The people and places of South Berwick, Maine, Sarah Orne Jewett's home town, clearly inspired much of her fiction. Below is a selection of Jewett's stories and essays through which South Berwick's past clearly echoes.

 by Sarah Orne Jewett

"The Old Town of Berwick” is Sarah Orne Jewett’s history of her hometown, South Berwick, Maine, with an emphasis on the years before 1814 when the name Berwick applied to present-day Berwick, South Berwick and North Berwick. The essay was published in 1894 in New England Magazine with the illustrations that appear here.  We are grateful to Terry Heller of Coe College for typesetting this document. Further notes on this essay are at the Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project

Throughout Jewett’s writings, her descriptions of the physical landscape are often very accurate. Taking her father’s advice, she wrote about what she knew, and her short stories sometimes read like 19th century travelogues. Her purpose in writing “The Old Town of Berwick” was to keep alive the places and people and stories which were familiar and dear to her. However, a few references in her essay here are not historically accurate. Because “The Old Town of Berwick” is often read as a local history, there has been a need to point out a few important inaccuracies in Jewett’s account.  These will be mentioned in the notes accompanying the essay.

The Old Town of Berwick by Sarah Orne Jewett - Part I.

This location appears to be Leigh's Mills (later Varney's Mills) at the falls of the Great Works River Low Tide. The old fishing place.

I have always believed that Martin Pring must have been the first English discoverer of my native town, when he came to the head of tide water in the Piscataqua River in 1603. Bartholomew Gosnold had sailed along the coast in 1602, and Pring's pilot was one of Gosnold's seamen. He brought his two little vessels, the "Speedwell" and the "Discoverer," of fifty and twenty-six tons burden respectively, in search of adventure and of sassafras bark, which at that time in England was believed to be a sovereign remedy for human ails. TThe records say that Pring could find no inhabitants in the Indian villages near the coast, except a few old people, from whom he learned that they had all gone up the river to their chief fishing place.

by Sarah Orne Jewett

Frost Tavern in 2020

   This text is presented with the assistance of Terry Heller, Coe College, who writes, “’The Stage Tavern’ appeared in Youth's Companion (74:184-5), April 12, 1900, where it was illustrated by an unidentified artist. Richard Cary included the story in Uncollected Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett. This text is from Youth's Companion.” Dr. Heller’s annotated text, with original illustrations, can be read at the Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project website.

 Several buildings still standing in South Berwick, Maine, were once stagecoach stops, including the former Frost Tavern shown at here, still an inn today.  Decades before the author was born, the Jewett House itself may have been a stage tavern.

   It was early spring weather in a Maine town, so near the coast that cold sea-winds came sweeping over the hills. Some of the old winter snow-drifts, hard and icy and stained with dust from the bare fields, barred the road in places, and now and then a scurry of snow came flying through the air in tiny round flakes that hardly gathered fast enough to mark the wheel-ruts. Two persons, a man and woman, were driving together over the rough road in an open wagon. They were tucked up in a good fur robe, but it was a hard day, and a bitter wind to face.

    The woman evidently belonged to that part of the country; she wore a homely old woollen shawl, and a small felt hat, which was so closely tied down by a thick veil that one could hardly tell whether she might be young or old, whether her shoulders were rounded and bent with hard work, or a slight young figure had only muffled itself against the harsh weather. The horse was unmistakably young, and the woman was unmistakably a good and sympathetic driver, not fretting him, even when she held him back and tried to check a forgivable desire to gain the journey's end.

by Sarah Orne Jewett

        “The Packet Boat” is the second chapter of Betty Leicester: A Story for Girls, 1890. This text is presented with the assistance of Terry Heller of Coe College. His annotated text, with original illustrations, can be read at the Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project website. Also incorporated into this text are illustrations by Beatrice Stevens, done for the 1929 Houghton Mifflin reprinting of Betty Leicester. These illustrations are available courtesy of the Iowa State University Library. Beatrice Stevens (1876-1947) was a painter and popular illustrator. The University of Connecticut Library Newsletter for November/December 2000 offers this information about her. She lived most of her life in Pomfret, Connecticut. "There she built a house and studio that quickly became a center of intellectual and artistic activity in this small but vigorous cultural community. She was an unforgettable character around town, often dressing in Grecian-style gowns while feeding the birds. She was a popular illustrator of books and, for 34 years, produced the annual Pomfret nativity play."

