Sarah Orne Jewett House

At Home

Sarah drew this picture of her beloved home as a young child. The house was a continuous presence throughout her life.

As an adult, Sarah spent most of her time at the house writing, but that did not preclude a lively atmosphere in the home. On a given day, Sister Mary would be busy running the household, going over menus with cook Katy Drinan and seeing to the garden. Staff member John Tucker might come in to advise the sisters about which horses needed driving or the firewood supply. Hannah Driscoll might be singing as she worked in the kitchen. Dogs might be running about, upsetting a resting cat and creating mayhem. Nephew Teddy might come in from his house next door, looking for a partner in his imaginary game or sharing with his aunts some success at school. There were visits from Boston friends and friends from town. There were calls to be made on neighbors and by horseback to the elderly Barrell sisters in York. There were letters to write, and for Sarah, best of all, books to read.

 

Domestic Staff

 

The Jewett family retained a small staff: one or two women for housekeeping and cooking, and a man for general purpose work, such as household maintenance, care of the horses, and driving. Sarah Orne Jewett’s letters to family and friends make mention of staff members with affection and the family-staff relationship appears to have been a comfortable one.

In a few cases, Jewett domestic staff stayed with the family for decades. This would have been unusual in an era when workers were drawn to cities and to mills for job opportunities.

Animal Companions

 

Sarah Orne Jewett had a great fondness for her companion animals. The family had horses, dogs, cats, and birds. In letters, Sarah and her sister Mary share messages of concern and assurance for their animal companions and their well-being. In her published work, Jewett’s narrative description shows her affinity for them.

A Writer's Garden

 

“… and as she looked down the wide garden-walk it seemed like the broad aisle
in church, and the congregation of plants and bushes all looked at her as if
she were in the pulpit.”
Sarah Orne Jewett (A Country Doctor, 1884)

Sarah Orne Jewett often mentions flowers in her published work, noting vibrant colors, textures, and delicacy of blooms. She evokes personality with flower varieties and creates metaphors for the human condition in plant life, from the white petunias in “Confessions of a Housebreaker,” to the protective tree in “A White Heron.”

Sarah and sister Mary were said to occasionally breakfast in the garden; Sarah liked the garden as a setting to be with friends and as a place of solitude. But she also knew the work of gardening. In a 1907 letter, she wrote, “things are coming right up in the garden. I won’t say that I can’t leave home when the old asparagus-bed is in its early prime, because you might think that quite low; but the poplars must also be trimmed where the ice-storm broke them in March…” and later, in the same letter, simply “the garden isn’t a matter of temperament, it is an old plot of ground where several generations have been trying to make good things grow.”

In 1993, former Historic New England landscape gardener Nancy Wetzel launched a revitalization of Jewett’s garden. She brought in heirloom plants with a focus on those Jewett mentioned in her writing.  She resourced Jewett texts for those that would be reintroduced. Wetzel planted display beds of the medicinal herbs Jewett wrote of in The Country of the Pointed Firs.

The photos in the below gallery were taken by Nancy Wetzel of her work in the Jewett garden.