied by the young preceptor of Berwick Academy, William Allen Tompson (c. 1786-1835), who was appointed to his post in 1813. He married Anna Maria Adams of Portsmouth the same year. It is probably they who remodeled the structure into the end-chimney federal-style home that exists today. Stylish carved woodwork from that era survives in some of the upper rooms to confirm the elegant interiors that the Tompsons would have lived in.
The Tompson House has seen much remodeling and change over the years. Originally the first floor ceilings consisted of the smooth-planed undersides of the second floor sub floors and supporting beams with chamfered edges, all painted salmon pink. The 1813 remodeling covered these with plaster ceilings and opened up a large center hall where the original chimney was. The removal of this massive chimney caused insufficient support of some inner structural members, resulting in the slight sag to the roof and cornice lines. An original ell was removed in the 1940s to allow for the construction of the driveway to the parking lot behind St. Michael's School, which later became Town Hall, and an early carriage house disappeared by the 1970s. Also in the 1940s, the interior was altered to serve as four apartments. In 2004 the house underwent a sympathetic renovation to preserve existing historic features and restore others, and is now part of the South Berwick Village Historic District on the National Register.
The Frost Tavern, Adams Store, and Tompson-Sanborn House may have all been originally owned by Winthrop B. Norton and sold to different owners in the early 1800s.
William Allen Tompson's father, Rev. John Tompson, was minister of the First Parish Congregational Church, then located at today's Brattle Street and Old South Road. The family lived in the nearby Parsonage today 88 Old South Road. There William was born to the parson's second wife and was the youngest Tompson child.
Rev. Tompson, a founder of Berwick Academy remembered for riding his white horse to Boston in 1791 to obtain the school charter signed by John Hancock, was president of the board of trustees at the time of his son's appointment as the academy's sixth preceptor in 1813. The following year Edward P. Hayman ( c. 1770-1831), who had married Rev. Tompson's daughter Sarah in 1809, became the academy's treasurer. Born in Boston but apprenticed to South Berwick lawyer Dudley Hubbard, Hayman was elected a member of the Massachusetts Senate in 1800 and appointed assistant clerk of the Supreme Court, according to the History of York County. He served as a circuit clerk until 1820 and then as cashier of South Berwick Bank.
Among the graduates of the academy in that period and then students at Bowdoin were Charles Northend Cogswell, who became a law partner of William Allen Hayes and served in the state legislature, and Samuel Hale, who became president of the Portsmouth Manufacturing Company cotton mill. Likely reflecting Rev. Tompson's influence during this time, academy founder Gen. John Lord bequeathed $500 for a fund to provide a copy of the Bible to every student, a practice that continued until 1945.
But William Tompson's assignment as preceptor was of short duration. As the local seafaring economy suffered a slump following the national trade embargo and War of 1812, Berwick Academy suffered financially and closed down for two years, discharging Tompson in 1817 due to an “embarrassed state of its funds.” He later was reported to have taken up the ministry, according to Records of the First and Second Churches of Berwick .
The house is in view of Parson Tompson’s church
The Tompsons (who may also have begun spelling their name Thompson) had at least eight children, according to the Records and other sources: Elizabeth Adams, baptized in 1815; William Allen in 1817; John Adams in 1819; Charles in 1820; Joseph Hall in 1822; George T. in 1824; and Anna Maria in 1828. In 1866 George Tompson was a merchant in Portsmouth, NH. Anna Maria Tompson married a Portsmouth druggist named Joseph Haven Thatcher.
By the 1820s, however, prosperity had returned. In 1825 Rev. John Tompson retired after 22 years as Berwick Academy's president, but his son-in-law, Edward Hayman of Vine Street, continued as treasurer. In 1826 Rev. John Tompson's new meetinghouse (the present First Parish Federated Church), was built near William Tompson's house. The old parson died two years later at the age of 88. Edward Hayman succeeded him as president of the academy until his death in 1831. William Tompson, who served as town selectman from 1829-1835, sold the house to his sister, Sarah Tompson Hayman, Edward's wife, in 1833, and died two years later. She died in 1836.
The Tompson-Sanborn House is the second on the right in this photo from the 1880s.
Home of the Sanborns. In 1843 a new family entered the story of the house. A physician, Dr. Caleb Sanborn (1814-1871), recently married to Catherine Fernald, bought the property from the Haymans' sons Edward and Charles. The house would remain in the Sanborn family for the next hundred years.
Dr. Sanborn was a popular country doctor, a contemporary of his neighbor, Dr. Theodore H. Jewett, the father of author Sarah Orne Jewett. Sanborn ranged the countryside visiting their patients, and also likely treated illnesses in his Main Street home.
“Dr. Caleb Sanborn was of the botanic fraternity and had quite a good practice, especially among the ladies and children,” recalled a contemporary, George Washington Frosst, in a somewhat comical account. “One of his lady patients, in speaking of the doctor one day, remarked that the greatest objection she had to him was that ‘he will keep you running out your tongue until it makes you real giddy and feel as if you had the blind staggers. And he also never wearies in feeling your pulse. I really believe, if you did not stop him, he would commence at your toes and trace the pulse to the crown of your head.'”
Apparently the doctor concocted and marketed some of his own medicines, such as cough drops
On one occasion, in 1854, Sanborn was among the physicians examining the body of murder victim Charles Brewster and testifying in court.
Throughout the mid-1800s, the Sanborn dwelling contained an active family household. Charles and Catherine Sanborn lost a baby soon after moving into their new house in 1843, but in 1844 a son, Madison, was born. Catherine Sanborn died in 1846, and Dr. Sanborn married Mary Harvey. They had at least three children, some attending Miss Raynes' School on Portland Street. Daughter Carrie Sanborn died in 1866, at the age of 14.
Madison Sanborn, who also spelled his name Mattson, attended Berwick Academy from 1855 to 1860, graduated in 1860, then briefly attended Brown University until the outbreak of the Civil War. At age 18, on May 22, 1861 he enlisted in Portsmouth, N. H. in Company A, 2nd New Hampshire Volunteer Regiment. Sanborn mustered in on May 31, 1861. He was discharged disabled on August 1, 1861 in Washington D.C. (Source: A History of the Second Regiment, New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry by Martin A. Hayes published in 1896, re-published in 1996.) Sanborn then mustered in August 29, 1862 as a 2nd Lieutenant in Company A, 20th Maine Regiment. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on June 28, 1864, and fought at the Battle of Gettysburg, apparently under Col. Joshua Chamberlain. Mustered out on June 4, 1865. (Source: Maine at Gettysburg, published in 1898, re-published in 1994.)
After the war, Sanborn remained in the Army and posted to Ft. Fred Steele, near Rawlins, Wyoming, during hostilities with the Oglala Sioux. He died of a stroke at age 29 in 1872. He is buried at Custer National Cemetery, Little Bighorn National Monument, Montana. A marker in his memory was also placed in Portland Street Cemetery in South Berwick.
Dr. Sanborn died in 1871, and his wife Mary in 1899. Daughter Kate remained in the house throughout her life, until 1915. In 1939, Sanborn descendants were still living there.
(Written by Tom Johnson and Wendy Pirsig, 2005. Revised November 2020. The Old Berwick Historical Society is grateful to Arthur Stansfield for information about Mattson Sanborn.)