Castle Tucker (1807)

A time capsule of Victorian taste

Wiscasset, Maine

Dramatically sited on a hill overlooking the Sheepscot River, Castle Tucker tells the story of a prominent shipping family’s life on the coast of Maine over a period of 150 years. From 1858 until the end of the twentieth century, both the Tucker family and their imposing house survived economic upheavals, emotional turmoil, and a rapidly changing outside world.

Built in 1807, the house was later redecorated and furnished to satisfy modern Victorian taste and sensibilities. A visit to Castle Tucker offers a glimpse into the everyday life of Mollie and Richard Tucker and their five children at the turn of the twentieth century. With three generations of family possessions on view, Castle Tucker is a time capsule that echoes with the voices of a remarkable Maine family.

Plan Your Visit

Location

2 Lee Street
Wiscasset, Maine 04578

Days & Hours

Wednesday – Sunday
June 1 – October 15
11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Tours every half hour.

Last tour at 4:00 p.m.

Closed July 4

Admission

$8 adults

$7 seniors

$4 students

Free for Historic New England members and Wiscasset residents

Directions

Take I-295 to Exit 28, Route 1 North, Brunswick. Follow Route 1 to Wiscasset. Turn right on Lee Street and proceed to the intersection with High Street. Castle Tucker is on the right.

Parking

Available in the circle in front of the house, on Lee Street across from the house, or on the east side of High Street.

Contact Information

Castle Tucker Exterior

In 1807, Silas Lee built a large brick mansion at the end of High Street in Wiscasset on a hill overlooking the Sheepscot River.

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  • Castle Tucker Exterior

    In 1807, Silas Lee built a large brick mansion at the end of High Street in Wiscasset on a hill overlooking the Sheepscot River.

  • Parlor

    This is the Tuckers' parlor, complete with their walnut Rococo Revival parlor set with its original upholstery.

  • Cook Stove

    The 1905 Empire Crawford stove, purchased by Jane Tucker, remains a focal point in the kitchen.

  • Kitchen

    The kitchen was where Mollie Tucker worked with her staff and daughters to feed family and guests. It holds three generations of technology.

  • Upper Piazza

    The upstairs piazza is two stories high with stunning sweeping views of the Sheepscot River and Wiscasset Village.

The Lees and Elm Lawn

In 1807, Silas Lee built a large brick mansion at the end of High Street in Wiscasset on a hill overlooking the Sheepscot River. Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas in Lincoln County and a U. S. Congressman, Lee was one of the wealthiest and most prominent citizens in town. He and his wife Tempe planted two large elms near the house that inspired them to name the mansion Elm Lawn. Built in the Regency style, the house was massive in appearance, with a large central section flanked by two rounded bays. This was to be the Lees’ town house, fit for elegant hospitality and gracious living.

That same year, however, the Jeffersonian Embargo crippled New England’s seaport economy. Silas Lee, heavily invested in shipping and real estate projects, was hit hard. He died in 1814 in a spotted fever epidemic, leaving his wife Tempe to settle his debts. She sold Elm Lawn and built a smaller house on her remaining portion of the land. Wiscasset went from a sparkling boom town to an impoverished coastal village in a very short period of time.

Image courtesy of Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine. Gift of Mrs. P. S. J. Talbot.

castletucker_history

Multiple Owners and Decline

From 1814 until 1857, the house had a series of owners and tenants, not all of whom have been identified. Architectural changes and repairs made to the house during this period were not documented. In the 1840s and 1850s Wiscasset enjoyed another brief period of prosperity as the cotton trade invigorated shipping once again. In 1856 Franklin Clark, an ambitious local politician, purchased the house and began what appeared to be significant renovations and changes. These probably included moving two of the house’s chimneys to the end of each semi-circular bay, replacing central windows that had previously lit those rooms. However, Clark did not have the money to pay for these changes or any other of his failed investments. He was apprehended by the local sheriff at the train station trying to leave town, defaulting on all his debts.

