A Tale of Two Houses

In my last post I talked about our move to Maine, and our “small house near the ocean in Rockland”. What follows is a tale about how our new home is unexpectedly connected to the former Bowden family home in Lynn, MA.

In the fall of 2020, houses in Rockland were just flying off the market. We’d see one we liked, and it’d be gone before we had a chance to think about it. When we finally sold our house in NH, there was a small house still available that had been sitting on the market quite a while. It needed a lot of love, which I think had scared off buyers, but we saw the possibilities. It also came with a view of the ocean from the front room. We felt like this house had been waiting for us.

The real estate listing said it was built in 1900. We knew at first glance that it was older than that. Among other things, it looked very much like my grandparents’ (and parents’) 1850s house in Lynn, MA, right down to the railing on the stairway. My grandfather had fixed up the Lynn house in the mid 1940s, and moved the family down from Eastport, Maine. We spent a ton of time there growing up, and in the early 1980s my parents bought it and I lived there for a while.

As it turned out, similar appearance wasn’t half the story.

On the left, the former Bowden home on Pine Grove Ave. in Lynn, MA.
On the right, our house in Rockland, ME.

In October 2020, while the logistical wheels were turning to sell one house and buy the other, I started some research on our new home. One of the first things I found was an old map of Rockland, ME.1 This house was already on the map by 1855, labeled “S. J. Newell”, which confirmed what we’d suspected about the house’s age. A bit of research later I found an 1860 census listing Samuel J. & Nancy D. Newell, with 5 children, in the census entry just above Lysander Fales (who lived next house up according to the 1855 map).2 These were definitely the folks who lived there.

A section of the 1885 map of Rockland, Maine showing the S. J. Newell house, toward the top left… next to L. Fales.1

As my family will tell you, I might not know where I left my keys, but I can usually remember the name of my 10th great grandmother. 🙂 In this case, I had a pretty clear 40+ year old memory of a mid 1800s Lynn map showing the Bowden house listed as the “Newhall Estate”. At that point I had to wonder, with such similar names, if the Newells & Newhalls were connected. I headed off to Ancestry and built a quick tentative tree for Samuel & Nancy. 3 generations back from Samuel I found Daniel Newhall, born in Lynn, MA. Some kind of link seemed clear.

Fast forward to this week. Before I shared all this, I wanted to verify the info. The first thing I did was look for my old file folder of Lynn deeds & maps from the early 1980s to find this Newhall’s first name. There were no digitized records then, let alone internet, so I’d spent a lot of time looking through old deeds, city directories, and maps… & feeding change into copy machines.

My Lynn folder was nowhere to be found.

So… Christa & I scoured the internet for records. While I was looking at Lynn city directories, my very resourceful wife was working her way back through old Lynn deeds. The first thing I came across that pointed us in the right direction was an 1858 city directory listing for “Newhall Otis, supt. Pine Grove cemetery, house Pine Grove Ave.”, which is where the Bowden house was, on Pine Grove Ave.2

At that point, Christa said she hoped Otis was the right one. She started digging through family trees to sort out Otis’ connections to the (many) other Lynn Newhalls. She’d found his family, and that Otis died in 1867, so when she came to an 1882 deed with with a list of grantors that included Otis’ children, we knew we were on the right track.3 We then found the piece that pulled it together… a deed from Oct 1856 showing that Otis Newhall had purchased the property on Pine Grove Ave. from William H. White.4

(Side note: Christa would now like to name a dog Otis. :), we just need to add said dog.)

The frosting on the cake? We’d also been searching online for that map I remembered with the “Newhall Estate” label on it, but couldn’t find it anywhere. It dawned on me that I’d probably given the Pine Grove folder to my parents while they were still living there. I made a Hail Mary call to my mother, who went looking for it, and being who she is, she’d brought it with her from Lynn. <3 She took a picture, texted it my way, and there it was. 🙂 “Otis Newhall Est.” on Pine Grove Ave.5

Portion of old Map of Lynn, MA (Photo Sally Bowden, 15 Oct 2023)6

If you’re interested in more details on the ensuing genealogical research, shoot me a message… but to keep it a little shorter, over the course of a couple of days, we verified that Otis Newhall of Lynn, MA and Samuel J. Newell of Rockland, ME were 4th cousins once removed, as Christa had surmised. Amazing. They were both descendants of Thomas Newhall, who came to Lynn, MA from England in the early 1630s.7 The Newells bought the Rockland house in Feb of 18558 and were still there as of the 1860 census.9 These are photos of Samuel J. 10 & Nancy Dearborn (French) Newell.11

The Newhalls bought the Lynn house in Oct 185614 & Otis’ family still owned it in the 1880s… so… these two men, who owned two houses built around the same time, in the same style, were related to each other, and lived in these homes during the same timeframe… & we randomly ended up buying this one? You just plain can’t make it up.

