Home Maine The General Henry Knox Museum: A Gorgeous Surprise

The General Henry Knox Museum: A Gorgeous Surprise

Don't just drive by on your Maine vacation

by
0 comment

Every summer tens of thousands of motorists on Route 1 in Maine pass a very large, very white mansion on a hill overlooking the town of Thomaston. Sometimes they stop to find out what it is. When they do, they’re surprised to discover the General Henry Knox Museum. It’s a beautiful home built by an underappreciated hero of the American Revolution.

Knox rose from poverty, taught himself military science and became one of George Washington’s most trusted generals. He made a storied trek to retrieve cannon at Fort Ticonderoga, which drove the British Army from Boston. After the war, Washington appointed him Secretary of War.

He married a wealthy Loyalist whose family disowned her. After he retired, Henry managed to get hold of a vast tract of property once owned by Lucy’s family in the District of Maine. And that’s how the General Henry Knox Museum came to be a Route 1 landmark.

Henry Knox

Knox was a 22-year old bookseller in Boston when pretty, vivacious Lucy Flucker walked into his shop in 1772. She swept him off his feet.

He was giant of a man, outgoing and cheerful, an avid reader of books about military science as well as the ancient classics, the French language and, apparently, architecture and interior design.

They married in June 1774 over the strong objections of Lucy’s family.

After the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Lucy and Henry Knox sneaked out of Boston.  She stayed in Worcester, never to see her family again. Henry joined the militia surrounding Boston and bottling up the British. He directed fortifications, something he learned in his bookstore.

Knox’s noble train of artillery

The siege of Boston dragged on for almost a year. Knox persuaded Washington they could use the cannons captured at Fort Ticonderoga to drive out the British.  In one of the most famous episodes of the American Revolution, Henry led an epic winter trek through winter storms and mountainous terrain. His “noble train of artillery” traveled over 300 miles by ox-drawn sleds.  He paid for two-thirds of the journey himself.

When they reached Boston, Washington aimed the guns at the British troops, forcing them to evacuate on March 17, 1776. Boston now celebrates Evacuation Day as a holiday on March 17.

Washington then promoted Henry to major general. When Washington retired, Henry took command of the Continental Army. Then as Secretary of War, he oversaw warfare against Native Americans.

The General Henry Knox Museum

Henry retired from the government in 1794 and moved to Maine. Lucy’s family had once owned millions of acres there, but the patriot government had seized it. From Lucy’s family’s land, Henry managed to reassemble a multi-million-acre parcel for himself.

Montpelier

Lucy had given birth to 13 children, only three of whom survived to adulthood. Henry decided to show his devotion to her by building an elegant mansion in Thomaston, a shipbuilding center.

He called the house Montpelier – a nod to the French who helped win the Revolution. He micromanaged the creation of their home, from designing it to building it to decorating the interior. The result was much admired.

Henry died in 1806, bankrupt. Lucy died 18 years later. Their two daughters inherited the house. By 1871, Montpelier had gotten run down and the Thomaston Railroad backers wanted it for a right of way. So Henry Knox’s mansion fell to the wrecking ball.

After the turn of the 20th century, community members raised money to rebuild the house on a different site but according to the original designs. In 1929 they built the replica and called it the General Henry Knox Museum. They also managed to acquire much of the original furnishings and domr of Henry Knox’s papers.

Today, it sits on the hill silently waiting for you to pull over and visit a beautiful home drenched in revolutionary history.

Thomaston Historic District

Federal and Greek Revival homes, along with 19th century brick commercial buildings form the center of Thomaston’s a historic district. There’s a Victorian Baptist church, a Gothic Revival Episcopal Church, shops and restaurants.

Just north of Thomaston are Camden and Rockport, two historic towns with lots of restaurants, art galleries and shops. Windjammers – which used to be known as coastal schooners – sail out of Camden and a ferry from Rockport takes passengers to the Fox Islands.

Montpelier marks the beginning of the St. George Peninsula. At the end is Port Clyde, a quaint old fishing village. Linda Bean, an L.L. Bean heiress, restored some of the key buildings and offered tours of “Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine.” From Port Clyde you can take the ferry to the storied Monhegan Island, a historic fishing village and a favorite of artists.

Five Things You’ll Remember About the General Henry Knox Museum

The Clerestory

Henry Knox must have known something about Maine’s dark winters when he planned the house. His design included a large clerestory. Technically, a clerestory is a high section of wall that contains windows above eye level to bring in fresh air as well as light. The Knox clerestory fills the house with light down to the first floor.

The Henry Knox Museum in Thomaston, Maine, has a clerestory.

Original Documents

Henry pushed a lot of paper in his roles as soldier and Cabinet secretary. The museum has some of Knox’s personal papers, including his daily ledger from the late 1700s. George Washington’s signature is on one document.

Original Furnishings

If you’re a fan of Federal style furniture, you’ll love the beautiful antiques in the Henry Knox Museum. The museum also researched the original wallpaper and had it reproduced.

Oval Room

Montpelier and the White House went up almost simultaneously, and you’ll notice similarities – especially the elegant Oval Room. It has a 13-foot ceiling, two marble fireplaces. curved doors and beautifully carved woodwork.

Wig Curlers

The Henry Knox Museum displays some of Henry’s personal effects, including his wig curlers. He may have been a six-foot, 289-pound soldier, but he was a slave to fashion as well.

If you visit…

Make sure you find out when the General Henry Knox Museum opens, as it has limited hours.

The museum has plenty of parking, with special spots for the combat wounded. It’s fairly accessible, but the house does have stairs.

It has a gift shop, small but well stocked.

Don’t pick up hitchhikers – there’s a prison in the next town.

For more information: https://www.knoxmuseum.org/montpelier

 *  *  *

Click here to order your copy of Eat Like a President.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images: Montpelier: Highsmith, Carol M, photographer. Reconstruction of Revolutionary War general Henry Knox’s home, Thomaston, Maine. United States Thomaston Maine, None. [Between 1980 and 2006] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2011633360/.

 

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest artciles from the New England Historical Society

Thanks for Signing Up!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join Now and Get The Latest Articles. 

It's Free!

You have Successfully Subscribed!