2-captainrichardtuckerwithdog

Castle Tucker, Country House

Richard H. Tucker Sr. (pictured) was a successful ship captain and owner who had built a fortune shipping goods from New England and Charleston, South Carolina, to Europe via Liverpool and Le Havre. He and his wife Mary Mellus Tucker lived in a small house on Main Street in Wiscasset, where they raised three children, Richard, Joseph, and Mary. They later built a large brick home in the best neighborhood in town on High Street. Franklin Clark was their neighbor and an occasional business contact of Captain Tucker Sr. After it became clear that Clark was broke and had been less than honest in his business dealings, Tucker urged his eldest son to purchase Elm Lawn from the creditors when it came on the market.

Richard Tucker Jr. was born in 1816 and educated at Bowdoin College. By 1857 he was forty-one years old, had retired from active sailing after commanding several ships, and was a successful shipping agent. He had just completed an extended tour of Europe and the United States. In Chicago on his way home from the west coast, he became reacquainted with a Mrs. Mary Armstrong and her lovely sixteen-year-old daughter, Mary (known as Mollie). After less than a year of courtship, Tucker returned to Chicago, where he and Mollie were married. They traveled across the United States for their first year of marriage until Mollie became pregnant. Captain Tucker Jr. decided to take his father’s advice and settle down in Wiscasset. In November of 1858, Franklin Clark’s creditors, John B. Swanton and John Jameson of Bath, sold Castle Tucker to Captain Richard H. Tucker Jr. for the sum of $10,500. By that time, the mansion was listed as a country house in the county records. Richard, Mollie, and their newborn daughter Mame (Mary) moved into the house in December of that same year.

A devotee of tastemaker Andrew Jackson Downing, Tucker quickly began furnishing and decorating his new family home in true Victorian fashion. On one shopping trip to Boston, he purchased most of the furnishings for the ten-bedroom, fourteen-room house. Tucker had everything shipped to Wiscasset, then hauled by wagon up the hill to the new house. The Tuckers moved the entrance to the Lee Street side of the house and added a new Italianate entry way. In 1859 Captain Tucker added a grand three-story piazza and purchased three additional lots adjacent to the estate.

Between 1859 and 1864, Mollie gave birth to four more children, Richard (known as Dick), Martha (known as Patty), Matilda (who died in infancy), and William. Slightly too old to serve in the Civil War, Richard participated in civilian war efforts and served in the Maine State Legislature as a senator in 1861. In 1866, their youngest daughter Jane (called Jennie) was born. Typical of the period, the Tucker children had an intermittent education, but they loved to read and were intellectually curious. They enjoyed childhoods filled with friends, winter skating and sleigh parties, and summers spent sailing, swimming, riding horses, and exploring nearby woods. Mollie and Dick were very musical, playing several instruments. Mame sang and played the piano. All the children participated in amateur theatricals.

By 1870 Richard and Mollie’s marriage had deteriorated to the point where she began contemplating divorce. Their problems were due in large part to Richard’s long absences for business and his numerous investments in experimental steam technology, most of which ended in commercial failure. While he traveled, Mollie was forced to remain home, raising the children and somehow running the house on their ever-dwindling finances. The family endured almost constant bickering and complaining, with Mollie taking her frustrations out on her daughters in letters and in person when they were home.

