EARLY HISTORY OF GREAT WORKS
by Miss Margaret Foote
Margaret Foote lived from 1832-1915 and is buried in Pleasant Hill Cemetery on Wadleigh Lane. She may have been a descendant of Capt. William L. Foote, the woolen mill owner at Great Works in the 1830s. She seems to have lived in a house still standing near the mill building on Brattle Street.
The boundaries of the subdivisions of a town are necessarily somewhat vague. After consultation with the “oldest inhabitant”, I have taken, as the limits of Great Works, from the “Great House” mentioned by Hon. Benj. Chadbourne in his history of Berwick, on the north, to the old Meeting House in Old Field.
A Miss Foote lived near the Newichawannock Woolen Mill at Great Works, according to the Atlas of York County, 1872.
As Mr. Chadbourne's history gives the origin of the name, it is not needful to repeat it. The Great Works River or Newichawannock River as it is now called furnishes the water power for the Newichawannock Co. mills.
The stream flows from Bauneg Beg Pond, thro' miles of grassy meadows, or between low hills, where a slight descent furnishes falls, which Mr. Chadbourne says, “are being utilized for saw mills, to such an extent, that the country will soon be stripped of its timber”. One hundred years has proved his prediction sadly true as our bare pastures testifies.
The “Great Hole”, on this river, is a small circular basin, perhaps twenty feet in depth. Perpendicular walls of rock surround it on three sides. The river here makes a sharp turn to the south, and a little below the “Great Hole”, flows below the wall of a similar precipice on the opposite side. Some sudden convulsion of nature must have rent the rock asunder, and the river has worn its channel along the narrow pass, widening and deepening, as it flowed along.
The site of the Newichawannock mills was said to be the camping grounds of that old chief, Newichawannock and his tribe. If it were so, it would show an appreciation of the beautiful, which we do not expect in the “Noble Savage”. The Indians called the falls, “Assabomoedoe”.
Before the mills were built, the tall pines grew on the banks, and in the little valley. The earliest flowers and the greenest grass flourished there. Mayflowers were of a deeper pink and Hepaticas a darker blue than elsewhere. The Wayfaring tree showed its white blossoms, just out of reach.
Below the Newichawannock mills are the ruins of an old dam, called the Paper Mill Dam, probably because a company talked of erecting a paper mill there. The Old Bulkhead was a delightful place. Wild flowers grew around it, and the shadows of the tall old trees made it an attractive spot, in which to sit and read, while the pools below furnished perch, bass and minnows ( ) had patience enough to wait for a bite. The point of rock was a safe place for a fire to cook the fish the patient angler caught and his sisters helped prepare and eat.
Half a mile below the dam, the river emptied itself into the Piscataqua at Yeaton's Mills, formerly Leigh's Mills. Perhaps Chadbourne's mills might have been the earliest name of the mills at the “Streams”.
The Plaisted land ran from the “Great House” of Mr. Chadbourne to the garrison at Great Works and perhaps below or beyond. From Mr. Chadbourne's, a lane ran along the hill top, giving access to three or more farms. The first house was owned by Major Leigh. Many of his family are buried in the old grave yard. None of his descendents are now residents in this town.
Next, the Clement's house. Sixty years ago, the last of the family, a solitary spinster, lived and died there. One sometimes wonders if solitary spinsterhood is a necessary condition of New England life.
Beyond this is “The Old Ark”, a house built by Mr. Ichabod Goodwin in 1764. The date was marked on a brick in the chimney. This was the early home of Mrs. Thompson. The house was ---------- Gen. Lord. After Massachusetts abolished slavery, he (_________ )
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into this small house near the river, and there raised a numerous family. With the characteristic improvidence of the race they took no thought to the future till a mortgage “ate up” the place, as mortgages have a way of doing, and the family was obliged to seek another home.
One of his family who died recently has proved that a man may arise over the almost insurmountable obstacle of color to an honored place among men, that “A man's a man for all that.”
At the foot of the hill, and near the Advent Chapel, are two old houses. One was probably the house or office of one of the Sullivan's, as an old sign put together with wooden pegs, and afterwards repaired with hand wrought nails, was found by Mr. Drury, the present owner, on the premises. The sign bears the name “E. Sullivan, Lawyer”.
