Steeped in NH History
This 1649 Homestead listed on the National Register of Historic Places, in 1998 became Three Chimneys Inn, ffrost Sawyer Tavern which is the oldest house in Durham and one of the oldest buildings in New Hampshire.
Part of the original settlement at Oyster River Falls, this property is a "living" record of over three centuries of cultural and commercial development, having passed through four significant families prior to 1987, when Sagamore Hill, Inc. obtained the property and completed restoration in 1997h
The first owner was Valentine Hill, "New England’s Leading" seventeenth century entrepreneur. Stackpole's History says that: on the 29th day of the 9th month, 1649, Valentine Hill and Thomas Beard were granted the fall of Oyster River to set up a sawmill with accommodations of timber for the mill. On the 14th of the 5th month, 1651, the town granted to Valentine Hill, five hundred acres for a farm, adjacent to his mills at Oyster River. This tract embraced the greater part of the site of the present village of Durham. Hill's holdings were extensive, including a sawmill, a gristmill and water rights at the falls, directly across from what is now Durham Town Landing Park. Here Hill employed "seven Scots" and among other industries, lumber was milled for use in the ship building industry.
In 1649 Valentine Hill built the original homestead, much of which was ferried up the Oyster River by gundalo. The house was single story with a basement and an upstairs living area-kitchen combined. The outdoor summer kitchen fireplace can be seen in our Tavern. In 1699 Nathaniel Hill, son and heir of Valentine, made a two story addition to the House, which now forms the front entrance to the "Maples" and "Coppers" dining rooms.
The house survived the Indian attack of 1694 that destroyed many of the nearby homes and was equipped, in 1699 with "Indian Shutters" for protection. During the revolutionary war, according to the story, the home was a storage place for munitions that were taken from the British Blockhouses in Portsmouth and hidden for use by Revolutionary troops.
In the 1700's the home passed briefly on to the Woodman family, descendants of the Hills by marriage. The barn, containing a brick cistern where water was collected for usage year round was built in 1795. That same year the property for the cemetery was deeded to the town.
In the 1800's, George ffrost the second, purchased the current property from the Woodman’s and hired Jacob Odel, now buried in the graveyard beside the property, as architect. This noted local joiner rebuilt the interior adding Federal style trim and giving the roof a lower slope. The barn was also "dressed up" with Italianate eaves and cupola. In the front of the property there is a hand dug well that is 12 feet across and 40 feet deep covered by a large granite slab. There is an additional well on the lower portion of a building on School House Lane that is approximately 6 feet deep.
During an epidemic of Typhoid, these wells, in use until 1912, were covered over due to contamination. The ffrosts were highly successful merchants and the modernized homestead is tangible evidence of the commercial activity of this period. The transformation of the homestead from a working adjunct of the business to small town Victorian estate heralds the decline of the Oyster River Falls as a commercial center. For a brief period ending in 1830, Durham was a ship building center. The arrival of the railroad in Durham in the 1840’s provided a faster, more efficient alternative to river commerce.
The ffrost sisters inhabited the house for several years and did extensive work on the gardens.
Early in the 1900's, James and Margaret Pepperall (ffrost) Sawyer took over the estate, completing the transformation of the grounds and turned into a Colonial Revival summer estate with extensive formal gardens, arbors and an elaborate stone wall. Tennis courts (now gone) and a swimming pool, which remains as a reflection pond for the Inn, were added in 1912.
After this revival period the building and grounds passed from hand to hand and were left, essentially, to fall to ruin.
It is significant perhaps to note that commerce has come once again to what was, so long ago, the hub of commercial venture in the innermost heart of New Hampshire's Seacoast. Here at Three Chimneys Inn, ffrost Sawyer Tavern and "Maples," when it is cold and winds gust off "Little Bay", we hope our guests will warm themselves by one of our restored, original wood burning fireplaces. When the weather is fair, we hope you will walk about in history with the ghosts of Valentine Hill, the Woodman's, the ffrost's and Sawyer's and enjoy the terrace gardens, now restored and replanted with perennials.