Site No. 4:   203 South Main Street.   This is the house where Lizzie Borden’s sister Emma lived—and died. 

    But first – some early history of the site and of this house.  Around 1828, Newmarket’s newly-formed Baptist Church purchased the old West Side Meeting House up on Rte. 152.  It then took a three-mile trip to this site, by oxen.  There is one report that the town used it for voting, with the “yeas” gathering on one side of the hall—and the “nays” on the other.  The Baptists worshipped here in the old Meeting House until their new downtown church was completed in 1841.  According to one historian the old meeting house was later hauled up to Spring Street, where it would become an ell on the Filion residence.  The two sets of front entry steps is the only thing that remains here from the Baptist Church years. 

    In 1890 this house was built for George Kittredge Leavitt, a prosperous downtown merchant.  He was well liked but known around town as a practical joker.  This may explain a later discovery.  During the 1950s, an electrician discovered one of Leavitt’s riding crops— in perfect condition—stashed between the rafters. Did his builder back in 1890 play his own joke on Mr. Leavitt?  We’ll never know, but the riding crop is now out of hiding at the Stone School Museum.

    Then there’s the connection to Lizzie Borden.  During the 1920s, the Connor sisters ran a women’s boarding house here, and Lizzie’s sister Emma Borden made this her permanent residence. She never saw her sister again.  While living here, Emma adopted her landlady’s last name, but the locals knew who she was.  According to Newmarket historian Mary Richardson, “Miss Emma was a good old lady, but very nervous…She was also very forgetful and at one time lost her false teeth. The sewer wouldn’t work and on digging it up, the long lost teeth were found.”

    In June 1927, on the day her sister Lizzie died, Emma fell down the back stairs and broke her hip.  There was an axe in the closet at the foot of the stairs… but that’s just a coincidence. Ten days later she died in the upstairs front bedroom.  Fifteen years later, the Newmarket News published a rather misleading retrospective that labeled Emma Borden as the “Fugitive Newmarket Recluse.”

    Another local newspaper, the Great Bay Pilot was printed out back in the carriage house from 1947 to 1949.  Digital copies are available on the Historical society website.

    Your next stop is just across the street.  Look both ways before crossing.

    END OF AUDIO TEXT. See below for photos and more information.

     Site No. 4: (203 South Main Street) LEAVITT / KENT HOUSE; Site of early Baptist  Meeting House

    An excellent source of information about this property is the following article, written by Mary Richardson.  It appeared in the Rochester Courier, August 1952.  Mary was the town librarian, local historian, and correspondent for area newspapers.

     The Leavitt house and Emma Borden

    Over 75 years ago the Leavitt house on South Main Street, now owned by Ralph Kent, was built, we are told, by Jack Glidden. Still others say that a Mr. Warren, who built the Richardson house (now owned by Mrs. Albert Edgerly), was the builder.

    We understand that there were three pieces of land which Mr. Leavitt had to purchase and three separate deeds. The house was built on the site of the First Baptist church, which had been brought from the Plains by many yoke of oxen. It is claimed that the front steps of the Leavitt house are exactly where the church steps were. In 1836 the church was again moved.

    The house was a little different from what it is now. The kitchen was the woodshed then.  “Uncle George” kept a grocery stop on Main Street. He was very kind to the children. If any of them had a cold, they would go in the store and he would give them “tater bugs”, which were small, round striped peppermint candy.  Uncle “Georgie” had a keen sense of humor, and he has sent many a cat up a tree with his yowling.

    Back of the barn there was a small building which Eben Chapman used as a shop. He was a queer man, used to put snakes in his rubber boots to frighten people. He was a good shot, and when the white bulldog owned by Ed Richardson was bitten by a dog with the rabies, Eben was engaged to shoot him.

    Mrs. Leavitt was a very neat housekeeper and she loved flowers, keeping the yard full of them. She was a great Methodist and loved to attend the camp meetings at Hedding.

    Uncle George and Aunt Josie Leavitt had two children, Alice and Bessie. When the Leavitt girls grew up they went to California to work in a hotel and finally persuaded Uncle George to move there. He felt very bad about leaving and only lived a few years after moving there.

    The house was sold to Miss Annie and Miss Mary Connor.   Several of the school teachers boarded there.  After several years, Miss Mary died. One of the boarders was Emma Borden of Quincy, Massachusetts, who, it was claimed, murdered her father and mother. [1]  Miss Emma was a good old lady, but very nervous, never wanting to be left alone.  She was also very forgetful and at one time lost her false teeth. The sewer wouldn’t work and on digging it up, the long lost teeth were found.  Miss Borden died at Miss Connor’s after being there about five years.

    Miss Annie Connor was unable to work so hard and sold her home to Mr. and Mrs. Charles Sibley in 1928. The upper part was made into an apartment for Mrs. Sibley’s daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Zim Rondeau, and son, Jim. Mr. and Mrs. Rondeau had two children born there, Beatrice and Donald.

    Mr. Sibley died after living there a few years. When the children grew up, Mrs. Sibley sold the house to Mr. and Mrs. Ted Cooledge. They put lights and heat in the barn, and installed a printing press. They printed a Newmarket paper called the “Great Bay Pilot”.[2]  After a stay of 10 years, the Cooledges moved to Somersworth.

    The headmaster of the high school, Rexford Avery, and family lived there a while, and then the place was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Kent.


