Berry Tavern: "that eligible situation in Alfred Village
By Bruce R. Tucker, Alfred Historical Society
Alfred village did not always look as it does today. In 1800, the village area was largely farmland, a garden spot and woodlot. The intersection of roads leading to Waterboro, Sanford, Saco and Kennebunk made the village area a prime spot to site commercial ventures, churches and a town government. In 1801, Dr. Abial Hall bought a large parcel of land extending from the village center to the knoll where the courthouse stands. It included the land where “Barn Knight” built his barn [behind Alfred Village store 2019]. Hall moved to his new village home from his home on Federal Street. The 1803 map depicts the church, a school (near where Hussey garden stand is located), Paul Webber’s tavern (where the library stands), Dr. Hall’s (at the Beehive), John Holmes (at the Bow & Arrow mansion), and Andrew Conant’s (near Town Hall). There were apparently no structures on the corner where the Alfred Country Store stands today. July 1804, Dr. Abial Hall sold a half acre to Daniel Holmes, a parcel that contained a pottery shop (belonging to Porter Lambert), a store (Holmes’s), and a dwelling “now building”. When Daniel Holmes mortgaged his property two years later, his dwelling was apparently complete.[i]
On Nov. 21, 1810, Holmes sold his heavily mortgaged property to Jeremiah Goodwin, a trader from Portland, for $1400.50[ii] Goodwin was born in Eliot on July 1, 1785, the son of Daniel Goodwin, a shipwright and Revolutionary War veteran. Jeremiah had married Sarah Ann Penhallow of Portsmouth in 1809 and within a year purchased his Alfred property. Goodwin had apparently accumulated money as a trader and was prepared to try his hand in a more settled situation. During the War of 1812, Goodwin served two years as the paymaster of the 33rd US Infantry, a regiment with several other Sanford men.[iii] By 1816, Goodwin had gained enough local prominence to be appointed postmaster and the same year began his tenure as York County Registrar of Deeds. Both of these positions are choice political patronage jobs, indicating Goodwin was on warm terms with the politically connected. The Alfred tax list for 1816 showed Goodwin owned 1 acre, two buildings (worth $150), 1 cow and 1 swine. He also had on hand $500 in cash or out at interest.[iv] He apparently had no horse, chaise, hay, cider or corn, items that were frequently enumerated in his neighbor’s inventories. Goodwin leant money to many of his Alfred neighbors, obtaining mortgage deeds to many farms and woodlots in the area and did considerable business with Sam Silsbee who was then trading out of the Webber Tavern across the street. In the 1835 tax records, Goodwin owned 2 buildings worth $1400 and had parlayed his bank roll into $8000 in cash or stock in trade. His total worth was second in town only to Senator John Holmes. Goodwin invested some of his money in 400 acres in the Waldo Patent in eastern Maine. He may have over extended himself in this and other land dealings.
Goodwin ceased functioning as Registrar of Deeds in Dec. 1836 after signing his name to deeds in 63 volumes at the Registry. His duties were assumed by Benjamin Herrick but Goodwin did not resign until three years later. In 1837 Goodwin mortgaged all his Alfred property to a Bangor businessman for $5500 but reserved the right to live there until Jan. 1838 and insured the property for $2500.[v] In 1839, Goodwin served as State Treasurer and formerly resigned as Registrar of Deeds. Goodwins mortgage note floated around Bangor, used as collateral, and were part of the assets of his creditors when his mortgage holder was sued. In 1840, Goodwin had moved out of Alfred and was listed as a non resident owning property worth $150. A deed states he was a resident of Sanford, formerly of Alfred.[vi] The Feb. 16, 1841 issue of the Maine Democrat, a Saco paper, stated that James Thomas had “ purchased that eligible situation in Alfred Village, formerly the residence of Jeremiah Goodwin, Esq. and fitted up the same for a public house.” Thomas had apparently been occupying the dwelling for a while under a lease from Goodwin through lawyer Daniel Goodnow who was handling Goodwins financial affairs.[vii]
James Thomas is a bit of a mystery man. Born in NH, he lived in Parsonsfield before removing to Alfred. Thomas was a general in the militia in 1829. In 1836, he sold his Parsonsfield homestead and appears on the Alfred tax rolls with 1 cow ($8), 2 horses ($100), 2 swine ($8), 2 carriages ($100), and $1500 in cash. He owned no property at this time. He apparently was the jailer in Alfred in the late 1830’s but lost his position when a new sheriff was elected and refused to reappoint him. He recognized Alfred’s commercial prospects and did not wait long before plunking down part of his nest egg on Goodwin’s large, centrally located dwelling. Thomas received a quit claim for Goodwin’s property for $850. The deed was dated Nov. 26, 1840 and was from Goodwin’s Bangor creditors.[viii] Goodwin sold William G. Conant a small remaining parcel of the land in the square, the description of which gives a snapshot of the changing face of the village in 1841.[ix] The 1/3 acre he sold was the former garden spot of Dr. Abial Hall, upon which Conant had built a store within the last year (Alfred Country Store). Part of the garden spot already contained Dr. Abial Hall Jr.’s apothecary shop and a small shop built by David Hall, now “the goldsmith shop of Richard Hayes.”
