Hamilton House

While I was up in York Harbor for the weekend I took the opportunity to visit Historic New England’s Hamilton House on Saturday afternoon while everyone else was at the beach. I’ve been on a historic-house museum kick this summer, and while I’ve been to Hamilton House (in neighboring South Berwick) before, it merits repeated visits if only for its setting and gardens. It’s the perfect Colonial/Colonial Revival House, built in the earlier period (c. 1785) by new money and “restored” with not-quite-old Boston money at the turn of the last century. In between, it was a working farm, with hay in the attic and tenants on the first floor. After it was acquired by Historic New England in 1946, it was returned to its original appearance on the exterior, but the Colonial Revival summer house interiors were retained.

Hamilton House 2

Hamilton House

Hamilton House Woodbury

Hamilton House today and in John Mead Howells’ classic Architectural Heritage of the Piscataqua (1937)+ a Charles Woodbury illustration of the house, the setting for Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Tory Lover (1901). South Berwick native Jewett apparently convinced her friends Emily and Elise Tyson (Vaughan) to buy the derelict house for their summer retreat. The Tysons had sold their former summer house in Pride’s Crossing, Massachusetts to Henry Clay Frick, who promptly knocked it down. 

Because it was a summer house, there’s more than a bit of incongruity between the furnishings and the architecture: the former is genteel “shabby chic”, early twentieth-century style, and the latter is quite grand, especially the large central hall. The straw matting running through the house contributes quite a bit to this rambling mix. While obviously I am a Philistine when it comes to the interior of Hamilton House, it is much appreciated by others, and was also quite influential in its own time, as explained in this great post over at the Down East Dilettante. I did appreciate how its interiors related to its setting, poised as it is over the Salmon Falls River with gardens, fields and forest also in view, and the rather charming Zuber-esque murals of Portsmouth artist George Fernald Porter.

Hamilton House 9

Hamilton House 10

Hamilton Mural

Hamilton Dining

Hamilton House 7

Hamilton House 6

First floor parlor, murals and dining room, and the requisite open hearth in the kitchen.

The summer furnishings also make the house feel very airy, particularly on the second floor. If the Tyson ladies found anything remotely Victorian in the house when they took possession, I am certain that it was banished immediately! As we ascended upstairs, we could see an exposed beam which was repurposed by the house’s builder, Captain Jonathan Hamilton: when he didn’t need it for one of his ships, it was used for his new house.

Hamilton House 8

Hamilton House3

Hamilton House 5

Hamilton Pano

Hamilton House Windows

Hamilton House 4

Hamilton Dolls

Just three of Elise Tyson Vaughan’s vast collection of dolls: apparently the remainder are in the Peabody Essex Museum. It’s impossible to search its vast collections so who knows?

The Tysons moved an adjacent barn and laid out an enclosed garden of “colonial” flowers surrounding a sundial and fountain and extending to a garden cottage composed of salvaged doors and planks from a first-period house across the river: a shady respite from the summer sun but at the same time open to its environs. As you can see, it’s the season for phlox, which surely must be the perfect Colonial Revival perennial.

Hamilton Garden 2

Hamilton Garden Cottage

Hamilton Garden


12 responses to “Hamilton House

  • downeastdilettante

    It really doesn’t get lovelier than Hamilton House, does it? I assume you own a copy of “A Noble and Dignified Stream”, an excellent account of the Colonial Revival in the Piscataqua region? Fascinated to know that the Tyson’s previous summer house was knocked down for the giant bloated baroque Frick house. Interesting congruity between the Frick house and the Tysons: the Tyson’s architect at Hamilton was Herbert Browne, a partner in Little, Browne & Moore, the firm that designed the Frick cottage.

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    • downeastdilettante

      Meant to add that Little Browne also designed Elise Tyson Vaughan’s country house in Sherborn, Massacusetts, in Cape Dutch style on the exterior, but with nearly identical Colonial Revival decor, right down to George Porter Fernald murals in the dining room (Fernald actually worked for Little Browne). I’ve had tons of material bout both the Sherborn House

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      • downeastdilettante

        (damned send button. That’s what I get for talking too much). Anyway, ti of material about both the Sherborn House and Fernald himself, if I ever get around to blogging them. Fernald was an extremely interesting figure.

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  • downeastdilettante

    (damned send button. That’s what I get for talking too much). Anyway, ti of material about both the Sherborn House and Fernald himself, if I ever get around to blogging them. Fernald was an extremely interesting figure.

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    • daseger

      Lots to respond to here! I do love your post on HH but knew I could never go in as deep as you–the beauty of the link! I had a sweet guide the other day, but she didn’t know anything about the Tysons, so I’ve been reading up on them–he introduced steamships to the Yangtze River! Is the Sherborn house still standing–sounds like another road trip. Hope all is well with you.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Susie

    Wow, the Hamilton House is a beauty! I can’t get over those chimneys. Love the historic and present day photos, it’s so recognizable!

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  • Cotton Boll Conspiracy

    The interior is something else, isn’t it? What a striking house. Thanks for posting both exterior and interior photos.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Helen Breen

    Hi Donna,

    Thanks for sharing yet another of your summer sojourns. Hamilton House is charming . I particularly liked that (dare I say?) the white hobnail bedspread. Every room was so inviting.

    Well said -“It’s the perfect Colonial/Colonial Revival House, built in the earlier period (c. 1785) by new money and “restored” with not-quite-old Boston money at the turn of the last century.”

    Enjoyed the link to Down East Dilettante article too. And let’s not forget your wonderful photos of Hamilton House.

    Enjoy the rest of the summer…

    Like

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