Friday, June 3, 2011

Museums Open Free to the Public in the Piscataqua Region

For over one hundred years, Historic New England has served as the region’s storyteller, opening its doors to share four centuries of New England home and family life. On Saturday, June 4, Historic New England celebrates the 2011 season opening of their historic house museums by welcoming visitors free of charge. Come hear about the people and stories of coastal New Hampshire and Maine as you tour through houses that range from the c.1664 Jackson House in Portsmouth, NH, which chronicles the evolution of rural life over three centuries, to the majestic Colonial Revival interiors of the Hamilton House of South Berwick, ME. Six of Historic New England’s Piscataqua Region museums will offer tours beginning at 11 a.m. and the last tour will start at 4 p.m.
In Exeter, visitors will be welcomed to Historic New England’s Gilman Garrison, 12 Water Street. John Gilman’s 1709 “Logg house by the bridge” was gentrified by his son with a finely ornamented addition c.1770. The interior was restored in the 1950s by direct descendant William Dudley, who opened the house to the public as a private museum.
In Portsmouth, visitors are invited to experience three of Historic New England’s houses. The Rundlet-May House, at 364 Middle Street, is a Federal-style mansion built by merchant James Rundlet in 1807. It is filled with most of its original locally crafted 19th century furniture and a variety of “modern” heating and cooking technologies. The formal garden at Rundlet-May blooms all spring and summer with fruit trees, trellised roses, fragrant peonies, abundant hollyhocks, and vibrant poppies, to name a few, all scattered along narrow pathways original to the 1812 garden plan that survives in the house. The c.1664 Jackson House, 76 Northwest Street, is the oldest surviving wood frame house in northern New England. Visitors at Jackson House will find themselves in the midst of an old two-acre apple orchard overlooking the North Mill Pond, the last surviving orchard in NH that still abuts tidal water. The 1784 Governor Langdon House, 143 Pleasant Street, home to John Langdon, a signer of the United States Constitution and three-term governor of New Hampshire, is considered to have the best interior carvings to be found north of Boston. The garden of the Governor Langdon House features a 180-foot rose and grape arbor as well as expansive lawns edged by a perennial border, and an intimate shade garden hidden among a stand of mature evergreens.
In South Berwick, the 1774 Sarah Orne Jewett House, 5 Portland Street is not to be missed. Set in the heart of downtown South Berwick, this special home is where the famous 19th century writer spent many years of her life. Visitors can pause in the wide hall on the second floor hallway, by the author’s desk, to look out the center window and imagine Jewett’s artistic inspiration. Also in South Berwick is the c.1785 Hamilton House, 40 Vaughn’s Lane, which was restored at the turn of the century into a romantic summer retreat that draws from the house’s Georgian design and colonial past. Surrounded by beautiful formal gardens, the Hamilton House sits on a high bluff overlooking the Salmon Falls River. The interior of the house displays the height of fashion for summer residences at the turn of the 20th century.
In all, thirty-one of Historic New England’s historic house museums will be open free of charge that day. For a full list of site, please visit and click on Open House under the Events tab. While visiting Historic New England’s six Piscataqua region historic house museums, plan to check out several other nearby events. Taste the best area restaurants have to offer at the all-you-can-eat 27th annual Chowder Festival in Prescott Park ( Immerse yourself in maritime fun at the free Piscataqua Waterfront Festival, presented by Moffatt-Ladd House & Garden ( Discover the Kids’ Day Festival in downtown South Berwick ( where free and low cost activities make for a great family-friendly day of games, crafts, a parade, touch-a-truck, free cotton candy, giveaways, and entertainment.
Photo caption: The 1785 Hamilton House in South Berwick is one of the six Historic New England house museums in the Seacoast region that will be open and offering free admission on June 4. (Photo courtesy Historic New England)