Thursday, October 16, 2014

Rundlet-May House

The Rundlet-May House, sometimes spelled ‘Rundlett-May House’, is located at 364 Middle Street, on the north side between Summer and Cabot Streets.


James Rundlet built his new home in 1807, to house his wife, Jane Hill Rundlet, and their seven children. While living here, the fruitful family welcomed six more offspring. 

Originally from Exeter, Rundlet came to Portsmouth in 1794 to make his fortune, and soon succeeded as a textile merchant with a store on Market Street. The War of 1812 years were extremely profitable for him and included a commission from the United States government to supply woolen cloth for soldiers’ uniforms.


Towards the end of the war, he invested in a woolen mill in Amesbury, Massachusetts, and another mill, in 1823, on the Salmon Falls River in Rollinsford. Later in life, he used his accumulated profits to invest in real estate and rental properties around Portsmouth.

James Rundlet was a forward-thinking man who incorporated leading-edge technology in his home. He equipped his kitchen with a revolutionary Rumford range and roaster, precursor of the modern kitchen range, that was invented by Count Rumford during the 1790s. By the 1830s, he'd installed an early, coal-fired, forced hot-air heating system, and his house was one of the few private residences supplied with water by the Portsmouth aqueduct system.

The Rundlet family’s extensive holdings, which surrounded their elaborate house, included pastureland and property that extended south to Rundlet Mountain, where the J. Verne Wood Funeral Home stands today. From 1815 until his death in 1852, James Rundlet was the tenth highest taxpayer in Portsmouth.


Upon his death, two of his unwed children inherited the Rundlet Homestead, Caroline and Edward. Another daughter, Louisa Catherine Rundlet May, joined them in the family home with her two children, twins James and Jane, after the untimely death of Louisa’s husband, George May, in 1858.


The house next passed to Louisa’s son, James Rundlet May following the deaths of his Harvard-educated uncle, Doctor Edward Rundlet, in 1874, and his Aunt Caroline in 1880. James, who also became a doctor and practiced medicine in Portsmouth, and his wife, Mary Ann Morrison May, had one child, a son named Ralph May. Ralph became the fourth generation and last family member to own the home. Upon his death in the early 1970s, Ralph deeded the Rundlet-May House to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now known as Historic New England.


Unfortunately, C. S. Gurney did not include a photograph of the Rundlet-May House when he published, Portsmouth . . . Historic and Picturesque, in 1902. For a comparison shot, I found this 1940 picture on the Portsmouth Athenaeum Website: Fa├žade of Rundlet May House.

Visiting this interesting showpiece of Portsmouth history, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, can prove difficult. For some reason, Historic New England only opens the Rundlet-May House to the public for a dozen or fewer days each year, recently on the first and third Saturdays from June 1 through October 15.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Sarah Orne Jewett House

The Sarah Orne Jewett House is at 5 Portland Street, South Berwick, Maine.

When Tilly Haggens immigrated from Ireland to Maine around 1740, she settled in Berwick and purchased a large tract of land. In 1774, her son, John, built the Georgian house that would become known as the Sarah Orne Jewett House on his family's property. John Haggens, a successful merchant and veteran of the French & Indian War, lived here until his death around 1820.


The Haggens' estate rented the house to the family of Captain Theodore F. Jewett, a merchant mariner, during the 1820s. The Jewetts eventually purchased the home in 1839. Nearly a decade later, Captain Jewett’s son, Doctor Theodore H. Jewett, moved into the house with his parents. Joining him were his wife, Caroline, and their young daughter, Mary. In 1849, while still living in the house with her in-laws, Caroline delivered a second daughter, Theodora Sarah Orne Jewett, who was named after her grandfather and father. 
Not surprisingly, Theodora preferred the less masculine-sounding name of Sarah. 


Doctor Jewett’s family lived in his parents’ home until 1854, when a Greek Revival house was built for them next doorCaroline Jewett gave birth to a third daughter, also Caroline, while they were living in the building that now serves as the Sarah Orne Jewett House Visitors Center. This is also where Sarah Orne Jewett began her writing career, publishing her first story in 1868. 

Sarah and Mary, neither of whom ever married, continued living with their widowed mother in the smaller, Greek Revival house for 33 years.


In 1860, the future Sarah Orne Jewett House passed into the ownership of Sarah’s Uncle William. Upon his death in 1887, Mary and Sarah inherited their grandparents' home, while Caroline and her husband took ownership of the Greek Revival house next door. Sarah spent a long and prolific life in the home that bears her name, writing novels, short stories, and poems about country life in the southern seacoast of Maine. 

She suffered a stroke and died in the Sarah Orne Jewett House in 1909.  

Mary continued living here until her death in 1930, passing the house on to her nephew, Caroline’s son, Theodore Jewett Eastman. Historic New England received the home as a gift when Eastman died only one year later.




Unfortunately, I cannot find any vintage photographs of the Sarah Orne Jewett House; for now, we will have to settle for the 'after' picture only.