This spot so sacred to a name so great
After ten years serving his country as Secretary of War, Henry Knox began to long for the life of a gentleman farmer, like the lives his friends George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were living on their country estates. Fortunately for him, his wife Lucy had inherited a vast tract of land in the District of Maine through her mother, the daughter of Brigadier Samuel Waldo. In 1795, newly retired, Knox bade farewell to Philadelphia and moved his family to the newly built Montpelier in Thomaston, Maine, to dedicate his "all to the development of the District of Maine." There he had a hand in many of the emerging businesses in midcoast Maine: He shipped timber, quarried lime, made bricks, experimented with agriculture, built a lock and canal system, built many roads, and got involved with land speculation. The elegant house he built at the head of the St. Georges River epitomized the dreams of the young republic. It compared favorably with George Washington's Mount Vernon and Jefferson's Monticello, and Knox made it the center of many enterprises in midcoast Maine, employing many citizens.
Knox employed the Boston housewright Ebenezer Dunton to build his grand mansion, and may have derived inspiration from the designs of Charles Bulfinch. Montpelier has a classic oval-on-axis design, and the contract for the house specified many details, including "that there shall be two stair cases in the rear of the oval room lighted by two large sky lights from the top of the house ñ that the steps of the stairs shall be six inches high one foot wide & three feet eight inches long." Knox's correspondence with Dunton indicates that Knox also wanted the windows on the front of the house to go down to the floor, allowing an adult to step from the inside of the house onto the porch when the windows were open. Much work was done in Dunton's Boston shop and shipped to the Thomaston site. Originally conceived as a summer home, Knox and his family lived there year round by the time of his death in 1806.
So soon after its grand beginnings the Knox estate went into decline. After Knox's death Lucy was obliged to slowly sell off much of the land in order to support herself and became increasingly reclusive at Montpelier. Henry and Lucy's only living son, Henry Jackson Knox, proved to be irresponsible, and unequal to the task of running his father's enterprises. Their oldest daughter, Lucy Flucker Knox, was happily settled with a judge, Ebenezer Thatcher, and raising a large family. Thus upon Lucy's death in 1824, their youngest daughter Caroline, who had lived at Montpelier since she was very young, took over the mansion. She lived there until her death in 1851, surviving two husbands and forced to live with increasing economy, but unable to give up her father's mansion. Upon her death, the widowed Lucy Flucker Thatcher moved into the family home. She was the last Knox to live there. When she died in 1854, her oldest son, Henry Knox Thatcher, had no desire or means to keep the decaying mansion. The property was divided up and sold, the mansion's beautiful furnishings dispersed among the descendants or auctioned. After years of standing nearly empty and vacant, Montpelier was razed in 1871. The site was used for the Knox and Lincoln Railroad, with one of the outbuildings serving as a train station.
For most that would be the end of the story, but not so for Henry Knox and Montpelier. Many in Thomaston mourned the loss of the last local remnant of a national hero. The General Knox chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Thomaston celebrated the General's birthday every year and began agitating for a suitable memorial to Knox. By the 1920s the effort had grown into the formation of the Knox Memorial Association, and a national fundraising campaign. They enlisted the support of Henry Thatcher Fowler, Knox's great, great grandson and one of only a few living descendants. In 1929, thanks to the financial support of publishing magnate Cyrus H. K. Curtis, the Knox Memorial Association broke ground on the new Montpelier, a replica of Knox's mansion built a short distance from the original site. Donations to the memorial came thick and fast. Fowler willed his family relics to Montpelier and local people that had purchased furnishings at the auction returned them to the mansion. Even parts of the building that had been taken as souvenirs just before it was razed found their way into the hands of the Knox Memorial Association. Until its waning years the Association ran the museum, then the State of Maine's Bureau of Parks and Lands took over in 1965. However, the dedication of the local community remained, and eventually the desire for a return to local control led to the formation of the Friends of Montpelier. A new chapter for the museum began in 1999 when the Friends successfully negotiated with the state for the ownership of Montpelier. Today, Montpelier stands as a living memorial to Henry Knox, filled with many of the beautiful objects he purchased for the original mansion; a space that invites visitors to learn about the life and times of this great Patriot.