John Perkins House
Open: July & August
THE JOHN PERKINS HOUSE was built about 1763 as a one-story house on what is now Court Street, but was then a wilderness. John and his young bride Phebe (sic), both from York, Maine, began their married life here. They had few near neighbors; by 1774 there were only six other houses on the Castine peninsula - three of these log cabins. As the Perkins family grew and prospered a four-room two-story addition was built across the gable end of the early home. Again, probably in 1783, the house was enlarged - the first one-story home being torn down to be rebuilt as a two-story ell.
By the 1960s, through long neglect, the Perkins House was in very poor condition and had been condemned as a fire hazard. In December 1968, the Castine Scientific Society bought the house on Court Street and had it taken down piece by piece, beams, clapboards, moldings, bricks, timbers, etc. Next spring a cellar was dug on the grounds of the Wilson Museum, a concrete foundation poured and work on rebuilding the house began, all under the direction of Hoyt T. Hutchins. Much of the ell was too rotten to save but, fortunately, the kitchen could be. This and the four front rooms now appear as they did in 1783. The house on Court Street faced south, now it faces west, out the harbor.
General Construction & Finish
The framing timbers are hand-hewn, mortised and tenoned. Pegs or treenails were used where needed. Timbers were fitted, numbered and ready to be put together before neighbors came for the house raising. Roman numerals were used - those on the street side had a circle added, those on the back a half circle and those on the water side a cross slash.
Nails were hand-forged. Those in the front four rooms were narrowed on all sides to a point, those in the ell were flattened on two sides only making a “chisel” point. Most hinges are original, the latches are old and have been repaired by a blacksmith.
Laths were split boards; those in the main part of the house (four front rooms) of new material, those in the ell from boards used in the first house; one of these boards had “Anno 1783” burned in it before being split for laths, others still had wallpaper attached. The wallpaper has been reproduced and is used in the dining room.
The windows have twelve over eight lights indicating a date before 1780. The panes are outside the outside wall of the house, the window frame is outside the boarding boards and is nailed from the inside, so far as is known a unique construction. This is not true of the present east windows (at back of house) which are stud set and which probably came from the first house. There is also less roof overhang at the back.
The front and side doorways are of the Tuscan order. The massive granite front steps came from an old house in Blue Hill.
Rather narrow floor boards rested on wide (up to two feet) sub-floor boards. The floors in the four front rooms are original — known because the sub-flooring shows no renailing.
The chimneys have been rebuilt with the hearth bricks and tiles in their original positions.
Clapboards or weatherboards were hand split and shaped. Most are original, they have feather, not butt, ends and increase in width as in height — some say for appearance.
The original molding has been reproduced, where necessary, by use of molding planes on exhibit in the museum tool collection. Most is original. The baseboard is made in two pieces — the flat upper part being the plaster ground.
The original color of the paint, which being like a stain penetrated the wood, was found and reproduced. This has been mixed by hand of oil and pigments as was the original. One side of every door was and is painted red.
ROOM by ROOM Details of the John Perkins House.
Castine and the Family of John and Phebe Perkins
Until the 1760s Fort Pentagoet, a trading post, was the only European establishment for hundreds of miles east of the Penobscot, deserted about 1720 it was soon in ruins. In 1759 Governor Pownall came from Boston and built another fort near this on the west bank of the Penobscot River. Fort Pownall (at what is now Fort Point) restricted French and Indian travel between the coast and Canada and its presence encouraged settlers. A number of the soldiers who had been stationed at Fort Pownall, after their discharge, returned with their families to settle in the Castine, Brooksville, Penobscot and Deer Isle areas; many were from York, Maine, and were closely related, i.e., the Banks, Perkins, Hutchins and Wescotts.
There were no roads, travel was by water so that the first homes were on the shores of the Bagaduce or Penobscot. John and Phebe, who had recently married, were cousins, they built a house on the Castine peninsula. Phebe’s brother, Joseph Perkins and Joseph’s wife, another Phebe, and John’s sister, Mary Perkins Banks and her husband Aaron, also built on the peninsula. There were soon three or four more families here. Fort Pownall must have been important during the years before the Revolution; supplies could be obtained at its trading post and the surgeon stationed there was the only doctor or minister, (he served in both capacities) in the area.
John and Phebe prospered, he built additions to their home, wharves and numerous vessels. His fishing boats, laden with salt, were sent to fish off the coast of Labrador, other vessels carried lumber, staves, etc. to the West Indies and to Europe, they returned from the south with rum and molasses and from Lisbon and Liverpool with salt for the salt fish trade.
Although a loyalist (he was one of those who sent to Nova Scotia to ask the British to take Castine) he was accepted, after the Revolution, by his neighbors and was, for a time, selectman, Town Treasurer, and a member of the School committee.
The Perkins children married well; Lydia, the eldest, born in 1766 married James Russell in 1782. Castine was then occupied by British troops and James was a soldier, after the Revolution, they moved to St. Andrews, New Brunswick, where James Russell received land grants from the crown.
Lucy, the second child, died a month after Lydia married. Lucy was twelve years old, she is buried in a field above the Bagaduce River near the Avery home.
Phebe married Moses Gay who built their home below that of her parents.
Elizabeth married Major Thomas Stevens, they lived and are buried in Brooksville.
Sarah married Elisha Dyer, master of the John and Phebe and of other vessels of John Perkins. They built a house in 1796 on what is now Dyer Lane.
Ruth married Samuel A. Whitney, also a sea captain, they moved to Lincolnville.
Temperance married Daniel Johnston who built a handsome home on Main Street.
Robert, the only son, married a cousin, Miriam Coffin Plummer, of Addison, Maine. They had been married a little over two years when Robert’s mother died and they moved into the family home. Robert had been his father’s secretary since John had lost the use, by paralysis, of his writing hand. The home remained in the family until about 1900.
Lucy, named for her sister who died three years before the second Lucy was born, married Samuel Whitney’s brother Henry Whitney. Henry was also a sea captain, he built a home on the north corner of the Common which remained in the same family until the 1980s.
Mary (Polly) born in 1787, was a great friend of her niece Jane Russell, Lydia’s daughter who was only five years younger and who spent much of her girlhood at her grandparents’ home in Castine. Jane married Thomas Adams; they built a handsome home now on the corner of Court and Pleasant Streets; here their granddaughter, Anna Cate, married Sanford Dole, only President and first Governor of Hawaii. Polly married Frederick Spofford, a merchant of Deer Isle. A neighbor described Polly’s new home as “like a palace.” Frederick was lost when the schooner Shakespeare was wrecked in a storm in 1818. Polly later married Francis Haskell - their home was, and still stands, just north of Deer Isle village.
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