From 1880 to 1882 the Tuckers moved to Boston to avoid large new taxes levied due to a financial crisis in Wiscasset. In reality, only Captain Tucker based himself in Boston. Mollie committed herself to the McLean Hospital for mental instability. Dick began his first job as an astronomer after graduating from Lehigh University. Mame pursued a stage career, working for a number of traveling theater companies including Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Patty moved to Colorado where she had a successful writing and journalism career. Will worked in insurance in the Midwest. Jennie visited friends and tried out a variety of jobs, including a stint as a private detective. In 1883 Castle Tucker, as it had begun to be known, was the site of a brief family reunion for Patty’s wedding to Will Stapleton. The summer of 1889 was the last time the family was all together at Castle Tucker.

castletucker_historyBoarding House Period

Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, Mollie was increasingly hard pressed to find money to pay the many bills at Castle Tucker. She was also burdened with an enormous workload to keep the house running. The Tuckers usually had at least one female servant to assist her, and her daughters helped out during their occasional visits. John Comrie, a British army veteran, worked at Castle Tucker for several decades assisting with the heavier duties on the property, caring for the horses and other animals and acting as chauffeur when needed. However, there were never enough servants to allow Mollie to be a leisurely lady of the house. By 1890 she began accepting summer boarders at Castle Tucker. This was a very common and accepted practice among upper middle-class and even wealthy owners of large homes on the coast of Maine at that time. Maine had been a vacation destination since the eighteenth century.

Most of the guests were friends of friends or the family. Discreet advertisements were placed in newspapers in New York and Boston that stated that references would be exchanged. People of the Tuckers’ social class would leave the cities and come to the cleaner, cooler coast for several weeks or a month at a time. During this period, Mollie employed a long series of “girls” recruited from cities about whom she complained continuously in her letters to family. Jennie and Will wrote her letters constantly telling her what to do and how to do it, but only rarely arrived in person to help out.

The 1890s were a very sad time in the family. Patty died after a cancer operation in 1893 at the age of thirty-two. Captain Tucker died in 1895 at seventy-nine after presenting a paper at a Wiscasset Fire Society dinner. Mame died in 1900 at the age of forty-two after a long struggle with alcoholism and addiction.

Mollie took in boarders until Dick insisted that she stop. Jennie moved home permanently in 1905 to help her mother. Mollie died in 1922. After that, Jennie continued the practice of taking in summer paying guests on and off through the 1930s until the automobile took over the rhythm of travel. Instead of known, relatively genteel summer boarders, guests became strangers who only wanted a bed for the night. This was no longer suitable or safe.

castletucker_historyPreservation and Presentation

Jennie Tucker continued to live at Castle Tucker until her death in 1964. She realized that the family’s thriftiness and relative poverty over the years had resulted in Castle Tucker presenting a unique and almost unchanged look into nineteenth-century life that was important to preserve. She passed on this belief to Dick’s wife, Ruth Standen Tucker, and their two daughters. Mary and Jane had been raised in California, where their father worked at the Lick Observatory. Jennie left the house to them. Jane Standen Tucker moved east in 1965 after a successful career as an accountant in Alaska, the Middle East, and Europe. She moved into Castle Tucker and began to preserve and record her family’s history and the house. Working with Historic New England, then known as the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, and other experts for guidance, she undertook repairs and restorations as she could over the years. Jane opened the house to visitors occasionally, especially during Wiscasset’s annual “Open House Days.” She also entertained in the home, providing many Wiscasset residents with fond memories of time spent here. Jane also established the Wiscasset History Committee, worked with the Wiscasset Library organizing and donating material for their Genealogy and History Room, and served on the board of the Lincoln County Cultural and Historical Association. In 1997 she gave the house and all its contents, along with a large archive of family letters, documents, and ephemera, to Historic New England.

castletucker_historyBecoming a Museum, Telling the Tuckers’ Story

Jane Tucker continued to live in the house until 2003 while working with Historic New England to catalogue the thousands of objects, furnishings, books, prints, costumes, and textiles contained in the house. In 2003 Historic New England opened Castle Tucker as a historic house museum.

Castle Tucker and the Tucker family collection in the Library and Archives constitute one of Historic New England’s largest single family collections. The story of the Tuckers is one of successes, trials, tribulations, and perseverance. In this house, visitors learn how one unique family survived the economic roller coaster of life on the Maine coast during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They see how family pride and love endured despite emotional turmoil, physical separations, and fortunes earned and lost.