        This chapter opens in the town of Riverport, based on Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  Only 15 years old and traveling alone, Betty Leicester must make her way to her relatives in Tideshead, modeled after Jewett’s hometown of South Berwick, Maine, ten miles up the Piscataqua-Salmon Falls River.  The packet boat, a regular conveyance for cargo and passengers, appears to be the region’s indigenous river craft also known as a gundalow.

by Sarah Orne Jewett

    This text is presented with the assistance of Terry Heller, Coe College, who writes, "’Between Mass and Vespers’ first appeared in Scribner's MagazineSt. Michael Church, built 1886, shown incorrectly identified as St. Mary in a postcard from Jewett's day. (13:661-676) May 1893, where it was illustrated by C. D. Gibson. The story was collected in A Native of Winby, from which this text comes.  Dr. Heller’s annotated text can be read at the Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project website.

   "Between Mass and Vespers" appeared about six years after the construction of St. Michael Church in South Berwick, shown at right.  It still stands about a block from Jewett's home.

    Mass was over; the noonday sun was so bright at the church door that, instead of waiting there in a sober expectant group, three middle-aged men of the parish went a few steps westward to stand in the shade of a great maple-tree. There they stood watching the people go by -- the small boys and the chattering girls. Now and then one of the older men or women said a few words in Irish to Dennis Call or John Mulligan by way of friendly salutation. They were a contented, pleasant-looking flock, these parishioners of St. Anne's; they might have lost the gayety that they would have kept in the old country but a look of good cheer had not forsaken them, though many a figure showed the thinness that comes from steady hard work, and almost every face had the deep lines that are worn only by anxiety. The pretty girls looked as their mothers had looked before them, only they were not so fair and fresh-colored, having been brought up less wholesomely and too much indoors.

by Sarah Orne Jewett

This text is presented with the assistance of Terry Heller, Coe College, who writes, "'Decoration Day' first appeared in Harper's Magazine (85:84-90) in June 1892. It was later collected in A Native of Winby (1893). This text is from the 1893 edition." Dr. Heller’s annotated text can be read at the Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project website.

Two years before the publication of "Decoration Day," South Berwick erected a soldiers monument in honor of those who had sacrificed during the Civil War. 

Ceremony at the South Berwick Soldiers Monument c. 1900

The small park in which the monument still stands was at first sometimes called Jewett Park, as two Jewett family homes and Jewett Avenue stand nearby.  This part of South Berwick Village, at the intersection of Portland Street and Agamenticus Road today, was once known as the Plain or Plains.


A week before the thirtieth of May, three friends -- John Stover and Henry Merrill and AsaBrown -- happened to meet on Saturday evening at Barton's store at the Plains. They were ready to enjoy this idle hour after a busy week. After long easterly rains, the sun had at last come out bright and clear, and all the Barlow farmers had been planting. There was even a good deal of ploughing left to be done, the season was so backward.

by Sarah Orne Jewett

This story was published in The King of Folly Island in 1888. This text is presented with the assistance of Dr. Terry Heller, Coe College, whose annotated text can be read at the Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project website. 

The old Jewett store, built by Thomas Jewett, Sarah's great uncle, about 1815, still stands in the heart of South Berwick Village.

The Old Jewett Store, shown at right, is one of many South Berwick storefronts still seen today that contained village shops during Sarah Orne Jewett's lifetime, and could have inspired details in this story.


Madam Jaffrey in her later years always sat at one of her front parlor windows in the winter afternoons. But one day, many years ago, she was not there, and passers-by missed her kindly greeting or the smiling nod of invitation with which she was apt to favor her intimate acquaintances. One could not help being uneasy at her absence; she was an older woman than her years and like a piece of her own frail china. She had seen much trouble, but there never was a braver heart.

by Sarah Orne Jewett

This text is presented with the assistance of Terry Heller, Coe College, who writes, "‘A Native of Winby’ was first published in Atlantic Monthly (67:609-620) in May 1891, and then collected in A Native of Winby in 1893. This text is from the 1893 edition.” He explains Jewett’s mention of a state called Kansota as follows: “Horace E. Scudder, editor at The Atlantic, apparently objected to Jewett using the name of Iowa, a real state, so she changed the state Senator Laneway represents to the fictional Kansota (Cary, Sarah Orne Jewett Letters, 73).” Dr. Heller’s annotated text can be read at the Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project website.