(Another side note: the Rockland, ME deed in 1855 was actually to Nancy Dearborn (French) Newell, Samuel’s wife.15 He wasn’t on it. Odd for the time & it would be interesting to know why. Side note to the side note: Nancy is likely related to me, but that’s for another post.)

I’ve always loved researching old houses, finding out who was in them, who walked up & down the old worn stairs, who cooked in the kitchen, ran to fetch water from the well, cut the firewood, raised their families & lived & died in them… but finding out that the first occupant of our house shared DNA, and a surname, with someone who lived in another house owned by our family? It’s just mind blowing, and something I still can’t think about without a bit of wonder. 🌳

  1. D. S Osborn, Map of the City of Rockland, 1855. ↩︎
  2. The Lynn Directory Containing The City Record, the Names of the Citizens and A Business Directory, with an Almanac for 1858 (Boston: Adams, Sampson & Co., 1858); digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2469/images/9779869?usePUB=true&_phsrc=XXd71&_phstart=successSource&usePUBJs=true&pId=1287632104 : accessed 15 Oct 2023). ↩︎
  3. Essex County, Massachusetts, Recorded Land, 1082: 127-28, S. M. Bubier et al. commissioners to John S. Mansfield, 16 May 1882; digital image, Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds (https://salemdeeds.com/salemdeeds/Defaultsearch2.aspx) : accessed 13 Oct 2023. ↩︎
  4. Essex County, Massachusetts, Recorded Land, 539: 194,
    William H. White to Otis Newhall, 3 Oct 1856; digital image, Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds (https://salemdeeds.com/salemdeeds/Defaultsearch2.aspx) : accessed 13 Oct 2023. ↩︎
  5. Portion of Map of Lynn, MA from the mid 1800s; photocopy privately held by Sally Bowden, Hampton, NH, 2023; digital image privately held by Jeff Bowden, Rockland, ME, 2023. ↩︎
  6. Ibid. ↩︎
  7. Henry F. Waters, The Newhall Family of Lynn, Massachusetts (Salem: Printed for Essex Institute, 1882), 2; digital image, Google Books (https://books.google.com : accessed 16 Oct 2023). ↩︎
  8. Knox County, Maine, Deeds, 24: 128, Lysander Fales to Nancy D. Newell, 1 Feb 1855; digital image, Court of County Commissioners, County of Knox (https://www.searchiqs.com/mekno/Login.aspx) : accessed 6 Oct 2020. ↩︎
  9. 1860 U.S. census, Knox Co., Maine, pop. sch., p. 50, dwell. 289, fam. 421, Samuel J. Newell. ↩︎
  10. Sanborn Venuti Family (https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/76930898/person/46354126798/facts : accessed 6 Oct 2020), “Samuel Johnson Newell.” ↩︎
  11. Sanborn Venuti Family (https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/76930898/person/46354125404/facts : accessed 9 Nov 2020), “Nancy Dearborn French.” ↩︎

Digging under family trees since 1978. 🌳


  1. This is very cool! I’ve never done that thorough of research into a house, but you and your wife picked up on one thing that led to another. If both men were using similar plans, I wonder if any others in the family, or perhaps back a generation, also used the same plan. It looks very New England-y. I used to live both in Portland, Maine, and Boston, so it’s a familiar style 🙂 Congrats on the research!

    1. Anne, Thanks for the message. It was fun to research. I absolutely wondered as we did this if they used similar plans… or if they knew each other, or had met each other. I’ve heard the style described as ‘New Englander’… and as you say they’re pretty familiar up here. Thanks for taking a look at the post. 🙂

  2. Hey there just wanted to give you a quick heads up. The text
    in your post seem to be running off the screen in Ie.
    I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or
    something to do with browser compatibility but I thought I’d post to let you know.
    The style and design look great though! Hope you get the problem fixed soon. Many thanks

    1. Hi Connie, I’ve tested here, and had a friend do the same on a PC. It seems to only be the long website names in the sources that are doing this, but the web links still work. The text in the body of the post looks OK. Thanks for the message, and your comment about the style/design.

  3. Interesting post. The builders of the two homes might have used a house design from the same “Builder’s Manual”. In the 1800s, builder’s manuals and pattern guides written by prominent Architects were popular. It would be interesting if you could find the design used for the two homes in one of these manuals. In New England, one of the most prolific authors of these manuals during the early to mid-1800s was Asher Benjamin. His designs (Federal Style, Greek Revival) were used through the 1850s to the Civil War and also influenced other Architects who followed him. You can find copies of some of his and others’ manuals (American Builder’s Companion, etc.) on the Archive.org website. In the past, the Art Institute of Chicago had an exhibit about these books and the Architects who authored them.

    I hope this info helps you. BTW, I also had some interesting unusual “coincidences” occur myself in the past. 🙂

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