Since 2007 Historic New England has employed year-round staff at Castle Tucker to maximize the opportunities offered by this home and the Tuckers’ story. We welcome an increasing number of visitors each year and look forward to finding new ways to serve our communities and members at Castle Tucker.

Collections on Display

Kitchen Sink

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Grand Piano

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Landscape History

Castle Tucker is built on a hill overlooking the Sheepscot River and Wiscasset Harbor. When the Tuckers bought the house in 1858, one of the first changes they made was to add an Italianate entrance on the Lee Street side, which required redesigning the landscape. The Tuckers chose to create a circular driveway with lawn and flowers in the center. The Tuckers’ children Dick and Jennie later described this as a pinwheel garden.

The Tuckers added a three-story piazza facing the river. Initially, elms surrounded the main house and the piazza, shielding it from sun. The landscape in the 1880s to 1920s reflected the family’s decline in income. Victorian planters, pinwheel garden, and masonry walls disappeared. The field was used for haying. The top of the knoll between the house and the river became an agricultural work yard with an orchard, gardens, and pens for chickens and pigeons.

When Captain Tucker’s granddaughter, Jane Standen Tucker, moved to Castle Tucker full-time in the late 1960s, she added a flower garden to the northeast of the house and rose bushes along the back of the house. The pinwheel garden in front of the house had become an oval with a center planting of hostas. A line of ferns grew along the front side of the house. Jane also added a vegetable garden that she planted around the old well about halfway down the slope of the hill.

Property FAQs

Find out about accessibility, photography policy, and more.

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  • Can I park at the museum? Is there street parking?

    Yes. You can either park in the circle in front of the house, on High Street, or on Lee Street.

  • Are there restrooms at Castle Tucker?

    There is a portable restroom next to the house.

  • Can I take photographs at the museum?

    Interior and exterior photography for personal use is allowed at Historic New England properties. For the safety and comfort of our visitors and the protection of our collections and house museums, we ask that you be aware of your surroundings and stay with your guide. Video, camera bags, tripods, and selfie sticks are not permitted. Professional/commercial photographers and members of the media should visit the press room for more information.

  • Is the museum accessible to people with disabilities?
    A tour of any Historic New England property requires a considerable amount of standing and some walking. Castle Tucker has not been equipped with accessible ramps, elevators, or chair lifts. Folding chairs can be provided for visitors who would like to use them during a tour. We are glad to offer guests a visual tour of the museum. Visitors with limited mobility may be able to enjoy a first-floor tour of the house and grounds. Service animals are always welcome. We encourage visitors with concerns to call ahead. We are happy to work with you to make your visit an enjoyable one.
  • How can I book a group tour? What is the cost?

    The cost for a group tour of ten or more is $1 off the regular admission price. Call 207-882-7169 or visit our group tours page to learn more.

  • Do we need to take a tour or can we just look around?

    All visitors to the house receive a guided tour.

  • How do I become a member of Historic New England and get more involved?

    Join Historic New England now and help preserve the region’s heritage. Call 617-994-5910 or join online.

  • When was the house built?

    1807

  • Who built it?

    Judge Silas Lee had the house built. The architect is unknown.

  • Why is it called Castle Tucker?

    Captain Richard H. Tucker Jr. and his family moved into the house in 1858 and his granddaughter Jane moved out in 2003. Locals referred to it as “Tucker’s Castle” because of its size and prominent placement on Windmill Hill. The family began referring to it as Castle Tucker in the 1880s.

  • How big is the house?

    The footprint of the main house (not including the ell) is approximately thirty-four feet deep by sixty-four feet at its widest point.

  • How much did it cost?

    In November 1858 Captain Richard Tucker Jr. paid $2,500 with an additional payment of $600 due upon receipt of a clear title.

  • How many rooms are in the house?

    There are thirty-three rooms in the house, including the ell.

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