Alfred town records reflect Thomas’s vocation, “James Thomas licensed to sell spirituous liquors for medicinal purposes according to regulations, not to authorize you to sell liquors to idlers or spendthrifts to be drank or carried away from your house, and when sold for sickness...it is up to you to ascertain that there is no deception.”[x]
The 1850 census shows:
James E. Thomas, age 61 landlord b.NH
Rhonda H. Thomas, age 53 b.Me.
Betsy Allen, age 20, b.Me.
Franklin Dane, age18, clerk b.Me.
John L. Burnham, age18, clerk, b.Me.
The last named young men were likely boarders at Thomas’s establishment and Betsy Allen a domestic at the tavern. Just down the street, Sam M. Shaw was also taking boarders in the Brickends- more boarders than Thomas had. Shaw lodged 6 guests including 1 tinplate worker and three peddlers. Keep in mind that lodging travelers was a cottage industry in Alfred, one in which many home owners provided a bed and meal especially during the busy court season.
The Alfred tax evaluation for 1850 reveal Thomas owned 25 acres ($200), 1 dwelling ($1000), 2 outbuildings ($400), $1000 in cash and personal estate worth $174.
In 1854, Thomas conveyed to Edward Chase of Alfred, “ 1 acre more or less with all the buildings, being the same which I have occupied as a tavern stand hereto fore and is the same which I now live on and occupy... the oilcloth carpets which are on the floors of the house are included in the premises.”[xi] Chase had a varied background. In the 1850 census he was the jailer, age 36, with a young brood of 4 children. He also had two children that died in infancy buried in the churchyard. He was apparently following in Thomas’s footsteps as jailer at the jail to tavern keeper . On the 1856 map of York County, the tavern is called “The Edward Chase Hotel”. His tax evaluation for that year was 1 dwelling ($1000), 2 outbuildings ($450), and personal estate $122. Chase was elected town clerk March 18,1856[xii] and just over two months later he sold the tavern to Robert P .Berry of Kennebunk for $850, retaining a mortgage for that amount.[xiii] Chase remained in town, however, for in the 1860 census he is described as a trader. His brood had grown to 6 children.
Robert P. Berry was born in Hollis May 19, 1812 but spent most of his life in Limington. By 1843, he was living in Waterboro Center, making a living as an innkeeper.[xiv] He kept his tavern in that location until its sale in 1854.[xv] After a brief stay in Kennebunk, Berry purchased his namesake tavern from Chase.
Berry jumped right into the swing of the Alfred social scene. One of his passions was apparently horse trotting at the local fairs. At the Saco fair in Nov.1860, Berry came in second behind his friend across the street, John Stimson, and had to settle for the $15 prize. The real action occurred the next day when Berry raced his sorrel horse against a horse from Biddeford with $100 side bets. Berry lost again.[xvi] In July of 1860 George Came reported,” The lightning struck Mr. Berry’s stable staving off and splitting a board, passing close to the hay without doing any material damage.”[xvii]
The 1860 census:
Robert P. Berry, age 48, public house,RE $2500, PE$1500
Mary A Berry, age49
Edward A. Berry, age23, marble work
Fred S. Bradbury, age31 boarder
Evelyn G. Lord, age39 domestic
Edward G. Locke, age23 day laborer
It is interesting to note that another name associated with the tavern also first appears in the 1860 census- Nancy Avery. Nancy, a black woman from Waterboro, was a domestic residing at the county jail in 1860. The trade of Robert Berry’s son is the reason the Berry’s were associated with the marble shop located in a storefront next to the tavern. Unfortunately, young Mr. Berry died in 1863 at the age of 23. After noting Berry’s brief illness, George Came recorded “E. Alonzo Berry, the big man, died today, he has weighed about 325.”[xviii] The Berry’s only other child, Laura Jane, had died in 1859 at the tender age of 17. Both Berry children are buried in the churchyard.
