The museum stands ten miles from the ocean at Quamphegan Landing,
a tiny tidewater port and mill site since the 1600s. Before the
railroads, the old town of Berwick was served by gundalows, flat
bottomed boats that acted as river-going trucks. Berwick was once a
gateway along the Piscataqua estuary, an important stop into the
untamed interior of New Hampshire and Maine. Settlers in the early
1600s recognized its importance immediately.
By 1805 the small bridge over the falls by the museum here was
the Boston-to-Portland stagecoach turnpike, encircling Great Bay
long before Routes 1 and I-95 spanned the deep and turbulent waters
of the Piscataqua. Today a new municipal Counting House Park with
small boat ramp is open at the shallow old Landing, for picnics,
fishing, kayaks and canoes.
Soon after 1830 the counting house appeared as part of the
Portsmouth Manufacturing Co. cotton mill. The mill agent and
paymaster worked here as accountants who counted hundreds of mill
hands toiling at 7000 spindles, annually processing 1300 bales of
cotton from Southern plantations, producing 2 million yards of
sheeting per year. The Counting House also brightened community
life, with dancing upstairs when gas lamps illuminated the "Lighting
Up Ball" each autumn.
The mill closed in 1893 and the factory was torn down. But the
Counting House survived as a regional treasure, and it still
contains one of northern New England's last textile mill ballrooms.
And that's not all. Since the Old Berwick Historical Society was
formed in 1962, volunteers have collected thousands of archives and
curiosities, and made them available as displays and research
materials on life all around the Piscataqua. You can see everything
from gundalow models and textile mill photos, to maps and mementos
of 19th century life in the nearby South Berwick Village, home of
Orne Jewett whose house is located further up Main Street in
South Berwick and open to the public courtesy of SPNEA. Jewett’s
exquisite prose and poetry, focused on the old mill town, is
enjoying a revival even today. Well know novelist Anita Shreve wrote
the introduction to a recent release of the author’s work.
The Old Berwick Historical Society also sponsors the Humphrey
Chadbourne Archaeology Project. You’ll see some of those artifacts
below. The dig has been led since 1995 by Dr. Emerson "Tad" Baker at
the South Berwick homesite of one of America's pioneering mill
families, dating to 1650. More than 35,000 Chadbourne artifacts have
been discovered so far and are among the treasures at the museum.
Counting House volunteers are still counting them. We’re counting on
you to visit soon.
For more on the Chadbourne Project
click below and press BACK to return here.