    George Leavitt:  Merchant and Practical Joker:

    The Leavitts and their house are well described by Mary Richardson.  But there’s another story to tell about George Leavitt.  He was known around town as a practical joker, which may explain a later discovery.  During the 1950s, when the Kents owned the house, they decided to install an electric light on the porch. And one of Mr. Leavitt’s riding crops (that he sold in his store) was found stashed between the rafters—in perfect condition.  It seems that his builder had decided to play his own joke on Mr. Leavitt.  That riding crop is now out in the open, at the Stone School Museum.

    The Baptist Church:

    In an article about this site, Newmarket Historian Mary Richardson wrote:

    The Christian Baptists used the house at the Plains for their church home, but they thought it best to be nearer the village, so many sturdy yoke of oxen drew the old meeting house over the road to a site opposite the Cheswell graveyard on Main Street.  A row of steps to the entrance doors gave dignity to its appearance.  Town meetings were held here for a time.  No ballots were used but the vote was decided by the “nays” going to the East door and the “yeas” to the West door, “and there stand till they be counted.”

    The old West Side Meeting House (up on the “Plains”) had originally been a Presbyterian church formed by revivalist preacher Nathaniel Ewer.  Its exact date of construction is unclear, but Rev. Ewer preached there from 1772 until the Second Meeting House was built (in the original center of town, off Ash Swamp Road).  After the mills came to town, the Baptists organized and bought the old West Side Meeting House.  While it’s known to have been moved from the Plains to this site by oxen, there is no record as to whether this was in the winter (when the path would be firm-frozen) or another time of year—hopefully avoiding mud season.  Regardless of timing, it was a move made over three miles on a narrow cart road (well before the road to Wadley’s Falls was widened in 1848).

    By 1834, this little old meeting house had become the Baptist Church.  It continued as their meeting house until the downtown church (on Church Street) was built in 1841.  Exactly how the old West Side Meeting House left this property is unknown. Was it moved (again)?  Dismantled?  Destroyed by fire?  One thing from the old church does remain:  the current approach from the street remains the same as for this early church.  

    The Recluse at the Boarding House:

    During the 1920s, Annie C. Connor and her sister Mary owned and ran a women’s boarding house here.  It was primarily for teachers.  Mary died in 1921, and Annie continued renting out rooms until she sold the house in 1928.   

    Emma Borden of Fall River, MA boarded here for several years until her death in 1927.  On the day that her sister Lizzie died in Fall River, Emma fell down the back stairs of this house, dying several days later in the front bedroom.  According to Frank Spiering, author of Lizzie, Emma had “paid for the construction of a second stairway down the back of the house to the kitchen.  The stairway was hidden by a closet door, beside which was a narrow auxiliary pantry where a large axe was kept for chopping wood.”

    Both sisters—and their secrets—are buried side by side in Fall River.  But there had been an estrangement between the sisters in 1905, and Emma left her sister’s house.   She lived for a number of years in Fall River and in Providence before settling in Newmarket.   Emma lived under an assumed name while in Newmarket, so as to keep her identity private—thus keeping Lizzie from knowing her whereabouts.  She chose the surname of Connor—the last name of her nurse/caretaker, Annie Connor. 

    While Emma’s intent may have been to live here incognito, small towns generally don’t work that way.  A number of town residents knew who she was, and people respected her privacy.  Royce Carpenter grew up nearby (in the Deacon Chapman House); he recollected that when he was a boy, he ran errands for Emma Borden who lived up the street.  And Emma’s decision to remain here certainly benefited the upkeep of this house.  In addition to the stairs, she paid to have an upstairs bathroom and steam heat installed.  

    In another article, “Newmarket, New Hampshire:  Emma’s Final Home” Denise Noe writes:

    In Lizzie, Frank Spiering, who has apparently written more on Emma’s life in Newmarket than any other author, stated that Emma spent the remainder of her life in the same shy, retiring manner that had always characterized it. He wrote that the home she moved into was on “Main Street, near the railroad tracks leading through the center of town” and described it as “a large, white, two-story house.” Annie Connor lived on the first floor while Emma took “over the second floor front bedroom facing the street.”

     In that more rural era, the women “kept their two Jersey cows” in the barn in back of the house and hired a neighborhood teenager to regularly milk the cows. That youngster, 13-year-old Royce Carpenter, “would carry the warm milk from the barn into the kitchen. There his job was to churn the milk to get the butterfat out.” He often saw Emma, white-haired and elderly but still quite alert, sitting in a rocking chair and, as Spiering tells it, “dressed in the pale-colored shifts which were fashionable at the time.” Spiering records another neighbor, Ione Kent as recalling that “Emma was addicted to cubes of sugar, which she sucked on continually.”

    Two years before her passing, Emma created a trust that allotted money to Annie Connor, her landlady and caregiver during her time in Newmarket.


    [1] There was considerable sensationalist journalism following the 1892 axe murders of Andrew and Abby Borden.  While Lizzie was charged and tried for the murders, there was also conjecture that her sister might have done the deed.  However, Emma was never charged with anything.

    [2] THE GREAT BAY PILOT:  1947-1949 -Great Bay Pilot was a weekly newspaper first published in Newmarket September 18, 1947; its last publication here was March 3, 1949. (End vol. # 27)  The press left the old barn on South Main Street and became incorporated into the Somersworth Free Press & Great Bay Pilot March 10, 1949 until last printing March 31, 1949. It then resurfaced as the Press-Pilot, April 7, 1949 until Oct 12, 1950, published by the Somersworth Free Press.  The paper covered all the local news of towns surrounding Great Bay.  Martha Elliott of Newmarket became editor in 1949.