Hampton Falls To Lose An Historic Landmark

By Elaine Winn

Atlantic News, Thursday, June 11, 1996, Vol. 22, No. 21

The stately Georgian colonial home known as Elmfield, located on Route 1 in the town's small commercial center, has at long last been sold - and may soon be dismantled. The Cary Associates Realty agent who handled the transaction said she was not at liberty to answer any questions about the house or its new owners. But public information on record available at the Registry of Deeds revealed that the property has been purchased by Jeanet Irwin of 988 Fifth Avenue, New York City, amid speculation that the historic landmark will be taken down and moved to Connecticut to be reassembled and restored.

Thomas Beeler, secretary of the Historical Society and chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said, "We're deeply concerned about what plans they have for the house because it's a national treasure. It has historic significance as a house and also as the site of [John Greenleaf] Whittier's death and inspiration for his works."

The historical significance and fine condition of the home lead the Historical Society to contact many agencies around the state and throughout New England, investigating avenues to save it. An intensive analysis was done by NH architectural historian James Garvin, of the NH Division of Historical Resources. He found the building to be a rare example of not only a large dwelling of the period, but also of an 18th century tavern. "The house is further importance as a place of inspiration for the poet Whittier and, ultimately, as the place of his death," Garvin's report states.

Situated on a portion of the original 60-acre land grant given to Edward Gove in 1670, the home was built in 1787 by Captain Joseph Wells and operated as a tavern until 1808. Wells' great-granddaughter, Sarah Abbie Gove, eventually inherited the home, where she often held Quaker meetings. John Greenleaf Whittier, the Quaker poet, a longtime friend of Sarah's family, was a frequent visitor - often spending his summers there. Many of his famous poems were inspired by both the lush gardens that surrounded the home and the view of the marshes from the second floor southwestern bedroom he always occupied during his visits. His last poem, written in honor of his dear friend Oliver Wendell Holmes's 83rd birthday, was penned there. Whittier died on the premises on Labor Day, September 7, 1892 and for many years after his admirers made pilgrimages to the site from all over the country.

Sara Gove sold the home in 1938 to Dr. and Mrs. Merle Straw. Fortunately, the Straws kept the home very much as it was when they bought it. In recent years, they had placed it in the hands of a caring and knowledgeable steward, all of which, Garvin's report states, resulted in the "continued existence of a building that retains integrity both for the period of its origin and for the period when it gained additional significance through its association with a leading literary figure."

When contacted by telephone, Jeanet Irwin confirmed that the house will be relocated to Greenwich, in northwestern Connecticut.