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Placenames of South Berwick

South Berwick trolley /

You won’t find a more historic, walkable village in New England than South Berwick. Now you can find everything when you get there with this much-needed, carefully researched guide. If you didn’t already love "Sober", you will now.




BOOK LAUNCH PARTY: The public is invited to a party celebrating the release of the book 7 pm Friday, Oct. 12 at SoBo Book and Bean in South Berwick, Maine.

Placenames of South Berwick MaineI’m not sure, but I think we had something to do with this new volume. If memory serves, soon after Nancy Grossman produced the now-classic Placenames of Portsmouth, we suggested that a similar book would be ideal for South Berwick. And two years later – here it is.

The great thing about this evolving series is that it functions both as a town history and a street guide. That’s because street names function as a subliminal history of any town. These books decode that history by digging into the derivation of street names, and in the case of this volume, adding heaping portions of local facts and lore. Wendy Pirsig and the team at the Old Berwick Historical Society have adapted this idea into a painless history of the very historic South Berwick on the Salmong Falls River. Originally Newichewannek, the town began as one of the original British settlements under Captain John Mason in 1630. South Berwick was a busy mill town in the early 19th century and is best known today as the home of poet Sarah Orne Jewett and Berwick Academy. --- JDR

Back Channel Press
300 pages, paperback, $18
To order by mail, please send a check for $25 made out to the Old Berwick Historical Society to: Old Berwick Historical Society, PO Box 296, South Berwick , ME 03908.


One spring day in 1905, at a time when South Berwick prohibited the sale of alcohol, York County sheriff’s deputies searching Brackett Joy’s building on Salmon Street – now known as lower Main -- allegedly discovered 40 barrels of hard cider, a camouflaged dumb waiter stocked with liquor, and a barrel of beer hidden under a false floor in the pigpen. Joy ran across the bridge to Rollinsford, New Hampshire, and made his way to Dover, escaping the deputies. He attempted to flee by streetcar, the then-high-tech conveyance that ran to Portsmouth through South Berwick, Eliot and Kittery. But Joy had forgotten another piece of modern technology – the telephone. When his trolley car crossed the Dover-Eliot bridge back into Maine, the York County sheriff was waiting for him.

Century-old photo of the South Berwick neighborhood known as “the Point” from the Old Berwick Historical Society archives.

This historic anecdote and pictures of the neighborhood are among the hundreds of photographs, maps and stories included in a full-length book on South Berwick history. A project to share the Counting House Museum’s archives collection with the public, the 300-page book was written by the Old Berwick Historical Society and published by Back Channel Press of Portsmouth.

The Placenames of South Berwick invites readers on a stroll along South Berwick’s village streets and country roads. From the Point to Tatnic, from Dunnybrook to Agamenticus Estates, along Witchtrot and down Oldfields Roads -- each page is loaded with facts and stories, as well as picturesque descriptions by local authors Sarah Orne Jewett and Gladys Hasty Carroll."

"We want to give more people access to the thousands of documents, maps and photos stored in the archives of our museum, the Counting House," explained Wendy Pirsig, the society’s president. "The new book is not a complete town history, but is an effort to share these treasures for residents and visitors to enjoy."

South Berwick, which has historic sites on every road, remains one of northern New England’s most intact villages. And no matter where residents live, they pass old farms, shops, cemeteries, and work sites while driving through the 70 miles of road in the town’s 35 square miles.

The Placenames of South Berwick is the most complete street-by-street historical guide to any small town in the region, according to the society’s members. Their museum archives supplied background on old railroad stations and trolley stops, one-room schoolhouses, Civil War soldiers, historic farms, country trees, plants and wildlife, Native Americans, cemeteries, immigrants and factory workers, water powered mills, South Berwick’s tall ships and veterans.

Funds to create this book came from the South Berwick Strawberry Festival Committee and Julia's Fund of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. Proceeds benefit the Old Berwick Historical Society. For more information contact the Old Berwick Historical Society and the Counting House Museum by calling (207) 384-0000.

The Counting House Museum, home of the Old Berwick Historical Society, contains one of northern New England’s last textile mill ballrooms and is a repository for documents, photographs and historic curiosities covering a spectrum of community life in and around the Berwicks.

As for Brackett Joy, his fate is unknown, but drinking in South Berwick seems to have continued despite the 1905 raid. Two years later, deputy sheriffs broke in on Daniel E. Joy, and allegedly seized a pitcher of cider, three cider glasses, bottles of whiskey, three packs of cards, and a cribbage board.

Now available for $18 at South Berwick Pharmacy, Abby Chic Florist, SoBo Book and Bean, the Little Hat Co., Spring Hill Restaurant, the Counting House Museum, and Old Berwick Historical Society events.


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