Throughout much of the 19th century this house, located on the Portland to Boston turnpike, was a tavern known as Quamphegan House or the Quamphegan Hotel, where travelers coming over the bridge and mill workers associated with the Portsmouth Company cotton textile mill mingled, stabled their horses and and enjoyed hospitality.
Early property history – the Lord family
In the early 1800s, a house here belonged to Gen. John Lord, a merchant who lived from 1765 to 1815. John Lord owned mill rights at the Quamphegan waterfall. He also built ships at Pipe Stave Landing, and was a partner of Jonathan Hamilton, shipbuilder and West Indies merchant who built the Hamilton House about 1785. Lord rented the house to tenants, including Thomas Abbot and Nathaniel Parker in 1814.
In 1833, Lord’s son and heir, John P. Lord, sold the balance of his inherited land along Main Street, including the property at 48 Main. The house here was then occupied by Parker Abbott, a tailor with a family of eight, and Nathaniel Garland, a truckman, or wagon driver, with a household of five. Their trades—tailoring and hauling—were well suited to a community swelling with mill operatives and new construction. The Portsmouth Company cotton mill was incorporated in 1831.
Lord sold this Main Street corner property to relatives who were also investors—his brother, Portsmouth merchant Samuel Lord, and his brother-in-law, lawyer William A. Hayes. But their tenure as landlords was short-lived. By 1838 Hayes sold the property.
In many respects, the Lord land sale of 1833 represents a watershed in the history of the Landing and the town. It was a substantial property for the neighborhood—nine acres—and sold for $3,200, a large sum, indicating the extent of the holdings. Beyond the tavern, the entire property included “an old mansion house, large barn, store, and dwelling house, mechanic shops and other buildings” on both sides of “the road leading over the Landing,” now Park Street, which was part of the sale. With this transaction, John P. Lord divested not only the house and stables on the corner lot at 48 Main, but also his father’s homestead and store, located near the corner of Factory (now Liberty) and Pleasant streets. For six generations the Lord family had staked their fortunes in maritime trade from this tidewater village. Now John P. Lord, lawyer and statesman, sold the family homestead at the Landing. The timing of the sale—three years after the death of his wife Sophia and six days before he was married to Sarah Noble—was significant as well. Lord’s personal life and business affairs were now centered a half-mile up Main Street, away from the wharves, at the corner of Young Street, where he built his new home. In his lifetime, the power and influence exerted by the Lords and other long-established merchant families at the Landing were displaced. By the time a new map of the Landing was drawn in 1856, the Lord name was erased from the neighborhood.
Hotel era – the Nealleys
Buying this property from the Lord family members was a young manufacturer and storekeeper, John B. Nealley (1810-1886), one of six brothers who moved from nearby Nottingham, New Hampshire. Nealley’s older brother, blacksmith Eben F. Nealley (1807-1888), bought the site in 1844 to operate a tavern and livery stable serving travelers and residents alike. The property, shown near the Park Street corner on the above map, remained in the Nealley family for 60 years.
John B. Nealley paid $1,800 for the property in 1838, and evidently first rented it out as a tavern, called the Quamphegan House; an 1840 advertisement in the New-Hampshire Gazette lists Samuel Beck as the proprietor. John himself lived at the house still standing at 169 Main Street.
Late in 1844 John sold the property to his brother Eben, a blacksmith, who operated the tavern and a livery service for decades. Resident George Frosst recalled painting a sign for Nealley’s Quamphegan Hotel in 1846, “a large sign about three by four feet [with] the picture of his favorite horse, Black Hawke.” In the 1850 census, Eben is listed as an innkeeper with 15 in the household, including his father and youngest brother, eight boarders ages 20 to 25, and the family of Samuel Ricker, a wheelwright.
Nealley provided lodging and tavern fare for turnpike travelers and locals alike. Writing about a spring flood that threatened to breach the milldam, local historian Annie Baer described how men fought the rushing water through the night, backfilling the dam with bags of cotton waste. “At midnight Mr. Hale [the mill agent] sent the force in squads to Nealley tavern for a hot supper,” and by dawn the storm passed and the dam was saved. Nealley owned the property for more than 40 years, until his death in 1888.
