The Oldest House in Town

Captain Thomas Perkins brought his family to Arundel from Greenland, NH in 1720. Within a few years, he owned about all the land along the Kennebunk River from Bass Cove and Walkers Point. That area includes all of Kennebunkport Village and Cape Arundel today. His eldest son, also named Captain Thomas Perkins, built the Oak Street saltbox featured in today’s story c. 1724. The oldest house standing in Kennebunkport is now just shy of 300 years old. It stood alone in the wilderness in 1724 still very vulnerable to attacks by the local Indian tribe who had fished the Kennebunk River for thousands of years before the Englishmen “discovered it.” The younger Thomas Perkins commanded a company of Arundel men in the French & Indian War. He was appointed King’s Surveyor in 1749. As such, it was his job to reserve the tallest and straightest Arundel trees as masts for ships belonging to the King of England. Thomas Perkins collected the selected tree trunks in nearby “Mast Cove” pending transport to England. That same year, Thomas and his sons Eliphalet and Abner, also built the familiar Perkins Grist Mill on Mast Cove. Eliphalet Perkins built a home across the cove where the shipyard would later stand and Abner Perkins, who ran the Grist Mill, built a home that still stands on Locke Street. Captain James Perkins, inherited the old homestead when his father Thomas Perkins died in 1752. In 1787, the local doctor, Thatcher Goddard, persuaded the captain to temporarily turn his house into a hospital since smallpox had come to Arundel from the West Indies that year in one of his ships. Confronted by horrified villagers, Dr. Goddard saved many lives in this old house by inoculating the inhabitants of Arundel with small amounts of the live smallpox virus, some 9 years before the smallpox vaccine was officially invented. James would again sacrifice for the good of others in November 1800. He and his son James Jr. were decorated by The Humane Society of Massachusetts for heroic efforts in rescuing and reviving six people from drowning in the Kennebunk River in front of the old house on Oak St.Captain James Perkins Sr. died in 1825, leaving his house and his share of the Grist Mill to his son Tristram Perkins. Tristram was never married. He ran the grist Mill for many years and lived in this old house until his death in 1880. The house was sold out of the Perkins family in 1882 for the first time in 158 years. The new owner planned to demolish the old house, which looked to be in rough shape in 1882 but by some miracle, it was saved and restored.

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