Thought to have been built as early as the 1700s, the house at the corner of Portland Street and Agamenticus Road was in the 1850s and 1860s home to two Sarah Orne Jewetts who were relatives of the author by the same name.
The author certainly had childhood memories of this part of Portland Street. She recalled the Town House that had been Rev. Ebenezer Boyd’s old Baptist church, on the spot that later became the Soldiers’ Monument.
“I remember that the unpainted woodwork had taken a beautiful brown tint with age,” Jewett wrote of the church in her essay, “The Old Town of Berwick,” “and that it used to be a vast pleasure in my childhood to steal into the silent place, and to sit alone, or with small, whispering friends, in one of the high, square pews.”
The map at right shows the neighborhood around the Town House during Jewett's childhood. Her memories were vivid because she must have played here often, and perhaps the “small, whispering friends” included some of her relatives.
The modern photo at left shows the house of the author’s great uncle Thomas Jewett on the left, and that of her second cousins Elisha and Sally Jewett on the right, behind the monument. The Town House (former Baptist church) had been about where the monument now stands on the traffic island.
The story of Elisha and Sally Jewett is confusing because, in addition to the author-to-be, there were two other Sarah Orne Jewetts, Elisha Jewett’s wife Sally, whose real name was Sarah Orne Jewett, and their infant daughter.
South Berwick’s original Jewett generation had consisted of three brothers, Theodore, Thomas and Benjamin. In 1844, the son of Benjamin, Elisha H. Jewett, married the daughter of Thomas, his cousin. Her name was Sarah Orne Jewett, and she was 29 years older than the author. The author’s father was the son of Theodore. Both Sarah Orne Jewetts, and Sally’s daughter, were named after Theodore’s first wife Sarah Orne, who had died in her late twenties back in 1819.
Elisha and Sally Jewett lived at 176 Portland Street, across from her parents. Elisha Jewett is mentioned in a late 19th century newspaper article as having been a lumber contractor on the USS Constitution when it was repaired at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. With Sarah Orne Jewett’s father he had been one of the founding members of the local Odd Fellows chapter in 1845. During 1864-65, he represented South Berwick in the Maine Senate.
At the time Elisha was elected in 1864, he was 48 and Sally, 44, was expecting a baby. They had two other children, John and 7-year-old Susan. The Portland Street cemetery also holds two unnamed infants of theirs who died in the 1840s, when Sally was in her late 20s. In 1864, Elisha’s elderly mother, Susan Jameson Jewett (1788-1883), was likely living with the family.
Across Portland Street, Sally’s father, Thomas Jewett, turned 75 on May 8, 1864. His health may have been failing, and he revised his will about a week after his birthday. He was the last of the original Jewett brothers, Capt. Jewett down at the Corner having died four years before. Then, on June 5, Thomas died, and his daughter Sally went into labor, giving birth the next day to a baby girl, the littlest Sarah Orne Jewett. Some time later, subject perhaps to the hazards of childbirth so common then, Sally fell ill. She died on August 31.
Meanwhile, down the street, Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett, the author-to-be, a sensitive teenager, was herself in delicate health. It is difficult for us to estimate the impact of this situation on her, her physician father and the rest of the family during the winter of 1864-1865—first the fall of the last patriarch, then a motherless infant to care for, two other children at home, two elderly widowed grandmothers-- Elisha’s mother and now Sally’s. Even in an age when death was common, even for a family that was relatively well off, the winter must have been a struggle. And then, the following April, the baby Sarah Orne Jewett died at the age of 10 months. She is buried in the Portland Street cemetery, next to her mother.
This article was updated July 2010.