Ownership passed to Eben Nealley’s son and sole heir, Edwin C. Nealley, a steam engineer at the Navy yard in Kittery. Since Edwin was long established in Kittery, he chose to sell the house to his cousin, Grafton Nealley, who lived in South Berwick on Portland Street. But after Edwin died suddenly in an accident in 1893, the house was sold to his five minor children, who, with their mother, Martha A. Nealley, moved to the Landing.
Their new location, next to the former bakeshop at 54 Main, may suggest the means of support the 50-year-old widow Martha and her family may have had. By 1900 the two eldest children and their spouses ran a bakery, perhaps renting space next door, which was still owned by the estate of the former baker’s son, John H. Plumer. Whether the bakery prospered in the years following the closing of the Landing mill is not known; but by 1904, ten years after they moved to town, the Nealleys were relocating to another state and a new line of employment. In Hopedale, Massachusetts, the men all found work as machinists or engineers at the Draper Corporation, the largest manufacturer of power looms in the country. In leaving South Berwick for Hopedale, the five Nealley grandchildren left behind the promise of business ownership that blacksmith Eben Nealley and his brothers had sought 75 years before, choosing instead the reliability of a factory job far from the banks of the Salmon Falls.
The Golden years
The story of this house and its occupants demonstrates not only the trends that sidelined the Landing neighborhood in favor of the “Corner” (today’s Central Square), but also the ways that family ties served to anchor the neighborhood and mitigate that change.
The sale of the Nealley property in 1908 signaled a new era in the neighborhood’s history—one characterized by dislocation, both geographic and social. The house was purchased by Rose G. Leighton, the wife of a wealthy industrialist and real estate developer in Los Angeles, California. How Rose came to buy the Main Street house in South Berwick is a tale of two trends—social mobility and family continuity—and how they shaped a neighborhood.
James Golden (formerly Golding) was an Irish farm laborer and mason who emigrated to Boston in the early 1840s. There he married Ann Cauley, who arrived from Ireland in 1842 at age 15, unable to read or write. Their first child, a daughter named Rose Anna Golden, was born in 1847. When their second child, Thomas, was born three years later, they had moved to Maine and were living in South Berwick. By 1870 they had seven children. Rose, then 23, worked as a dressmaker, while three of her younger siblings, ages 14 to 20, worked in the woolen mill on the Great Works River. But a path out of the neighborhood and the low-wage economy of a mill village seems to have opened for Rose in the mid-1870s, when she moved to Manchester, New Hampshire, perhaps to board and earn a living as a dressmaker there. By 1880 she had married machinist George A. Leighton, a widower with a nine-year-old daughter, Maud, who lived near the corner of Concord and Walnut streets. George and Rose evidently had no relatives in common, and it is unlikely that George, who worked in the machine shop of the Manchester Locomotive Works, travelled to South Berwick on business.
How the dressmaker and the machinist met may be surmised from records of the neighborhood where George lived in Manchester. The 1880 federal census lists three dressmakers, one shirt maker and two milliners among his immediate neighbors. The Leightons shared a house with his employer, William Corey, manufacturer of latch needles and knitting machines; Corey’s wife and sister-in-law, living at the same address, were both needle makers at the Corey factory. It is possible that Rose moved to Manchester to find work, perhaps after her father’s death in 1878, and met George at the needle factory or as a dressmaker on Concord Street. A widow Ann Golden appears in the Manchester city directory from 1879 to 1884, indicating that Rose may have moved with her mother and some of her siblings.
George Leighton had a penchant for mechanical design, and in the early 1880s he patented improvements in knitting machines that produced seamless, rib-knit socks and long underwear, a widely popular development in garments of the period. He began manufacturing “power circular knitting machines” in rented space at the S. C. Forsaith machine shop in Manchester, NH, in 1882, and five years later built the nearby Everett Knitting Works, producing knitted goods—fine-gauge underwear, cardigan undershirts and leggings—as well as knitting machines. George went on to other ventures in politics and business, serving in the state legislature, organizing the Union Electric Company, and founding the Leighton Machine Company to manufacture and distribute his patented knitting machines nationally. He and Rose emerged from the working class to become wealthy patrons in less than 20 years.
