The Cushing House by Charles C. Hobbs

The Cushing MansionThe Cushing mansion on Main Street, South Berwick, was torn down in late 1924 to make way for South Berwick Central School. In its day, the mansion had been almost as famous as the Jewett House, and adorned Maine postcards. Also well known was its occupant, Madame Olive Cushing (c.1758-1853), who had received General Lafayette on his visit in 1825. This is a transcription of a 1902 essay by Madame Cushing’s grandson, Charles C. Hobbs. The Old Berwick Historical Society is grateful to Dr. Terry Heller of Coe College for typesetting this essay and correcting some typographical errors.


The land on which my house stands and the adjoining field were conveyed to Elizabeth Wallingford by John Haggans [Haggens, Higgens], administrator of Daniel Haggans, by deed dated May 29, 1793. The house was completed and first occupied in the winter of 1795. For the benefit of those persons who think our New England climate is changing, I will say that the winter of 1795 is said to have been so mild that the windows of the house were frequently opened to admit fresh air.

Elizabeth Wallingford, my maternal great-grandmother, was the third wife and widow of Col. Thomas Wallingford, a wealthy merchant of Somersworth, N.H. residing in that part of the town now included in Rollinsford, in the region called Sligo.

Mrs. Wallingford was born in York. Her maiden name was Swett, and at the time of her marriage with Col. Wallingford, she was the widow of Dr. Mark Prime [Prince], and had one or two children. By her marriage with Col. Wallingford she had two children, Samuel, born February 4, 1755, and Olive, my grandmother, born May 29, 1758. Samuel was killed in a naval battle during the Revolutionary War, while acting as Lieutenant of Marines on the “Ranger,” commanded by John Paul Jones. He married Lydia Baker of Dover, N.H., and left one son, George W. Wallingford, who became a prominent lawyer in Kennebunk, Maine, some of whose descendents reside in that town. Olive married John Cushing, April 5, 1773, and died in South Berwick, March 20, 1853.

Mr. Cushing was a native of Scituate, Mass., and a merchant in Boston. He was born January 23, 1743, and died in South Berwick, February 19, 1822. Of their children, the youngest and twelfth, Mary Hamilton Cushing, was born March 1, 1803, and died in South Berwick, May 25, 1875. She married Hiram Hayes Hobbs, (my father) October 19, 1826. My father was born in North Berwick, January 12, 1802, the son of Col. Nathaniel Hobbs, who kept the tavern in that village. He attended school at Berwick Academy and Phillips Exeter Academy, and graduated at Bowdoin College in the class of 1823. He studied law in the office of William Burleigh, the father of the late John H. Burleigh. John A. Burleigh, a younger brother of William, and Tappan Wentworth were fellow students in the office at the same time with my father. After his admission to the Bar, my father formed a law partnership with John A. Burleigh which continued a year or two until the removal of Mr. Burleigh to Somersworth, N.H., where he subsequently became agent of the Great Falls Manufacturing Company. Mr. Wentworth practised law in Somersworth, N.H., and later in Lowell, Mass., where he attained wealth and fame as a leader of the Bar.

My father’s business life was passed wholly in South Berwick, with the exception of two years, when he filled the office of Clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court at Alfred, Maine. He died March 9, 1884. Nearly all my grandmother’s children were born in Boston. My Aunt Elizabeth, my Uncle John and my mother were the only ones born in the old house here. Mr. and Mrs. Cushing moved here from Boston at the request of my mother. Mrs. Wallingford had been a widow many years and was growing old and naturally desired the society and care of her only daughter. She was a woman of some wealth, and promised to build her daughter and son-in-law a house if they would return here and make a home for her, which was accordingly done, and Mrs. Wallingford passed the last years of her life with them, dying December 3, 1810 at the advanced age of 93 years.   

As will be seen by the dates, Mrs. [John Olive Wallingford] Cushing resided in Boston during the whole period of the Revolution, and for a number of years afterwards. Her personal reminiscences of those stirring times were most interesting. She saw the wounded British officers and men carried by her house in carts during the progress of the battle of Bunker Hill, and particularly noticed one young officer whose uniform was deeply stained with his blood. During the night when the city was evacuated by the English Garrison, she was aroused by the rumble of the artillery and baggage wagons, “and the measured tread of the grenadiers marching down to their boats on the shore.” Opening an upper window, she called out “What’s the matter?” The reply came up from the street in a laughing voice “The Yankees are after us.”

During the commencement of the siege, when the city was being bombarded by the American batteries on Dorchester Heights, a cannon ball passes through an out-house of her residence and, its force being spent, lodged in the ground in the back yard. This ball Mrs. Cushing brought to Berwick when she removed here, and it now is in my possession, a perfectly authentic relic of the Revolution.

