Will the real Studebaker house please stand up

Debate about two elegant mansions while walking scenic coastal route

Story and photos by Ken Palm

Scenic view at Rye Ledge of rocky reefs with Isles of Shoals in background

New Hampshire’s only U.S. President, Franklin Pierce, once called the Seacoast area of North Hampton and Rye the “most beautiful spot in New Hampshire." There are spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean from any point along Route 1A. Pristine beaches are spread out, separated at intervals by rocky ledges. The route has designated bike and walking paths with walking planks atop shale piles so you never lose sight of the ocean.

Wood plank walking path atop shale pile

The scenery is always changing because of the weather and the season of the year. Sometimes it’s cloudy and gray, sometimes windy and stormy, but mostly bright and sunny. One thing is always a constant: The magnificent mansions that line the shore. Often, when the sunrise hits their window panes at the proper angle, the resulting rays sparkle and reflect back over their velvet lawns, formal gardens and old stone walls and continue to unlimited skies and wide vistas of the Atlantic Ocean. The more we see these mansions the more they seem to improve with  age.

It’s a great place to walk. I know. I walk between the North Hampton State Beach and the Rye Beach Club four or five days a week. I’m joined by two friends, John Maloney and Jim Thirkell. We talk about the weather, sports and politics and solve all the problems of the nation. My wife says that we are doing a lousy job, considering the state of the union. We leave before 6 a.m., marching toward dawn with a million stars from the Milky Way looking down on us. When we reach Rye On The Rocks at Rye Ledge, the sun peaks it’s head up with a brilliant shine over the Isles of Shoals. Many days there’s a pounding surf, with white-capped waves on the rocky reefs.

Small Rooster Tail popping up at Rye Ledge  

The waves come ashore from different directions. When one wave collides with another, a spray of water is propelled into the air. They give the look of a “rooster tail” and we like to count them as we walk along. We aren’t alone on our walk but are accompanied by other walkers, fishermen, surfers, sea gulls and the occasional seal either sunbathing or squawking at us from a rocky outcropping. John Maloney comments, at least once a week, that “people come here to vacation and pay $2000 per week to see this scenery. We get to see if for free,”

On weekends we are often accompanied on our walk by Martha Williams of Hampton. One Saturday in late August as we started our walk, I commented about the Studebaker House at Little Boar's Head in North Hampton. Martha said that was not the Studebaker House but was the Costello House. I asked if she was 90% sure of that, and she responded that she was 100% sure. She told us the Studebaker House was located in Rye.

The next day Martha brought in an article from the Portsmouth Herald that told about a party at the Studebaker House in Rye and that the whole lawn was lined with Studebaker cars. Not to be outdone, I referred to  the North Hampton pamphlet of historical sites which indicated the Studebaker House was in Little Boar’s Head, and it included a picture. I also had a picture of a post card, dated 1915, showing the Studebaker House in North Hampton. The picture was supplied to me by Bill Warren, an historian and Rye Reflections contributor. It was determined a little more research was needed.

The Studebaker House in North Hampton at Little Boar’s Head (above) is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1874 and originally called “Breakers” or “Breaknolle”. In 1909 the home was purchased by Mrs. George Studebaker of South Bend, Indiana. Her husband George was an executive with the Studebaker Corporation. According to Bill Warren, George severed his ties with the corporation. He took his money and ran to North Hampton and lived the good life. The Studebaker family owned the property until 1936 when they sold it to John Higgins who owned the Worcester Pressed Steel Company. The Costello family, owners of the Lowell Sun newspaper, bought the property in 1962. Martha and many others refer to this house as the Costello House. They owned it longer than the Studebakers, so over time maybe it will be officially called the Costello House. How about Breakers-Studebaker-Costello House?

The Studebaker House in Rye (above) was built in 1914-15 at Rye Ledge by Clement Studebaker, a cousin of George Studebaker. The house is a two-story Italian design in a jewel box setting with 18 rooms. In the Roaring Twenties it was sold to Harry Beckworth who also owned the Farragut Hotel and Wentworth By The Sea. He owned it until 1968 when it passed to John Doyle who subdivided the land surrounding it into parcels. The next owner was Donald Jasinski who owned it until 1986. The Town of Rye Street Directory lists the present owner as Annette Demauro who completely renovated it in 1986. It is currently for sale, but the asking price is only available to those with a sincere interest in buying. It has European craftsmanship with imported English antique brick. The ceilings are 12 feet high and feature antique chandeliers and ornate molding, along with custom wall paneling and marble fireplaces. A three-sided glassed-in solarium offers spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean.

Now, which is the original? It appears the first Studebaker to own a house was George in 1909 in North Hampton. George also owned his longer than his cousin Clement. However, Clement had his house built to his specifications, while George purchased a previously owned house. Both houses were owned by Studebakers and bear their name. Therefore, it seems fair to say that each house is a real Studebaker house, and they both look out over the wide vista of the Atlantic Ocean and occupy a space in “the most beautiful spot in New Hampshire."

October, 2008