The Black Family at Woodlawn
After the American Revolutionary war, William Bingham, a wealthy Philadelphian, purchased 2
million acres in Maine, known as the Bingham lands. He hired General David Cobb, of Taunton
Massachusetts, as the land agent to oversee his purchase. William Bingham then sold a half
interest in his land to the Baring Brothers Bank of London. In 1798, the bank sent a
representative along with a promising young clerk, 18-year-old John Black, to help oversee their
share of the land.
In 1802, John married David’s daughter Mary and they had eight children. With income from land sales and a generous annual salary, John Black began to venture into the lumber, shipping, and mercantile businesses that quickly provided him with great wealth and status. In 1824, when John Black was 44 years old the building of Woodlawn began. The house was based on a design by Asher Benjamin and includes a wing that John used as his office to run his businesses, five bedrooms, and seven chimneys. The family moved into the house on November 7, 1827.
From the house, situated on a hill with sweeping views of the Union River, John Black could sit on his deck and see his outbound schooners being loaded with lumber for shipment to Boston and returning schooners bringing merchandise to the family’s store in Ellsworth. The property was a homestead for the family and hired help that included forested lands as well as fields for grazing, a pond, a large barn for horses, cows, chickens, hay, and carriages, a family tomb, and the now iconic brick mansion.
Mary passed away in 1851. After Mary’s death, John married the widow, Frances Hodges Wood in 1852. Their marriage only lasted about 4 years as John passed away in 1856. Upon his death, Frances was given a life tenancy at the Woodlawn estate. She made many changes to the Black House such as adding gas lighting and a coal furnace. Frances was the last of the Black Family to live at Woodlawn year-round. She died in 1874 at the age of 70 and the Woodlawn estate transferred to George Nixon Black Sr., John and Mary’s fourth son.
Growing up in Ellsworth, George worked with his father in the family Black & Sons business. He married Mary Peters in 1836, who was from a prominent local family. They had 4 children and lived in a house still beside the Ellsworth Post Office. As his father’s eyesight failed, George took over the family business which grew and expanded to Boston. He moved his family there in 1859. After Frances died, he and his family would visit Woodlawn during business trips and to visit family. George was an avid horseman and he brought horses and livestock back, reviving Woodlawn as a farm. George died in 1880 and Mary continued visiting Ellsworth every summer with her children until her death in 1902.
The only son of George and Mary, George 'Nixon' Black Jr. inherited Woodlawn after his fathers’ death. He never married and his three sisters died before him, all quite young. He loved animals and the arts. He continued to keep and enjoy horses at Woodlawn as well as dogs, though he never lived at the property full time, visiting each summer with his mother, cousins, and friends. Nixon arranged for Woodlawn to be managed by the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations, with instructions that the grounds remain open for public enjoyment and the house to open as a museum which it did in 1929.