In the 1800s, South Berwick had over a dozen one-room schoolhouses, like the one shown at left, Schoolhouse No. 3.  It is now a private home on present-day Old Mill Road.Pupils at a South Berwick one-room schoolhouse, early 20th century


On the teacher's desk, in the little road-side school-house, there was a bunch of Mayflowers, beside a dented and bent brass bell, a small Worcester's Dictionary without any cover, and a worn morocco-covered Bible. These were placed in an orderly row, and behind them was a small wooden box which held some broken pieces of blackboard crayon. The teacher, whom no timid new scholar could look at boldly, wore her accustomed air of authority and importance. She might have been nineteen years old, - not more, - but for the time being she scorned the frivolities of youth.

by Sarah Orne Jewett

This text is presented with the assistance of Terry Heller, Coe College, who writes, "‘Peg's Little Chair’ appeared in Wide Awake (33:204-214) in August 1891. Not collected in Jewett's lifetime, it was later included in Richard Cary's Uncollected Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett. This text is from Wide Awake.” Dr. Heller’s annotated text, with illustrations by Edmund H. Garrett and H. D. Murphy, can be read at the Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project website.The Cushing Mansion formerly stood on the site of South Berwick Central School

Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, hero of the American Revolution, was greeted by dignitaries and townspeople at the local hotel known as the Frost Tavern on a visit to South Berwick, Maine, part of his 1825 tour of the United States. Gen. Lafayette is also believed to have dined in the house at right, the Cushing Mansion. During Jewett's lifetime, this house was occupied by descendants who remembered the visit of this national celebrity. The location later became that of South Berwick Central School. The Frost Tavern reopened as an inn in 2020.

Miss Margaret Benning told me this story about her childhood, and I am going to tell it to you, though you will miss a great part of the pleasure of it unless you can shut your eyes and imagine just how she used to look; a small, bright-eyed old lady, who sat as straight in her old-fashioned chair as I hope you sit in yours, beside a pleasant south window with a pink geranium and a white petunia and a large scarlet horseshoe geranium blooming on the sill. Her fingers were stiff and bent, but they were always busy, and her kind blue eyes saw many things that other people's miss. Dr. Holmes said once in a birthday letter that his friend Mrs. Julia Ward Howe, was seventy years young, and this would have been true of my friend Miss Margaret Benning. I wish that every boy and girl had just such a wise, dear old lady to tell them charming stories about old times, and to be just as much interested beside in their own new times.

by Sarah Orne Jewett

This text is presented with the assistance of Terry Heller, Coe College, who writes, "’The Failure of David Berry’ first appeared in Harper's Magazine (83:56-62), June 1891, and was collected in A Native of Winby.”  Dr. Heller’s annotated text can be read at the Sarah Orne South Berwick shoemaker, late 1800sJewett Text Project website.

Mr. David Berry kept his shop in a small wooden building in his ownyard, and worked steadily there a great many years, being employed by a large manufacturing company in Lynn at soling and heeling men's boots. There were many such small shoe shops as his scattered among the villages and along the country roads. Most of the farmers knew something of the shoemaking trade, and they and their sons worked in their warm little shops in winter when they had nothing else to do, and so added a good deal of ready money to their narrow incomes. The great Lynn teams, piled high with clean wooden shoe boxes, came and went along the highways at regular times, to deliver and collect the work. Many of the women bound shoes, and sometimes in pleasant weather half a dozen friends came together with their bundles, and had a bit of friendly gossip while they stitched. The little shops were only large enough for the shoe benches, with shiny leather seats and trays of small tools, sprinkled with steel and wooden shoe pegs and snarled with waxed ends; for their whetstones and lapstones and lasts, and the rusty, raging little stoves, with a broken chair or two, where idlers or customers could make themselves permanently comfortable. No woman's broom or duster had any right to invade the pungent, leathery, dusty, pasty abodes of shoemaking; these belonged wholly to men, and had a rudeness akin to savagery, together with a delightful, definite sort of hospitality as warm as the atmosphere itself. If there were not a life-sustaining broken pane of glass somewhere, the door had to be left ajar. There were apt to be apples on the high window ledges, and any one might choose the best and eat it, and throw the core down among the chips of leather. The shoemaker usually had a dog, which wagged an impartial tail at each new-comer; for the shoemaker always sat in the same place, and society came and found him there, and told news and heard it, and went away again. There were some men who passed their time as guests in shoemakers' shops, especially in winter; their wives were fortunate in having other sources of income, and merely looked out for their rights in the matter of neighborhood news. These shoemakers' guests were a distinct and recognized class. There never were many of them, and they each had a sufficient excuse for idleness, either in their diligent wives, or some slight physical hindrance to active labor.

