By Barbara Tetreault
GORHAM — Perched at the crest of Soldier Hill, the three-story George Washington Noyes house looks much as it did when it was built in the 1890s.
Considered an excellent example of what is known as the Queen Anne style architecture, the house has been extensively redone by current owners Jeffrey and Anne Hill. This month, the property was added to the New Hampshire Register of Historic Places and the couple expect it will also be placed on the national register.
The house is steeped in local history, built as part of a subdivision for some of the town’s more prominent residents.
The house displays what are considered the distinctive features of the architecture style — an asymmetrical façade, a turret, wrap-around porch, gable dormer, second story porch, and the exterior fish scale shingles between the first and second floors.
“The asymmetrical features, complicated roofline, wide open porch, and abundance of turned architectural ornamentation are all indicative of the highest fashion of the 1890s,” states the application submitted by the Hills to list the property on the historic register. While the Hills have done much research on the house, they hired researcher Mae Williams to do the extensive study needed for the application.
The application also details the history of the property. After a fire in 1879 destroyed much of Exchange, Park and Railroad Streets and caused extensive damage to the Grant Trunk Railroad Depot, prominent Gorham lawyer Albert Twitchell began to rebuild sections of the village. He purchased Soldier Hill — apparently named because there had been plans to use it as a Civil War cemetery.
At the end of Prospect Terrace, Twitchell subdivided three lots. He kept the center lot and sold the west lot to Alna Libby and the east lot to George Washington Noyes in 1891.
Noyes, was born in Norway, Maine, in 1828, and was a career railroad man, working his way up to master engineer for the Atlantic and St. Lawrence in Gorham. Alna Libby was part of the very successful Gorham lumber firm, E. Libby & Sons.
Both the Libby and Noyes houses were built in the Queen Anne Style and were designed by Maine architect Franklin P. Burbank. The Twitchell house was constructed in the Stick Style, marked by its use of overlay board strips.
Construction of the three houses started in 1891 and Noyes and his family moved into the home in 1893. It appears by 1900, he was living in the Twitchell House and his son George and daughter-in-law were living in the Noyes House at 2 Prospect Terrace. But the application states that as a widower, he moved back in the house with his son’s family. Noyes died in 1913 and the title passed to his daughter-in-law who was living there with his son and grandchildren.
By 1925, his son and family had moved to New Jersey and the Gorham Savings Bank foreclosed on the property. The town purchased it and rented the house out for about 10 years.
In May 1935, Thyra Johnston purchased the property for $3,600 and with her husband Dr. Albert Johnston hosted social events there. Anne Hill said her mother, Rita Montplaisir, went to school with Albert Johnson Jr. The family later became famous when a movie was made on their “passing” (see sidebar).
The Johnstons sold the property to Morton and Zilpha Willis, and they owned it until 1961. There were a number of short-term owners until the Hills purchased it in 2002.
The Hills were living in Virginia where Jeffrey Hill worked first for the F.B.I and then almost 20 years for Secret Service. But he said he grew tired of the 28-mile daily compute through traffic to D.C. and the long shifts and decided to retire. The couple and their two daughters had frequently visited Gorham, where Anne grew up, and liked the area.
“We looked at a lot of different spots,” Jeffrey Hill said, but ultimately decided on Gorham.
The Noyes house was on the market and Anne Hill was familiar with its history. The couple thought they might fix the building up and operate it as a bed and breakfast.
Describing it as a "monstrosity of a building," Jeffrey Hill said it needed major work. He said it was literally raining in on the second floor, squirrels were nesting in the eves, and many of the windows were broken. But his wife noted that the interior woodwork and many of the elements that make the house special were in good shape.
In the years since, the Hills said they have redone every room, replaced 70 windows, put in a new furnace, painted the outside, and built gardens.
“It was one step at a time,” said Anne Hill.
Jeffrey Hill, who noted he had the time because he was retired, did much of the work. Anne Hill has continued to work as a pharmacist at Androscoggin Valley Hospital.
The interior contains much of the original woodwork and the stained glass windows. Most of the electrical fixtures remain from when electricity was introduced to the house in the 1920s. The inside space is divided with large ornate rooms at the interior of the main block and the smaller, less ornate rooms historically used by the servants in the ell as the back of the building.
The main entrance is at the center of the south façade with a large wrap-round porch, beginning at the end of the corner turret and wrapping around to the east side of the house. The turret is three-sided at the first and second floors and octagonal above the roof.
There is a small second floor enclosed porch at the center of the south façade. The driveway leads into a one-and-a-half-story attached barn. The first floor of the barn once had horse stalls but has since been converted for use as a car garage.
While there are technically eight bedrooms in the house, the Hills said they used five. They turned the third floor over to their daughters as a kids domain.
Outside, they built a patio complete with a Franklin wood stove, as well as various gardens. Around the house are a number of Magnolia trees zoned for this area and in full bloom on a recent spring day.
About five years ago, the couple started to discuss trying to get the property on the historic register. They started looking into the process two years later and found the stack of documentation requirements daunting.
“It was more than we could do,” said Anne Hill.
So, they hired Williams and filed for both the state and national Registers of Historic Places. The national designation is pending.
Placing the property on the state register allows for special consideration and relief from some building codes and regulations. It is also an acknowledgment of a property’s historical significance in the community.
The Hills said it is a good feeling to see the property restored and on the register. With their daughters now adults and on their own, the couple are considering selling the house to move closer to them. Having been good stewards of the house, the Hills say they are ready to pass their piece of history to a new caretaker.