The Captain Reuben Merrill House
Captain Reuben Merrill
Hannah Elizabeth Merrill
With his shipping business booming, Captain Reuben Merrill decided that it was only fitting to build a stately home that would reflect his fortune and better accommodate his wife, Hannah Elizabeth Blanchard, and their growing family. In 1857, Captain Merrill purchased a plot of land on outskirts of Yarmouth for $7,000, and hired prominent Portland Architect, Thomas Sparrow to design an imposing Italianate mansion. Thomas Sparrow is the first known native of Portland, Maine to call himself a professional architect and the Merrill house is one of only three surviving structures designed by him.
When completed in 1858, this three story white clapboard mansion had 15 rooms and was considered the grandest home in Yarmouth. The Merrill house originally had a traditional New England connected house layout with a “big house”, a “little house” or ell with a side porch (now an enclosed garage), a backhouse and a barn (later demolished in the 1930’s). It was splendidly decorated with Italian marble fireplaces, carpet from England and the finest furniture of the time, much of which is still on display in the house today.
However, all of these luxuries came at a price. In 1875, Captain Merrill was still working to pay off the exorbitant cost of building and furnishing his home. He reluctantly embarked on a shipping voyage to California as captain of the Champlain. This last voyage led to Captain Merrill’s untimely death on June 16, 1875. When he had nearly reached his destination, the Champlain entered a dense fog causing it to hit rocks off of the Farallon Islands. As the ship was sinking, Captain Merrill remained on board the Champlain to ensure that all of the crew made it safely into the lifeboats. Just as he was entering a lifeboat himself, Captain Merrill was struck by the Champlain’s standing rigging and knocked overboard. His body was never found. Captain Reuben Merrill’s eldest son and first mate, Osborn Merrill was on board and witnessed his father’s death. After that, Osborn and the rest of the Merrill family quit the maritime industry and never took to the sea again.
The house has remained in the family since its construction in 1858 and still contains many of its original furnishings. In 2010, Maine Preservation moved its headquarters from 500 Congress Street in Portland to the Captain Reuben Merrill House and has been renting the house from the family ever since.
For more information about the Captain Reuben Merrill House please see its National Register of Historic Places Nomination (pdf) or the 2011 article in the Portland Press Herald about Maine Preservation moving in.