Historical Society Opens Cottage, Plans Summer Events

By Lura Jackson

One of the oldest still-standing homes in Calais, the Holmes Cottage at 523 Main Street is once again open for visitors throughout the week. Now in the care of the St. Croix Historical Society, the cottage maintains much of its original structural components as well as a number of belongings of the Victorian families that called it home. 

The cottage was constructed a few decades after Calais was settled in 1779, and as time progressed it became the home and working office of the first three doctors to practice in the riverside city. Beginning with Shelomith S. Whipple in 1831, the cottage effectively was the sight of consultation and treatment for the minor maladies and illnesses for generations of Calais and St. Stephen citizens. Cyrus Hamlin (directly related to Hannibal Hamlin, who would become Abraham Lincoln's Vice President) briefly took over the residence in 1833. Hamlin played a major role in solving a medical mystery that had caused hundreds of residents to fall ill (with approximately thirty related deaths)—an illness traced to a batch of sugar that had been imported from Barbados. The sugar had been boiled in a lead cauldron, causing it to absorb a fatal amount of the toxic metal. Once the cause was identified, the townsfolk stopped using the tainted sugar, though the effects of the lead poisoning were felt long after. In 1834, Hamlin sold the cottage to Doctor Job Holmes and his family, who would occupy it until 1850.

Presently, the cottage is arranged as if the Holmes family had occupied it only days ago, with many of their personal effects on display. Dried herbs are strung around the working brick-oven kitchen with an assortment of utensils and reference cook books visible on the shelves. The bedrooms are adorned just as the young Holmes children left them when they moved next door into the newly built majestic Italianate that would later be known as the Holmestead. A memorial kerchief fashioned upon the death of George Washington hangs on the wall in the entryway next to remarkably ornate pieces of art fashioned from human hair (a tradition during Victorian times).

The cottage is open for viewing at no charge from Monday through Saturday, 1:00-4:00 pm. A docent from the Historical Society will be on hand to answer any questions and provide a tour if desired. 

In August, the Society plans to once again celebrate and share the history of Calais with the popular Cemetery Tour on August 6th, beginning at 5:30. Actors will be dressed in period attire and putting on short performances based on the lives of notable Calais residents. This will be the 4th annual tour, with no returning characters from previous tours. On August 10th, there will be a tour of the business district of Main Street, beginning at 11:00 at the Holmestead. The tour will provide details on the history of the buildings that still remain and recount stories of those that are now lost. Photos will be shown to allow participants to easily transport themselves to earlier eras. There is no charge for either tour.

With thanks to the St. Croix Historical Society and fineartistmade for research materials.