Historic Highlight

Courtesy of Julie Senk

Writer’s Retreat

Historic Highlight

Is this the real Sunnybrook Farm?

As a girl growing up in the 1860s in the Hollis village of Salmon Falls, Kate Douglas Wiggin fantasized about living in the rambling 18th-century farmhouse across the street from her family’s cottage. More than four decades later, enjoying newfound celebrity as the author of the bestselling novel Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Wiggin made her childhood dream come true: She proceeded to buy the farmstead, then operating as a boarding house, one section at a time. She named it “Quillcote,” meaning “house of the pen,” and restored it to its former glory. Wiggin went on to write several of her more than 20 novels in her summer home, and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, which is set in a rural riverside village that sounds a lot like Salmon Falls, would inspire three movies, including ones with Mary Pickford and Shirley Temple in the starring roles.

The Greek Revival main house is distinguished by its pedimented gable and columned entryway portico, and is linked to the barn by a long, one-story ell. The home still fires people’s imaginations, but Wiggin isn’t the only reason. Consider, for example, the pirate, who was rumored to have painted the murals that Wiggin discovered in a bedroom during her restoration. The buccaneer was said to have created them in exchange for one night of board, a story that persisted well into the 20th century. It’s more significant (if less colorful) that the murals are now attributed to renowned New England artist Rufus Porter.

There are ghost stories too, including one about the son of Thomas and Susan Carll, who lived in the residence before Wiggin. The story goes that young James Carll died in a fall down a stairwell, and his spirit haunts Quillcote.

Some years after Wiggin’s death in 1923, the home was turned into a summer school for boys. Later, it was returned to a private residence, which it remains today.

With so many stories — both fact and fiction — Quillcote hasn’t lost its allure. No doubt that would please Wiggin. As she wrote in her autobiography, “I believe we succeeded in making it in some mysterious way a lovable house, for all who pass its threshold want to sit down and live there.”

Portland-based writer Julie Senk holds degrees in history and historic preservation and provides property surveys and architectural analyses to homeowners and businesses. To learn more about her work, visit northernvernacular.com.

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