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Dr. Holmes Cottage Museum (part 2)

June 9, 2012

As the story goes, Captain James Holmes, fresh from the battlefields of the Revolutionary War, walked 175 miles with everything he owned in a knapsack on his back, from his birth town of Plymouth, Mass., to "Bog Brook Plantation," later known as Hebron, a promising new settlement in western Maine. It was in Hebron that the "Captain" would marry Jerusha Rawson, take up farming and raise a family of nine.

One of their sons Dr. Job Holmes, the cottage's third and longest medical resident, was born on his parent's farm in Hebron, in 1799. He chose the profession of medicine, attending lectures at Bowdoin College, Maine Medical School, where he graduated in 1826; one year before the death of his father and two years before the graduation of Cyrus Hamlin. He commenced the practice of his profession in Cyrus's hometown, Paris (next door to Hebron), where he also served as town clerk.

While in Paris, in 1833, he married Vesta Hamlin, Cyrus Hamlin's sister. The couple moved to Calais the following year, where they purchased her brother's cottage. Six children were to follow; Agnes, Anna Livermore, Ellen 'Nellie' Vesta, Cyrus Hamlin, Frank Pierpont and Walter Hamlin. For the next fourteen years Holmes practiced out of the cottage while taking on an apprentice medical student, Charles Edward Swan, a brother of James Swan, the Texas colonist.

After Swan graduated from medical school at Bowdoin in 1847 he spent the summer of 1848 in the hospitals of New York City. According to a 1940 account in the Calais Advertiser;

While on his way there he stopped in Boston and visited the Massachusetts General Hospital and saw an operation performed under ether by Dr Warren. Carefully observing the mode of administration of the ether he felt confident that he would be able to administer it himself. The next day upon arriving in New York he went to the City Hospital where the Surgeon in charge was about to perform an operation. The Surgeon said he would like very much to use ether if he had someone who could give it and Dr.Swan said he had seen it used the day before and was willing to make the attempt. His effort was a success and the operation was performed. It was the first time ether was used in a New York hospital.

Returning to Calais he entered into a partnership with Dr. Holmes. They both practiced from the cottage for 16 years, until Dr. Holmes sudden death from heart disease in 1864.

Just a year before his passing, Job and Vesta would lose their 19 year old son, Frank Pierpont Holmes, in one of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War. A sergeant in Company A of the 6th Maine Infantry Volunteers, he was killed in the second battle of Fredericksburg, Va., May 3, 1863, in the celebrated charge on Marye's Heights. According to one description;

Wave after wave of Federal soldiers marched forth to take the heights, but each was met with devastating rifle and artillery fire from the nearly impregnable Confederate positions. Confederate artillerist Edward Porter Alexander's earlier claim that "a chicken could not live on that field" proved to be entirely prophetic this bloody day. As darkness fell on a battlefield strewn with dead and wounded, it was abundantly clear that a signal Confederate victory was at hand. The Army of the Potomac had suffered nearly 12,600 casualties, nearly two-thirds of them in front of Mayre's Heights.

The Holmes family occupied the cottage from about 1834 to 1850, at which time they moved next door into a newly built Italianate designed by local architect and master carpenter, Asher Bassford. The two structures were owned by the Holmes family until 1954 when Josephine Moore, a granddaughter, gave the cottage to the St. Croix Historical Society. Moore died in 1956 and in her will she designated that the Italianate, locally known as "The Holmestead," be used as a home for the elderly. It is now under the stewardship of the Historical Society, which uses the building for meetings, public events and as a repository for their archives.Several of the rooms have been furnished, much as the Holmes family left them.

The doctor made his house calls up and down the St. Croix Valley by horse and carriage, which he kept in a barn in the back, connected to the cottage by an ell. The museum still contains Dr. Holmes 1847 day book of calls and charges as well as his traveling medicine kit complete with medicines of the day; many made by Holmes and Swan themselves. He charged 50 cents for pulling teeth and 5 dollars for delivering a baby.

The last bit of cottage history concerns a gentleman named Hannibal Hamlin, brother to Vesta Holmes and Cyrus Hamlin. Admitted to the bar in 1833, Hannibal was elected in 1835 to the Maine House of Representatives where he began his political career. Well-known as an anti-slavery champion, he sent a signal in his maiden Democratic speech to Congress in 1843, by announcing that he was an uncompromising foe to the extension of slavery. After the speech he was congratulated by former president, John Quincy Adams, who greeted him with,"Light breaketh in the east! Sir, light breaketh in the east!"

In 1860, after switching to the Republican Party, Hannibal was chosen to be Vice President on the ticket with Abraham Lincoln whom he did not meet until after the election. Upon hearing of her brother's nomination, Vesta Holmes wrote him this letter from her home in Calais;

Calais May – Sunday

My dear Brother

I have been thinking that it would be highly proper for me to write you a line on this uncommon occasion, but whether it should be one of congratulation or of condolence, it is not so easy to decide. Do you remember old Pat Carey that used to live in Paris when we were children; and the story he used to tell of having his fortune told when he was a young man? - that in his old age he was to ride in his carriage on the doors of which was to be the motto, "Who'd have thought it:" Now it seems to me if you should ever arrive to [the] honor of being Vice-President the same motto would not be inappropriate. When I first heard of the nomination I could not believe it, it took me so by surprise, but when I heard bells ringing, guns firing and men shouting I took it for a fact. It is common to hear people complain of the ingratitude of the world for services rendered but it will hardly apply to you, for what Shakespeare says about there being "a tide in the affairs of men" seems to be fulfilled in you. You shall have my best wishes for your success and a vote if I had one.

I have been from home the last month, part of the time at Paris and a short time in Boston – came home last week and found Sarah here her health seems to be quite good & she has improved every way since I saw her last. Shall we not see you here this summer? We have been new furnishing our parlor and I should be most happy to christen it by giving a party for you and your friends when you can make it convenient to come. The Dr is highly delighted I assure you – I have been looking over this note and have come to the conclusion that I must be slightly cracked – but such as it is I will send it.

Affectionately your Sister



Dr. Holmes Cottage Museum (Part 1)

for more photos of the cottage click here

click here for photos of the window restoration

Special thanks to the St. Croix Historical Society, Artemas Ward House Museum, Sue Melton - descendent of Artemas Ward, Hamlin Memorial Library & MuseumUniversity of Maine - Fogler Library Special Collections and Bowdoin College Library - Special Collections for their assistance.

(click photo to view larger image)

(comments = 3)

Portia Thompson
March 19, 2014

Very happy to read about Drs. Holmes and Swan. I am the great-grand daughter of Marshall N McKusick and the great-great grand daughter of Asher B Basford. Have long been my family's genealogist and historian and am always delighted to learn of the people with whom their lives were connected.

Melissa Hansen
March 19, 2013

I really enjoyed reading the history and seeing the restoration. Capt James Holmes is my 3x great grandfather.

David James
June 11, 2012

Thank you for this wonderful bit of Calais history. I particularly enjoyed learning about Hannibal Hamlin's connection to Calais, since we both attended Hebron Academy. I was also interested to read of Asher Bassford, the architect of the Holmestead. His daughter, Lucy Jane Bassford, was the wife of Marshall Noah McKusick, one of the more outstanding of Calais' Civil War veterans, who went on to become one of its leading citizens. He was appointed Postmaster of Calais in 1882 by Pres. Arthur, and was elected mayor of Calais five times between 1886-1907.


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