The 1868 evaluation shows Berry owned 1 dwelling ($1000), 3 outbuildings ($500), 1 acre ($200), and PE $345. The 1870 census finds Nancy located in the tavern along with other hotel staff but no boarders.
Robert P. Berry, age58, hotel keeper, RE $4100, PE$2550
Mary A. Berry, age58
Nancy Avery, age41, house servant
Laura P. Emmons, age41, house servant
George Whitten, age15, stable
John Bracy, age17, stage driver
The 1872 map of the village identifies the dwelling as Central House, R P Berry.
A register from the Central House still exists from the years 1869 - 1873. It shows a steady parade of visitors, most of whom came for meals only and not to lodge. It’s a mixture of the exotic- Wong Saku who signed in Chinese script, and the mundane such as James Hayes, a neighborhood boy who first appeared with several chums signing in block letters, then returned daily for months to practice his penmanship- it improved. Officers of the railroad often held meetings at the tavern and the conductors were regulars, no doubt grabbing a bite while freight was being loaded. Stage drivers also appear almost daily. Lawyers, especially during court sessions, haunted the tavern, entertaining clients, looking for clients or entertaining each other- Hamilton from Waterboro, Haines from Biddeford, Moore from Limerick, E.E.Bourne from Kennebunk, as well as locals Came, Drew and Goodnows. Meetings of the bar (or at the Bar). Farmers, unused to writing, signed their names in a crabbed hand. They were in town to file probates, register deeds or sue their neighbors, no doubt they were guided through the process by all the legal help hanging around. Jurors, jurists and clerks stopped at the tavern for a hot meal.
Locals who found Nancy Avery’s cooking better than they could find at home were frequent guests. John Stimson, who lived next to the Town Hall, dined there almost nightly, often with Mr. Berry (who also signed in the register regularly). They both practiced the signatures, adding flourishes and assigning themselves titles such as Col. or Esq. I picture them consumed with a mutual predilection for horse flesh, on the hoof not the plate, making bets and swapping nags.
Entertainers abounded, performing at the town hall and often stopped for meals. For those with musical tastes: The Bar Mills Brass Band- 17 members strong and the Sanford Band with 15 members (4 from Alfred), American Quadrille Band from Rochester NH. With the Peak Family Bell Ringers, a party of 10 ate at the tavern and stayed in rooms four and six. Four years later, the Spaulding Bell Ringers had a gig at the town hall for 1 night only and ate at the Central House; the Sprague minstrels from West Newfield also performed in town.
Performing troupes appear often: Wallace and Knox- magicians, presenting “Knox’s New Sensation”, stage agents for “That Comical Brain”; B.F.Hoffman’s Concert and comedy troupe’s production of “Burning of Moscow”; Professor Francisco the Rope Walker (at 7 at the Town hall); and Heywoods Moving Panorama from Jericho Vt. stopped by to feed their party of four and oat their 5 horses- one horse for the panorama ?
George Bailey’s Circus and Menagerie came to town. Baily’s troupe ate dinner for 12 and tea for 5 and included all duo acts including the intriguing “Allen and Wrench”.
Medicine peddlers were frequent; they were hawking Remers magic oil, Wilton’s Catarach Cure, but the biggest splash was made by Mers. Grenier and Jackson from Philadelphia who covered a page with their ad in Berry’s register for Grenier’s Ague Pills, Humbolt Buchu, Punderson’s Condition Powder, Hooflands German Medicines and their staple which promised to be useful for every pain- external and internal- Cuban oil.
Sewing machine salesmen from Gorham, Western Union agents, Insurance agents, and Marines from Portsmouth Naval Shipyard all stopped by.
Folks who had left Alfred but returned to visit kin or friends checked in at the Central Hotel; William A Parsons and his party from New York- well on his way to being a tycoon in rails and cotton, George Cary- Sam Came’s Bowdoin roommate, later a successful Dr. that built his hometown of Houlton a Library, Nathaniel Conant and family who returned from Boston to visit the Conants and his Came in-laws.
There are some names I wonder about- the U.S. Grant signatune of course, but some I have real doubts- Col. Mudd, and Simon Slick from Skudunk, Maine. I’m real leery of Cris Cringle from God’s Send. They may be the product of local wits such as George M. Pheonix who signed his name and “jeweler- give us a call” and “G.M. Pheonix- has arrived and don’t you forget it”.
