Free tours at Historic New England Houses, June 3 open house

Wed, 05/24/2023 - 10:30am

Celebrate the start of summer at Bowman House in Dresden, Castle Tucker and Nickels-Sortwell House in Wiscasset on Historic New England’s annual Open House, Saturday, June 3. Free guided tours will be given from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with the last tour leaving at 3 p.m. Tickets or reservations are not required.

All three houses sit on land that is part of the homeland of the Wabanaki of Maine and the Maritimes. Both the 1762 Bowman House and 1761 Pownalborough Courthouse were designed by architect Gershom Flagg and built by a team of local builders led by Flagg’s son. Inside, Judge and maritime merchant Jonathan Bowman created a home whose stylish interiors would have rivaled the finest Boston mansions of the time. Visitors hear stories of the privileged lifestyle of the Bowman family and the enslaved people and indentured servant who worked the house and land and enabled that lifestyle. Bowman House’s later history includes the Carney family, the Lincoln Ice Company and a series of historic preservationists who saved the property including Bill Waters and Cy Pinkham, who bought the house in 1965. After giving the house to Historic New England in 1971, Bill Waters spent 51 years restoring the elegant interiors and filling the house with Bowman pieces and beautiful 18th century objects and furniture.

Castle Tucker tells the stories of Silas and Tempe Lee for whom the house was built in 1807, and those of the Tucker family who lived there for over 140 years. Judge Lee, like Bowman, prospered from investments in the international maritime trade. The Lees enjoyed an elegant lifestyle enabled by their Black servants. Richard Tucker, Jr., eldest son of the prominent Tucker shipping family, and his young wife Mollie moved into the house in 1858, immediately turning it into a fashionable Victorian home for their family of five children, who went on to live extraordinary lives outside Wiscasset. The house had no major changes after 1900, so visitors see the interiors as the Tuckers left them, filled with Tucker furnishings, belongings and décor, including the 1858 parlor and a kitchen with four generations of cooking technology still in place where it was used.

Nickels-Sortwell House, built in 1807 as the trophy house of ship owner and maritime trader William Nickels, has had a widely varied life filled with interesting characters. The high fashion life of Nickels, his wife Jane and their 8 children and full staff of servants came to an abrupt end with the 1807 Embargo and War of 1812. The house then became a tavern and hotel for over eighty years, run by the Turner family for over forty of those years, catering to working people as well as wealthy travelers and early tourists. Guests included legal professionals, farmers, fishermen, carpenters, theater companies, traveling sales people and even a clairvoyant. In 1899, the mansion returned to private ownership as the beloved summer home of successful industrialist and mayor of Cambridge, MA Alvin Sortwell. Alvin’s wife Gertrude, their five children and many grandchildren enjoyed wonderful summers at the house, supported by their staff of servants, including Irish immigrants Margaret O’ Hanlon and Josephine Dodge and Mainer Ross Elwell, each of whom worked for the Sortwells for over forty years. The Sortwells gave the house to Historic New England in 1958 and it has been a house museum ever since, recently reinterpreted to include newly recovered Wiscasset stories and the diverse people who have lived and worked in the house.

FMI on the houses and Historic New England, visit