But in 1891 George’s only child Maud, age 20, died at their home on Beech Street, Manchester, of consumption (tuberculosis)—ironically, a common disease of the textile mills. Though her death ended the Leighton’s lineage, it may have bonded them more tightly to family at the Landing. Rose brought her young niece, Mary (daughter of her brother Thomas) and her sister Sarah to live with them in Manchester, perhaps to provide Mary with voice lessons; when she returned to South Berwick in 1904, Mary was uniquely listed in the town register as an “operatic singer.” Rose may have supported her mother and widowed sister Mary Perkins as well, buying a house for them on Garland Street at the Landing, where they were living in 1900. Her brother Thomas returned from Biddeford, where he had worked as a laborer in the 1880s, bringing his wife and two of his three children, including Rose, age 12, her aunt’s namesake. They lived on Liberty Street, where Thomas walked to work as a weaver at the Brattle Street woolen mill. In the late 1880s Rose’s brother John returned from Portsmouth, where he had followed his father’s stonecutting trade and married Irish immigrant Hannah Sullivan. They had six children, all born in South Berwick, and by 1900 they were living on Main Street. In 1908, Rose bought the house at 48 Main for John’s family. With her backing, the entire Golden family was reunited at the Landing, 25 years after being dispersed by the death of their father James.
Like many immigrant families, the Golden clan had expanded in the first half-century since their arrival. But the family was also considerably diminished by diseases common to the period and to the mills. In 1891, the same year Rose lost her stepdaughter to consumption, her youngest sister Katherine, age 26, died of the disease in Dover. Their sister Sarah, who was living with Rose in 1900, returned to South Berwick by 1904 and died of typhoid fever that year. In Thomas’s family, the scourge was most evident: In five years following 1910, Thomas, his wife Mary, and their daughter Rose all died of tuberculosis. Thus, the lineage of about half the Golden children was cut short by contagious disease.
By 1910, tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in America, responsible for more than 10 percent of all deaths. The Golden family was no exception. Among the two-dozen members of the family, many of whom began their work lives in local textile factories, five died of tuberculosis. Family continuity was severed by the early deaths of many Golden descendants, particularly in the family of the oldest son, Thomas. Of the five children born to Thomas and Mary Golden, only one is known to have survived to age 30. High mortality rates combined with social mobility to destabilize the Landing community.
In 1901 Rose and George Leighton moved to Los Angeles, where he invested in real estate and began an art collection (later donated to the Currier Museum), and in 1904 he built the Hotel Leighton, a four-story, 104-room, turreted hotel overlooking West Lake Park (now MacArthur Park). Five years later they built a large home a few blocks from the hotel, at the corner of the park. In summers Rose and her husband returned to Manchester, where George continued in business as president of Leighton Machine. The company seems to have prospered—he expanded the plant in 1909 and built an iron foundry in 1916—and a century after its founding in 1894, the business was still in operation.
Rose used the wealth and connections she accumulated as the wife of a successful industrialist in Manchester to leverage her family out of the financial hardships brought on by industrial decline at the Landing. Those hardships may have been felt most acutely in the family of her youngest brother John. He was out of work as a stonecutter for a year, beginning in the spring of 1909. The only income for the household came from his two oldest sons, who were employed at the Cummings shoe factory. But in the year preceding the 1910 census, both sons were not working for about half the year. Rates of unemployment among local factory workers were high at the time, and the Golden family may have been caught in this economic decline. For example, 60 percent of shoe factory workers in the Landing neighborhood were unemployed during the year prior to the 1910 census, for an average of eleven weeks—almost three months. Unemployment affected more than 80 percent of local workers in the cotton and wool factories, who were unemployed an average of eight weeks in the year. By contrast, in 1880 the shoe factory rate of unemployment was only 12 percent, although their time out of work was about the same as in 1910—ten weeks on average. Not surprisingly, the number of cotton factory workers in the neighborhood in 1910 was less than half of what it had been in 1880; all the remaining cotton workers were employed a mile away at the Salmon Falls Manufacturing Company (which operated until 1927), rather than at the Landing.
