William P. Atkinson (c. 1836-1896), physician

Atkinson House c. 1880

c. 1880 - Atkinson House – 144 Main Street

This building is part of the South Berwick Village District on the National Register of Historic Places. William P. Atkinson (c. 1836-1896), a physician originally from Eaton, NH (near Conway), had this house built when he lived briefly in South Berwick in the late 1800s. The carpenter may have been Henry G. Harvey, who lived nearby on Academy Street.

Dr. Atkinson was the son of a minister in Eaton, a small town in north central New Hampshire which contained a mountain named Atkinson Mountain. Part of Eaton was a village known as Snowville—not for the weather, but for an important family named Snow, who married into the Atkinsons.

Cemetery records indicate Dr. Atkinson’s father, Rev. King Atkinson, died on July 27, 1863 at age 53. He is buried in Eaton, as are Dr. Atkinson’s mother, Sally, and other relatives.

It was after his father’s death that Dr. Atkinson seems to have come to South Berwick, with his wife, Rose, who was born about 1846. They may have had a son, Willie, born about 1870.

Excerpt from South Berwick Village map showing intersection of Main and Academy Streets, Atlas of York County, 1872. Note that at the time, a railroad track ran along what became Route 236.

Little evidence has yet been found of Dr. Atkinson’s activities here, but probate records show he became the owner of this house, built on property that seems to have once been owned by Edmund Haggens, sometimes spelled Hagens or Higgins. He was a descendant of the family living in South Berwick since the mid-1700s that built the Sarah Orne Jewett House.

Dr. Atkinson may have also encountered financial troubles. An 1874 court document indicates that he owed $100 to a William Tompson, perhaps the downtown merchant who ran the family book and stationery store till his death in 1911

Excerpt from an 1877 lithograph of South Berwick by Ruger and Stoner appears to show the Atkinson House or one similar to it at this location, next to the Congregational Church.

Dr. Atkinson also may have moved back to Eaton. An 1883 court document to the York County Sherriff reads, "We Command you to Attach the Goods or Estate of William P. Atkinson of Eaton in the County of Carroll and State of New Hampshire, Physician, to the value of One Hundred Dollars, and summon the said Atkinson... to appear... Supreme Judicial Court... Alfred... third Tuesday of May A. D. 1883.... to answer unto Henry G. Harvey of South Berwick in said County of York Carpenter." ...

Perhaps this dispute with Harvey, a house builder, was related to the construction of this house, and Harvey had been the contractor. Another merchant, Alonzo Stackpole, who lived on Main Street and had become the owner of the Parks Store, also sued Atkinson that year.

But Dr. Atkinson’s misfortunes did not end there. In 1876, his wife, Rose E. Atkinson, died shortly before her 31st birthday. She is buried in Eaton. It is likely that she left a son, Willie, who then would have been only six. Willie died in 1890 at age 20, and Dr. Atkinson himself died six years later. He was 60 years old.

His widowed mother, Sally, though 86 years old, still survived him, and the Atkinson house passed into her possession. She may have been living here, though she was buried in Eaton, NH, after her death in 1897 at 93. Probate records indicate that the house was then owned by two people whose surname suggests they too may have had ties to Eaton and the village of Snowville: Edwin and Leslie P. Snow.

(Article written by Wendy Pirsig, revised 2020.)