A staff of servants assisted Gertrude Sortwell in maintaining the house. Over the years, there were nannies, chambermaids, waitresses, cooks, butlers, gardeners, and chauffeurs. Although we do not know all of their names, several of these people, including the cook Margaret, handyman/gardener/chauffeur Walter Dodge, and butler Ross Elwell remained with the Sortwells for thirty years or more, attesting to the generosity of the family and the quality of life in the house.
Charles Eliot II of the famous Olmsted design firm designed the Nickels-Sortwell House garden in 1925. Eliot was one of America’s most prominent public landscape architects, and this was one of his few private commissions. He took on the job because the Sortwells had been neighbors of his family in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In the late 1930s Frances Sortwell moved into the house full time. Known for her wit and sparkling personality, Frances became Wiscasset’s most dynamic preservationist. She purchased and restored eight historic houses and several public buildings in town. She was a founder of the Wiscasset Library, purchasing a historic former bank building on High Street and donating and renovating it for use as a library. When Hilton House burned to the ground in 1903, Frances and her mother purchased the property and turned the cellar hole into a sunken garden. Frances eventually gave the beautiful garden to the town for public use.