This house was owned by a Lord family. One of the sons, a wealthy farmer, died recently in Old Town, Maine. Three of the daughters, Mrs. Dudley Goodwin, Mrs. Francis Whitehouse, and Mrs. Olive Wentworth lived and died in Berwick and Rollinsford.
The other house in the hollow, the Pal Nason house, was recently sold. When the purchaser received his deed, he found it was an original one. The house was built on land owned probably by the Plaisteds, who made no claim for the land, till possession gave the incumbent ownership.
When the Portsmouth Company bought the mill at the Landing, they purchased also the house occupied by Lucius Quintos Cincinnatus Nason. Mr. Nason then built the small house, beyond these last spoken of. The poor man was just able to support himself and wife on his scanty wages as a day laborer, and had before him that prospect so dreaded by the poor of New England of “Going to the Poor House”.
Mr. Nason was a small, dark, silent man, who cherished a reverence for Gen. Washington. His wife atoned for his lack of words, being a woman of unusual talent and fluency, while he seldom spoke. One evening two young girls came in to see Mrs. Nason. Mr. Nason was sitting at the table eating his supper. He looked at them and remarked, “When Gen. George Washington went into a room where people were eating, he never stopped”. The girls were talking with Mrs. Nason and paid no attention to the remark and the old man raised his voice and said, “When Gen. George Washington went into a room where people were eating their suppers, he always went out the door.” The girls meekly followed the illustrious example.
The poor man had a great horror of thunder storms. When he saw a shower coming, he took refuge in the house and after carrying all the small iron articles, from the teakettle to the darning needles, into the cellar, he got into the bed in the corner of the room, with his wife's Bible in his hands. There he staid till the danger was passed, then put away the Bible until a shower made him flee to it again for safety.
During an illness of Mr. Nason, Dr. Jewett was called, and Mr. Nason showed him a medal belonging to his father. The doctor recognized it as the badge of membership in the Cincinnatus , a society composed of the officers of Gen. Washington's staff. With its aid, he established Mr. Nason's claim to the pension due the children of those officers. The old couple were made comfortable during the remainder of their lives, by what seemed only an accident, the showing of the medal to one who knew about it, and had the desire and the power to help the poor old people.
The Hill-Goodwin House at Great Works in the 1800s. The original house likely dates to c. 1700. The barn that appears was replaced by another barn that remains today. Photo courtesy of Rick Becker Antiques.
On the bank of the river stood the “Hill House”. It is now occupied by Mr. Ed. Goodwin, whose father, Mr. Thomas Goodwin, purchased it from Miss Hannah Hill, the last of a large family. She lived alone in the charming --------- about the year 1834. Mr. Geo. Plaisted moved into it at that date.
Behind the hill is a house built by Grotius Williams, a slave owned by Mrs. Goodwin, who brought from the old home in York, many articles, which we value now. Four Washington pitchers were used as receptacles for sugar and salt in her pantry. Now the daughters say, “Money would not buy them if we had them.” Regrets won't mind broken hearts or broken china.
The Plaisted Garrison, just across the river, was built so close to the bank that it needed no defense on that side. No savage foe could scale those perpendicular walls. That people could fall from the bank did not occur to them, till one night a Mrs. Perkins fell over when she was bringing in the washing probably hung on the bushes, and was dead when picked up.
A beautiful young girl, broken hearted by the falsehood of her lover, threw herself from the bank and was killed, while an insane woman jumped off one day, and was picked up with only a few bruises.
A sacrilegious old deacon living there took, one day, the silver tankards given the church by Col. Ichabod Plaisted, filled them with cider, and carried them to his men at work in the mill. Master and men drank. Unlike Belshazzar, they saw no handwriting on the wall of rock above them, but their doom was as sure. That night a freshet swept thru the narrow gorge, carrying all before it to destruction.
The date of the erection of the Plaisted house is not known. It was taken down in the year 1826 and the timbers used in building a small house nearer the road, once occupied by Mr. Dudley Goodwin.
My brothers occasionally picked up Indian relics together with lead bullets and balls, around or in the old cellar but they found them half a century too (___________________________) them away as valueless.
Two copper coins, bearing the date of 1610, were recently ploughed up near the site of the old house.
One of the Plaisted family, Capt. Elisha, went to Wells for a bride. On his return, he was captured by the Indians. They were captivated by his wedding finery, and demanded as ransom thirty pounds sterling and a ruffled shirt for each warrior.
