March 4, 2010

'REBECCA'

RAY ROUTHIER

— By

click image to enlarge

Jack Milton/Staff Photographer: Monday, September 21, 2009: The Usher House in Buxton inspired the story "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm." The house will open for tours in October as part of a celebration of the book written by Kate Douglas Wiggin.

Jack Milton

click image to enlarge

Jack Milton/Staff Photographer: Monday, September 21, 2009: The living room of the Usher House in Buxton that inspired the story "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm." The house will open for tours in October as part of a celebration of the book written by Kate Douglas Wiggin.

Jack Milton

Additional Photos Below

Staff Writer

HOLLIS — Spread out across the same Arts and Crafts-style desk Kate Douglas Wiggin used to correspond with fellow authors Mark Twain and Helen Keller are dozens of postcards.

Each shows an interior or exterior shot of Wiggin's longtime home, which she called Quillcote, in the village of Salmon Falls. A current owner of Quillcote, Carla Turner, shows the postcards for visitors to prove a couple of points.

First, although Wiggin is remembered mostly for the classic 1903 children's book ''Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,'' she was among America's best-known women in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and the author of some 40 books for children.

There were women's clubs set up in her honor, and when she returned from frequent travels abroad, thousands showed up to greet her.

She was a pioneer in the American kindergarten movement who helped open San Francisco's first free kindergarten, and was a president of the Buxton/Hollis area chapter of the Dorcas Society, a women's group dedicated to working for good causes.

And selling postcards of her home to a curious public was one of the ways she raised money for that society.

''She was all about making money for the Dorcas Society, and so she used the fact that she was so well-known to do that,'' said Turner, a special education teacher at Bonny Eagle High School in Standish.

People will be able to get a rare glimpse into Quillcote, Wiggin's home from around 1893 until her death in 1923, on Saturday as part of a day of events that will shine a light on the author's life and work.

START AT QUILLCOTE

From 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday, there will be a limited-availability tour of Quillcote, which is filled with furnishings and decor from when Wiggin lived there. The tour, which will include volunteers in period clothing, will be led by Turner.

Highlights will include bedroom wall murals of Casco Bay by famed New England muralist Rufus Porter; the front hallway, which looks just as it did in Wiggin's day; and Wiggin's personal study and desk.

Then, from 3 to 6:30 p.m., there will be tours of the Usher House in the nearby village of Bar Mills, up the Saco River in Hollis. The brick Federal-style home, built in the 1820s, was the setting for ''Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm,'' and its likeness appeared on some copies of the book.

The book is about a young girl who comes to live with her aunts in a brick house in the fictional town of Riverboro, Maine. Wiggin was a neighbor of the Ushers, and she even borrowed the name of her ''Rebecca'' from an Usher daughter who was a prominent Civil War nurse.

At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, the silent 1917 film version of ''Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm'' starring Mary Pickford will be screened at the Saco River Grange Hall, a performance hall in Bar Mills village in Buxton not far from Quillcote. In the 1930s, ''Rebecca'' was made into a talking picture starring Shirley Temple.

''Two movies were made (of Wiggin's novel) starring Mary Pickford and Shirley Temple, who were the biggest stars of their day,'' said Andy Shepard of Yarmouth, whose father was a great-nephew of Wiggin. ''She was so popular, she was really the J.K. Rowling of her day. Her stories really transformed the way literature dealt with children. They spoke to children.''

All three events on Saturday will benefit the Saco River Grange Hall and are collaborations between the hall, the Buxton-Hollis Historical Society and the Dorcas Society.

Donations will be accepted at the Quillcote tour. Admission will be $13 to the Usher House and $12 for the film screening. The screening will also include a talk about Rebecca Usher by Lynda Sudlow, director of the Falmouth Memorial Library and author of ''A Vast Army of Women: Maine's Uncounted Forces in the American Civil War.''

THE USHER HOUSE

The Usher family was nothing like that of Rebecca's in Wiggin's book, Sudlow said.

Far from being poor, they were a family that owned a lumber mill operation and were prominent in the town for years. Rebecca Usher and her three sisters all became involved in efforts to help Maine's Civil War troops, with Rebecca serving as a nurse to troops in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The Usher House today is much less frozen in time than Quillcote, although there are many original features, such as interior window shutters and wall plaster. The current owners of the Usher House, Christian Penney and Renee Lewis, are renovating the house and trying to retain as much of the original character as possible.