The source of John Golden’s unemployment was more than a falloff in the construction trade, however. Sometime in late April or early May of 1910 he was admitted to the Maine Insane Hospital in Augusta, a facility housing over eight hundred inmates. He was identified as blind, yet he was tallied in the previous census as able to read and write. Perhaps his loss of sight and inability to work contributed to a mental breakdown; a later deed described him as “inchoate,” and John was still a patient at the state hospital when he died in 1931. But in 1910 his wife Hannah faced the prospect of raising six children, ages eight to twenty-one, with no steady source of income. Clearly Rose’s support in providing housing was crucial in keeping them together, and ten years later, in 1920, they were all still living in the house on Main Street, the youngest then 18 and graduating from high school. Three of the older sons took factory jobs that would predict the course of their lives: George was a buffer in the shoe factory, where he would work the rest of his life; Daniel was a finisher in the woolen mill, where he would later clerk; and John was a pipefitter in the cotton mill, a skill he would later apply at the naval shipyard. All three stayed in South Berwick throughout their lives and never married. But the other three children left town within a few years, benefitting from education and employment opportunities afforded by their wealthy aunt.
The prosperity accumulated by the Leightons served both to bind the Golden family together in their hometown in the turbulent years after the mill closing and to launch them to other horizons. Rose Golden Leighton gave her brother’s children the means to build lives beyond the factory neighborhood. In that respect, she promoted not stability, but social mobility, within her family. Her niece Mabel graduated from Berwick Academy in 1915 as valedictorian, took a two-year teacher’s course at the state Normal School, and taught here before moving to Massachusetts for better wages. Raymond completed a four-year degree at Lowell Technical Institute to become a machinist in Manchester (likely at Leighton Machine) and later in Biddeford at the Saco-Lowell Shops, manufacturers of textile machines. Frank began his work life as a dresser in the woolen mill, and by 1910, at age 18, he had joined his older brother in the shoe factory. But unlike George, Frank pursued an interest in mechanics and by 1915 was boarding in Manchester, working as a machinist for his uncle’s company. He ventured into sales and in 1920 was back living in South Berwick as a commercial salesman for Leighton Machine. After Frank returned to Manchester the following year, he married there and stayed with the company the rest of his career. At age sixty-five he succeeded his uncle as president of Leighton Machine.
Leveraged by profits of the Leighton Machine Company, three of the Golden grandchildren received an education that would sustain them far from the tidewater town of their youth. In 1921 they left for other New England states—the college student, the teacher and the machinist—and the house at 48 Main Street was sold. Over three generations, the Golden family had bridged the economic divide between laborer and industrialist, bolstered by the strength of family.
No Golden descendants live in South Berwick today (2015). The four grandchildren who stayed in town (all male) took jobs in trades—shoe heeler, shoe laster, store clerk, and pipefitter—and lived out their lives here. None of them married. Landing residents who did prosper found work in new industries that replaced textiles—industries such as telephones and electric power, which dominated the twentieth century as electronics now dominates the twenty-first. The Nealleys, Nasons and Plumers are gone too, but their houses have survived to chronicle an era of economic expansion and recoil, and its impact on a single neighborhood, known as the Landing place.
Later in the twentieth century this house was the home of South Berwick postmaster Harold Joy. The town dedicated land across Main Street and along the river Joy Park in Harold Joy's honor.
(Posted 2-2016 and updated 9-2016 – Excerpted from a 2015 Historic District Commission Report by Nina Maurer; edited by Wendy Pirsig. Sources: Old Berwick Historical Society archives; York County Register of Deeds; "Quamphegan House," New-Hampshire Gazette, June 16, 1840, Genealogy Bank, http://www.genealogybank.com; George Washington Frosst, "Quamphegan Landing;" Annie Wentworth Baer, “The Landing Mill and Its Time”; South Berwick Register, 1904; Kenyon Butterfield, "Leading Manufacturers and Merchants of New Hampshire," New York, 1887; "The George A. Leighton Memorial," Currier Museum of Art; E. Dana Durand, "Mortality Statistics: 1910," Bureau of the Census, Bulletin 109; "Leighton Hotel," Restaurant Ware Collectors Network, accessed November 12, 2015, http://www.restaurantwarecollectors.com.)