The women took to their flax wheels, spun wool and made the garments required. Soon a long line of dusky braves presented themselves before the eyes of their admiring squaws, attired in a ruffled shirt. “Only that and nothing more”.
The Plaisted Coat of Arms, three boars' heads, is in the possession of Mack Plaisted of Riverside, California. One realizes our local history was begun too late, when trying to find items and dates.
The “Gerrish House” was built by a descendent of the Gerrish whose grant included “Gerrish Island”. The father of Capt. Benj. Gerrish died in Savannah. His widow lived in the house and no garrison could have been needed for its defense in her lifetime. Her two children, Benj. And Betsy, were “ruled with a rod of iron”. After her death, Benj. married Miss Abigail Lewis. The property was divided. The two children lived, each in a part of the house, and held (______________________________________) .
Madam Gerrish was very sick at one time. Her neighbors were standing around awaiting her last breath when the noise made by bringing in a little bound boy, who had run away and was caught and brought back, attracted her attention. When told the cause of the noise she said, “Bring him in and lay him across my bed.” The poor struggling little waif was placed in the required position. The madam raised herself and with loud scoldings gave the squirming little fellow a sound spanking. After that exercise her recovery was rapid and it is hoped the little fellow ran away to stay.
Miss Betsy lived some years after her mother's decease. When death loosened Miss Betsy's tight grasp on her earthly possessions, her will so disposed of her properties that Benj. could have none of it. He succeeded in breaking the will, and the treasured heirlooms came into the possession of Mrs. Benj. Gerrish. An old chair, which came over in the Mayflower, along with so many other old chairs, tables, desks, highboys and chests of drawers, now scattered in old colonial houses, that we are sure the Mayflower had better carrying facilities than the ark, even.
Two silk quilts, whose intricate patterns of vine leaf and flowers, are a wonder even in these days of fine needlework (_____________________) of wax works. This was more than a year old, even then. It was a mahogany box perhaps thirty-six by twenty inches in size and four inches deep. The glass in the door was of a greenish tint and a lump in one corner showed that it was made when making plate glass was in its early stages.
A shepherd and a shepherdess were pictured in the lower corners, two Angels, in the upper ones, tiny sheep and goats were standing on the mimic rocks or grazing on the grass, a little touch gave a silvery gleam, fruits and flowers, filled vacant spaces and the whole was surrounded by a garland of barberries. When I was a little girl, my mother would sometimes take me to a tea party at Mrs. Gerrish's. I used to sit on a cricket and look at the wax works. It was like a scene from a fairy tale. The Angels were radiant in white and gold, the shepherds and shepherdess prettier than any little girls doll, and the fruits and flowers so tantalizing.
One of the Angels had lost her crown, it lay just below her little hand, and the sight of her bare pink head was so pitiful to me, that after vainly wishing I could help her get it, I looked at the other Angel.
After Mrs. Gerrish's death, the niece to whom she gave the wax-work had it taken down to carry away. At the first movement, the whole fell together. Shepherd and shepherdess, sheep and goats, trees, flowers and fruit, the crownless Angel and the crowned, were one heap of painted dust. My fairy-land was a ruin.
On the road back of the hill from Capt. Gerrish's was the “Hodgdon House”. Mr. Richard Hodgdon,, who moved into this house in 1806, was a descendent of the Benoni Hodgdon whose house was burned, during the Indian raid on the Tozier garrison. Mr. Hodgdon was a seaman in his earlier years and his tales of the sea were a delight to my brothers.
His numerous family have scattered far and wide. To the one whose home is in the town of his birth, I am indebted for many of the incidents given here.
Beyond this is an old house owned by the heirs of Capt. John Hanscom.
The house once owned by Parson Thompson was nearly opposite the old “Meeting House”, The Church of the First Parish of Berwick. There the earlier inhabitants were christened, married, or at least “Cried in Meeting” and carried from its hallowed walls to their narrow house in their old grave yard, where granite boulders, or slate slabs with quaint ( ___________) mark their final resting place.
“Let not ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys and destiny obscure,
Or grandeur hear with a disdainful smile,
The short and simple annals of the poor.”
“No further seek their merits to disclose,
Or draw the frailties from their drear abode,
There, they alike in trembling hope, repose,
Upon the bosom of the Father God.”