''It's not a museum, but we want to retain as much of the history as we can,'' said Penney, a carpenter.

Wiggin spent part of her childhood around the time of the Civil War in a house in Salmon Falls in Hollis, the village that borders Bar Mills. Her family later moved to California, where Wiggin began her career in education.

She became a leader in the kindergarten movement, which originated from Europe, in the United States, and in 1878 helped start a free kindergarten in San Francisco. She went on to write much about kindergarten and early childhood education, and later became a best-selling author of children's literature.

''She was really one of the seminal individuals who furthered the notion of kindergarten in this country and was really a serious scholar of it throughout her life,'' said Richard Lindemann, director of special collections and archives at the Bowdoin College Library in Brunswick.

Bowdoin bestowed an honorary degree on Wiggin in 1904, and has a collection of her books, papers and letters.

HOW IT STARTED

The events scheduled for Saturday were set in motion by a poster. The owners of the grange hall, Pat and Andy Packard, have had a poster promoting the silent version of ''Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm'' sitting around for years.

Knowing that the Usher house is right across the river and that Quillcote is just down the road, the Packards have long wanted to show the film at their theater.

But they couldn't find a print -- until this year, when the movie was finally restored and prints were made available.

For fans of Wiggin, Quillcote is a must-see, and practically a museum because of all the original furnishings. The gracious two-plus-story home was begun around 1770 and finished around 1866, and is a mix of Federal and Greek Revival styles.

It was in Wiggin's family until 1939, when it was bought by the family of Carla Turner's husband, Bill Turner. His family ran a summer school there and used it as a vacation home. It's only been a year-round house for the last 15 years or so.

The Turners have kept many of the rooms as they were in Wiggin's day, including the front hall with its original rug and wallpaper, the music room with its original wallpaper and rug, and the bedroom with Rufus Porter murals.

In other rooms, they've tried to keep the look as close to Wiggin's time as possible. They replaced the old wood stove in the kitchen with an antique stove that is the same model.

Carla Turner has found lots of fabric and wallpaper in the attic, and used them try to keep Quillcote looking the way it did 100 years ago.

They even have parties, as Wiggin did, in the rustic ''barn theater'' attached to the house. Old postcards show the theater decorated for performances, along with benches, for the writer's friends and guests.

Wiggin's mother and sister also lived at Quillcote along with Wiggin's second husband, George Riggs. Her first husband, Samuel Wiggin, died in 1889.

It was during her first marriage that Wiggin began writing children's books as a way to raise money for her kindergarten project, including ''The Story of Patsy'' and ''The Bird's Christmas Carol.''

Besides ''Rebecca,'' some of her more popular children's books were ''Mother Carey's Chickens'' and her travel-based books ''Penelope's Progress'' and ''Penelope's English Experiences.''

''Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm'' has been translated into various languages around the world, and has also been printed in Braille.

When Bill Turner was young, people alive in Wiggin's day stopped by to take a curious look. Even today, people doing research on Wiggin or the kindergarten movement seek Quillcote out.

One researcher spent about a week with the Turners, and Carla Turner could hear her laughing in the bathroom.

Turner asked if everything was all right, and the researcher said she found it funny to think she was bathing in the same tub Wiggin had used.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors


Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Jack Milton/Staff Photographer: Monday, September 21, 2009:A stairway in the main entry of the Usher House in Buxton that inspired the story "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm." The house will open for tours in October as part of a celebration of the book written by Kate Douglas Wiggin.

Jack Milton

click image to enlarge

Jack Milton/Staff Photographer: Monday, September 21, 2009: Books on a coffee table in the living room of the Usher House in Buxton that inspired the story "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm." The house will open for tours in October as part of a celebration of the book written by Kate Douglas Wiggin.

Jack Milton

click image to enlarge

Jack Milton/Staff Photographer: Monday, September 21, 2009: "Quillcote" is a house in Hollis where Kate Douglas Wiggin summered. The house will open for tours in October as part of a celebration of "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm," the famous book written by Wiggin.

Jack Milton

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge



Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)