Historic Gorham Victorian for sale
By JOHN KOZIOL
Union Leader Correspondent
October 06. 2016 9:35PM
(John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent)
On both the New Hampshire and National Register of Historic Places, the George Washington Noyes House in Gorham also played a role in the early national discussion on race when it was owned in the 1930s by Thyra and Albert Johnston.
GORHAM — A stately Queen Anne Victorian with a unique place in the nation’s history of race relations and a spot on both the New Hampshire and National Register of Historic Places is ready to make some more history with new owners.
Located at 2 Prospect Terrace on Solider Hill, the George Washington Noyes House was built in 1893 for Noyes, the master engineer for the Atlantic and St. Lawrence Railroad, who when he arrived from Maine at the nearby Gorham Station to take ownership of the sprawling three story structure did so as part of a parade led by proud local citizens.
Noyes and his family lived in the house until his death in 1913 when ownership was transferred to his son and his family, who 12 years later, moved to New Jersey. The bank that held the mortgage note foreclosed on the house but the Town of Gorham bought it and later rented it.
In May 1935, the 18-room house was sold to Thyra Johnston and her husband Dr. Albert Johnston, who had lived in town since 1929, and its historic quotient increased further still.
Born in Chicago, Dr. Johnston, because he was part African American and Native American, was denied the opportunity to intern at hospitals in the South, so he came north to work at Maine General Hospital in Portland, which never asked about his race.
Later, he was recruited to come to Gorham, where he and his equally light-skinned African-American wife passed for white.
The doctor was chairman of the Gorham School Board, a selectman, president of the Coos County medical society and a rock-ribbed Republican.
For her part, Thyra was a hostess of renown, with the Prospect Hill house hosting the Congregational Church’s annual Christmas soiree and other gatherings.
In 1939, the Johnston family moved to Keene where Dr. Johnston, seeing the country’s march to what would eventually become World War II, attempted to enlist in the U.S. Navy, which initially accepted him but during a background check, determined he had “colored” blood and rescinded his commission.
Despite the slight, Johnston’s practice prospered in Keene, and years later he took an even better post in Hawaii.
Johnston’s son, Albert Johnston Jr., later told the family’s story to a movie producer. The story made it to writer William L. White, who in 1947 wrote an article that appeared in Reader’s Digest and that a year later became the book “Lost Boundaries.”
The book led to the 1949 movie of the same name, starring Mel Ferrer and Beatrice Pearson.
Anne and Jeff Hill, who have owned the George Washington Noyes House since 2002, pointed out that the movie was banned in many places around the U.S. because it challenged the then-prevailing assertion that there was a difference between the races.
An original copy of “Lost Boundaries” will succeed the Hills at the George Washington Noyes House, which they had hoped to transform into a bed and breakfast after relocating from the Washington, D.C., area but which they now hope to transfer to new owners so they can be closer to their daughters in South Carolina.
A pharmacist at Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin, Ann Hill is a Gorham native whose mother, the late Rita Montplaisir, went to school with Albert Johnston Jr. She and her husband, who is a former FBI agent who then spent two decades with the Secret Service would often visit her family in Gorham and when Jeff retired, they decided to come north.
Now, however, it’s time for the couple to head south again.
“We’ll definitely miss it,” Anne said of their Gorham house. “It’s so beautiful here right now with the fall foliage but it’s just the two of us.”firstname.lastname@example.org