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Living with the Ghost of Ichabod Goodwin


Paula and Harvey Bennett authors of IMAGINING ICHABOD

Furnishing facts 

Imagining Ichabod is also an antiquing adventure and a decorative arts lovefest. The book details the Bennett’s passionate search for the perfect furnishings to restore the keeping room, the best parlor, the dining room, and the study.  We join them on the hunt for two slightly wounded Chippendale-style chairs. We scour the Atlantic seaboard for  the ideal 1780-era English walnut tea table, and delight in the discovery of a 1795 Broadwood square piano. Each item is delivered with an infectious burst of joy, then installed with a ceremonial toast of fine old madeira, as if in homage to the watchful household spirits.

The more the house looked like it did back in the days of the Goodwin family, the more often Paula Bennett visualized them there--cooking at the hearth, arguing town affairs, attending to livestock, frolicking in the yard, and hosting great parties. That’s why Imagining Ichabod is in large part a history book. The author traces the evolving wars, economics, politics, fashions, and customs over  three centuries on Old Fields Road.

In one chapter, Paula is sitting at the gate-leg table in her keeping room, carefully checking for pebbles among a bowl of dried beans. She has been reading Cotton Mather’s 1702 account about Mehitable Plaisted Goodwin, the mother of Captain Ichabod Goodwin. Mehitable was captured by Indians in 1692. Separated from her husband, her child murdered by the natives, Mehitable was abducted to Canada where she was enslaved for four years. Returning to Berwick, Mehitable was re-united with her husband. Their son Ichabod was born five years later.  

These are the things Paula Bennett mused about as she cooked baked beans over an open fire, working to glimpse the life of her post-Revolutionary War predecessors. Like characters in a private reality TV show, the Bennetts dedicated days to living without phones, the Internet, electric lights, and refrigeration. Her book is sprinkled with tested recipes for colonial meals like stuffed leg of veal with chestnut fricassee, plus assorted soups, stews, and pastries. So it is a cookbook too.

Cooking fireplace in the Keeping Room in South Berwick Maine

Digging deeper 

This is a book about architecture, interior decorating, and archaeology. The digging began in 2009 after the restoration of the keeping room turned up a fragment of redware pottery, most likely used, as early insulation. The fragment led the Bennetts to archaeologist Dr. Neill De Paoli, who has been conducting summer field schools on the Bennett property ever since. Clues unearthed each summer are filling in the missing history of the Goodwin home, that was rebuilt after a 1797 fire.

De Paoili’s summer teams, in cooperation with the Bennetts and the Old Berwick Historical Society, have uncovered evidence of the original tavern where Capt. Ichabod Goodwin enslaved four Africans. Artifacts include animal bones, a shattered German stoneware tankard, melted window glass, iron hinges, chamber pots, old coins, Caribbean coral, and an early foundation wall. The search continues for a 17th century garrison that may have sheltered as many as 100 frightened colonists.

Fast forward. The time, once again, is 2016. Back in the dining room, the table now cleared, Paula and Harvey are passing out tall champagne flutes brimful of syllabub. The frothy British dessert contains milk and wine or liquor. The mixture, Paula notes in her book, needs at least eight hours to set before serving. By my count, it takes about eight minutes to consume her day’s work.

The March sun is fading, and with it, the light in the old half of the house. Our hosts, who have been up since before dawn, are still buzzing around, tending to their guests. Living in the pretend past, they admit, is both rewarding and exhausting. After 12 years in South Berwick, they are planning to return to the city and the 21st century. The Bennetts have picked out a compact condo in Boston. The Goodwins, however, plan to stay on. They await the next tenants at Old Fields with quiet curiosity.  

AUTHOR NOTES: Imagining Ichabod ($29.95) by Paula Bennett is available from Bauer & Dean Publishers, with 60 color photographs by Sandy Agrafiotis. The Bennett-Goodwin House at 1 Old Fields Road, South Berwick (7,400 square feet located on 4.6 acres) was listed for sale at $965,000.  

Copyright © 2016 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved. Robinson’s history column appears in the print version of the Portsmouth Herald every other Monday. He is the author of a dozen  history books on topics including  Strawbery Banke Museum, Privateer Lynx, and Wentworth by the Sea Hotel. His latest book, MYSTERY ON THE ISLES OF SHOALS, closes the case on the 1873 ax murders and is available in local bookstores and 


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