by Sarah Orne Jewett

This text is presented with the assistance of Terry Heller, Coe College, who writes, "‘The Church Mouse’ appeared in Wide Awake (18:155-161), February 1884, with an illustration by W. L. Taylor, and was reprinted in Plucky Boys, 1884.” Dr. Heller’s annotated text, with illustrations by William Ladd Taylor (1854-1926) can be read at the Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project website.First Parish Federated Church, South Berwick

Jewett's church, the First Parish Federated Church shown today at right, was originally known as the First Parish Church.

HAD you been waiting at the entrance to the First Church of the town of Dexter, on a certain Sunday morning in December, you would have seen a curly haired boy come running up the street in a very week-day fashion. He pushed by some orderly and inconsiderate persons who were taking up a good deal of room on the sidewalk, as if he were in a great hurry, and scurried up the church steps at last, and disappeared behind a little door which led to the organ loft and the belfry.

He had some difficulty in unlatching this door, and I am sorry to say that he slammed it a little, so that an old lady near by was startled out of her composed frame of mind, and the old sexton who stood close at hand pulling the bell rope slowly and watching everybody go into church, shook his head gravely, and grumbled that the young rascal was late again.

by Sarah Orne Jewett

    This text is presented with the assistance of Terry Heller, Coe College, who writes, "‘An Every-Day Girl’ appeared in Ladies' Home Journal 9 (June 5-6; July 7-8, August 5-6) in the summer of 1892. This text is based on Richard Cary's Uncollected Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett.” Portland Street, South Berwick viewed from Powderhouse Hill, with the fields of Goodwin Hill in the distanceDr. Heller’s annotated text, with original illustrations by Alice Barber Stephens, can be read at the Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project website.

At left, a South Berwick scene like one in the story, "out toward the quiet fields and woods that surrounded the town."


    Mary Fleming walked slowly along the street toward her home one hot afternoon late in the month of May. Summer had come suddenly, as it always does in northern New England. The small town itself had a northern look and, although the dooryards and the whole country were fast growing green, as you looked out past the village you caught sight of stony hills, of dark woodland, and sterile soil.

    Mary Fleming wore a thick winter dress, and the discomfort of it added to her discouragement of heart. It was one of the days when she felt like making herself as miserable as possible.

by Sarah Orne Jewett

        This text is presented with the assistance of Terry Heller, Coe College, who writes, "‘The Gray Mills of Farley’ appeared originally in Cosmopolitan (25:183-196) in June 1898, where it was illustrated by Frank O. Small. The story was later included in the anthology, American Local-Color Stories (1941), edited by Harry R. Warfel and G. Harrison Orians. Richard Cary included it in Uncollected Stories of Portsmouth Manufacturing CompanySarah Orne Jewett. This text is based on Cary's. Probable errors have been corrected and indicated with brackets.” Dr. Heller’s annotated text can be read at the Sarah Orne Jewett Text Project website.

     At right, the Portsmouth Manufacturing Company cotton mill site, South Berwick, Maine, in the late 1800s.


    The mills of Farley were close together by the river, and the gray houses that belonged to them stood, tall and bare, alongside. They had no room for gardens or even for little green side-yards where one might spend a summer evening. The Corporation, as this compact village was called by those who lived in it, was small but solid; you fancied yourself in the heart of a large town when you stood midway of one of its short streets, but from the street's end you faced a wide green farming country.

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