During the visit of General Lafayette to this country in 1824, he passed through this village on his way from Boston to Portland. He was met at the Landing Bridge (the State Line) by the United States Marshall of the District of Maine, together with a reception committee of the leading citizens, and a general parade of the townspeople and school children, and escorted in a carriage drawn by four horses to Paul’s Hotel, then kept by Mrs. Sarah Frost (and known as Frost’s Tavern).

Here he received and replied to an address of welcome, and was then dined and probably wined. Being informed that Mrs. Cushing resided here, whom he claimed to have known in Boston during the war, he expressed a wish to call on her, and accordingly did so accompanied by the Committee.

The General’s stay in town was limited to a few hours. The night before reaching here he passed in Dover, and the night after leaving, in Kennebunk. Lafayette was at that time about 67 [70] years old. Judge Benjamin Greene [Chadbourne] was Chairman of the Committee of Reception, and William Allen Hayes was one of the youngest members.

Besides the information I have derived from members of my own family in regard to the visit of Lafayette, I am able to cite the testimony of two other witnesses. I refer to the late William D. Jewett of this town, and William H. Morton of Salmon Falls, who is happily still living. Both of these gentlemen were school boys at the time and saw the distinguished Frenchman, and were eye witnesses of the greater part of the ceremonies attending his advent.

Recurring to the old house again, it is worthy of remark that although the owners’ names have changed, it has been in the possession of the same family ever since it was built. My aunt, Miss Elizabeth Cushing, was born, lived her life of 92 years, and died in it. Before the street was widened in 1876, a row of Lombardy poplars, -- a tree once very popular in New England – stood along the front of the house. At that time it would seem to be the very identical mansion Longfellow had in mind when he wrote “The Clock on the Stairs.”

    “Somewhat back from the village street
    Stands the old-fashioned country-seat.
    Across its antique portico
    Tall poplar trees shadows throw.
    From that chamber, clothed in white,
    The bride came forth on her wedding night,
    There, in that silent room below,
    The dead lay in his shroud of snow.
    All are scattered now and fled,
    Some are married, some are dead,
    And when I ask, -- with throbs of pain,
    Ah! when shall they all meet again?
    Never here, forever there,
    Where all parting, pain, and care,
    And death and time shall disappear,
    Forever there, but never here.”

The house opposite my office, now occupied by Mr. Storer, an old house formerly standing on the lot now occupied by the Daniel E. McIntire house and the Samuel Parks house, was formerly owned by the members of the Butler family, so I have been informed, and was known as “Butler’s Row.”

Dudley Hubbard, a prominent lawyer, who owned and occupied the house now belonging to Augustus L. Hayes, at one time had his office in the Parks house, and while he was there Ether Shepley was a student in his office.

This student later was for many years Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine, and was universally acknowledged to be one of the leading jurists of New England.

 Mr. Hubbard married Sophia Dame, a sister of Amelia Dame, who married my uncle, William Cushing. Mrs. Hubbard left one daughter, who was an invalid from birth, and died young. An older daughter of Mrs. Hubbard is still well remembered in this village as Mrs. Benjamin Nason.

 I have been told that an old house formerly stood in the front yard of the Nealley house, now owned by Mrs. Pixley. This house was owned and occupied by a Capt. Howe, a retired shipmaster, who I think was postmaster here. I am not entirely certain as to the facts last stated, and do not vouch for their historical accuracy, but make the statements subject to correction by anyone who knows more about them than I do. The late Deacon Charles E. Norton told me once that he remembered when there was not a single house between my house and the residence of Mrs. Ellen A. Rollins on the westerly side of Central Square.

I forgot to mention in the right place that on a pane of glass in one of the chamber windows of my old house is scratched the name of Ann H. Sheaf, and the date 1802, still faintly legible. This lady was about 18 years old when she wrote her name there. She was the daughter of Jacob Sheaf of Portsmouth, and married Charles Cushing, a cousin of my grandfather, and resided in the old Governor Wentworth house at Little Harbor (now the summer residence of Mr. J. T. Coolidge of Boston) and died there at the age of over 90 years. Mrs. Cushing, the wife of Jacob Sheaf, was Mary Quincy, daughter of Edmund Quincy and Ann Huske. Edmund Quincy’s sister Dorothy married 1st. Governor John Hancock, and, 2nd. Captain James Scott. She was the “Dorothy Q,” of Dr. Holmes’ poem of that title.

 In conclusion I wish to congratulate the Ladies’ Club on their commendable work in investigating the ancient history of South Berwick, and I hope sufficient material may be collected to warrant its publication.

    (Signed) Charles C. Hobbs.
    South Berwick, Maine, January 14, 1902