My personal favorite was Alfred Poor, a genealogist from Salem Mass. making a desperate plea for information on his own family surname as well as the Baily, Howe, Noyes, Merrill, and Webster families- rest in peace poor Alfred, I feel your pain.
Sam Came, local lawyer, was also agent for a credit rating service in NY. He frequently assessed the creditworthiness of his neighbors and the state of their businesses. He had plenty of opportunity to observe Berry since Cames office was right next door to the tavern. In July 1869, Came reported Berry’s real estate was worth about $3000 with a mortgage of about $1000, “a fair man to deal with but apt to be slow”. The next year, Came noted that the railroad had increased Hotel business greatly and the marble works were doing nicely. Berry’s health began to decline in 1872 and indications were that Berry would sell if a buyer could be found. Berry’s increased indebtedness caused Came to “recommend caution in giving credit.” His assessments for 1886 of the hotel and the marble shop- “has had usual business in marble and a slight increase in hotel. On the whole slightly improved.” By the next spring Berry was not doing anything in marble and his health was “still poor”.
May 7, 1888- “Hotel business just about the same, controls some land. Don’t know of any other income except about $50/ yr. for carrying the mail to the depot.”
July 26, 1889-”Hotel business somewhat improved on account of the Alfred House being closed. Apparently doing very well.”
May 2, 1890- “confined to house at present and good deal of time last winter. Some transient company has had house full of men working on ice so he has done very well.”
Berry’s health waxed and waned until his death on April 4, 1894. George Came said he died on the 7th, “Mr. Robert P. Berry Proprietor of Central House for 38 years died last night and was buried today (Sunday) from the house. Rev. Mr. Beedle Cong. minister attended the funeral.” Berry’s wife Mary Ann Anderson had died in July 29, 1880 and Berry made his own will that same year. His first order of business was to leave Nancy Avery, his loyal employee, $100. He left the rest of his estate to Annie J. Hooper who had lived as a member of his family for many years. Between his will and the time of his death, Annie became a member of the family as she apparently married Berry. The inventory is not as complete as I had hoped as it only gives total values of furnishings for each room. The east front room ($30), the west front room ($25) and Room #1 were the most palatial. Room numbers 2- 11 were somewhat more Spartan, ranging from $12 to $3 worth of furniture. The tavern was worth $1200.[xix] The widow Berry remarried Augustus Nason, a man of means and her improving condition is reflected in Cames credit report- May 26, 1894- Central House- Mrs. A H Nason, proprietor, Married to A.H. which makes financial condition better. Doing fair business. Improving her buildings, appears to be gaining.” The Hoopers owned the property until 1923 when it was conveyed to Albion Nutting and the Berry Tavern passed from Berry hands.
[i] Deed recorded July 26, 1804, mortgage dated April 26, 1806. Both recorded YCRD 71: 230. This building flurry is associated with Alfred being named shiretown of York County and the development of an attendant commercial district. [ii]YCRD 83:183 [iii]History of Sanford, Edwin Emery p. 192 [iv] Goodwin’s total real estate was worth $155, and his personal estate was worth $612. [v]YCRD 158:96, dated March 19, 1837 His insurance policy may have stood him in good stead when his home was struck by lightening and slightly damaged. June 20, 1838 - Maine Democrat, pub. Saco [vi]YCRD 83:183 1841 [vii] Jeremiah Goodwin’s wife died in Great Falls NH, July 29, 1842 and Goodwin remarried April 16, 1843 to Martha Emery, daughter of William Emery of Sanford. He remained in Sanford until the spring of 1844 when he removed to Great Falls NH, where his 4th daughter was born later that summer. The Goodwins had three daughters born to his first wife in Alfred, two of which married lawyers. Goodwin had a namesake son born to his second wife in 1846. Jeremiah Goodwin died in Great Falls NH July 31, 1857. [viii]YCRD 170:147, Nov. 26, 1840 [ix]YCRD 172:35, April 1, 1841 [x]Alfred Town records Vol. II, p. 173. He was relicensed in 1846 (May 23) p. 215 [xi]YCRD 237:374, Oct. 14, 1854 [xii]Alfred town rec. Bk. III, p. 27 [xiii] YCRD 246: 363, May 26, 1856 [xiv]YCRD 180:191 [xv]YCRD 315:333 [xvi]Came Diary p.90,91 [xvii]Came Diary p.89 [xviii]Came Diary April 28, 1863 p. 163 Georges family attended the funeral but George did not. [xix]Probate #1086 YCRP