In 1796 Reverend Daniel Marrett moved with his young wife Mary from Lexington, Massachusetts, to Standish, Maine, to become the new town parson. He purchased the handsome Federal-style house, built in 1789 for his predecessor, who had died unexpectedly. Daniel and Mary settled down and began raising their family. In eighteenth-century rural Maine, the minister was by far the most important man in town. The minister’s income was supposed to come from taxes imposed on the town’s citizens and regular gifts of foodstuffs. As was often the case, Marrett found that he could not support his growing family on that meager income, so he turned to another of his interests, pomology (the science of growing fruit). In addition to his work ministering to the citizens of Standish, Daniel Marrett operated a large apple orchard. He became the leading pioneer of grafting in Maine. He is also credited with introducing the first cooking stove in Standish.
Mary Marrett died in 1810, leaving Daniel a widower with six children between the ages of two and thirteen. By 1812 the forty–seven-year-old minister had married again, this time to twenty-seven-year-old Dorcas Hastings. Not only did she enthusiastically mother Daniel’s children, but she and Daniel would have eight more children over the next fifteen years. The back room on the second floor of Marrett House was divided into several much smaller spaces to accommodate all the children.
Daniel and Dorcas’s eldest son Lorenzo graduated from Bowdoin College and became a successful lawyer in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Their third son, Avery, inherited Marrett House and the family apple business on the death of his father in 1836. Avery was a savvy businessman as well as a successful orchard manager. He quickly set about updating the house. In 1847 he married Elizabeth Weston, also the child of a minister, in the newly redecorated and refurnished parlor at Marrett House. They had seven children, six of whom lived to adulthood.
Avery’s commercial success enabled him to update the Federal house in the fashionable Greek Revival style. He raised the roof three feet to install a classic entablature. He added Greek Revival trim and details to not only the main house, but also the large new attached barn, wood shed, and ell.
In 1889 the extended Marrett family gathered for an elaborate commemoration of the one hundredth anniversary of the building of the house. Rooms were decorated with pine boughs in the Colonial Revival style. There was a printed program of activities. Frances Marrett even wrote a poem for the occasion that was printed and distributed.
Caroline and Helen Marrett
Reverence for the past and family history was carried on by Avery’s daughters. Caroline Marrett inherited Marrett house when Avery died in 1894. Her two surviving brothers had left Standish to pursue education and careers. Caroline, Helen, and Frances were each accomplished women. Helen became a teacher and was Preceptress of Gorham Farm Academy, which became the University of Southern Maine. Caroline was the true manager of the estate. She ran the farm and established the large Colonial Revival garden next to the house. An avid gardener, she was a self-taught botanist and naturalist who became known as an expert on the various types of lilies.
Avery’s daughters preserved the Marrett House parlor exactly as it was in 1847. The parlor that had been her parents’ pride as an example of their modernity had become a relic of a treasured past for Caroline and her three sisters. Joined by their sister Mary after the death of her husband in 1930, the sisters proudly continued the noblesse oblige tradition. When electricity came to the area in the 1930s, Marrett House was the first building to be illuminated. Caroline and Helen invited the whole town to come and observe the first demonstration of this modern marvel.
Caroline Marrett was an early member of Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now Historic New England. It was her decision to donate Marrett House and all its furnishings to Historic New England to be run as a house museum. The sisters, including Frances, spent considerable time and resources organizing and preserving the house as they wished it to be presented.
When Caroline died in 1944, the youngest Marrett sister inherited both the house and the job of preparing it for new life as a house museum. Frances had lived a sophisticated life in Boston. She was a teacher at the Perkins School for the Blind, where Helen Keller was one of her favorite pupils. Frances and her lifelong friend and fellow teacher Sarah Lilley shared an apartment in Boston. The two left mementos and descriptions of their special trip to Europe for the celebration of the turn of the nineteenth into the twentieth century.
Becoming a Museum
Frances Marrett died in 1944, having readied the house according to her sister Caroline’s wishes, leaving it to Historic New England. Sarah Lilley was given a life tenancy and became the first tour guide at Marrett House. Today, we delight in sharing the stories of this lively and remarkable family, and welcome visitors to this multi-layered home with its barns and beautiful garden, an example of “Yankee” family pride and tradition.