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Born in Methuen, Massachusetts in 1841, Edward F. Searles was an architectural designer who made a name for himself when Herter Bros. sent him to San Francisco to help Mary Hopkins, a famously wealthy widow, complete her Nob Hill mansion. Mary Hopkins and Edward Searles soon developed a more intimate relationship. Though their romance received much scrutiny from San Francisco high society (not least of all for the twenty-two year age difference between them), they were married in 1887. Mary and her first husband had no children of their own, but Mary had adopted Timothy Nolan, the adult son of her housekeeper, who changed his last name to reflect his new parentage. Shortly after her marriage to Edward, Mary altered her will to exclude Timothy and left her enormous fortune to her new husband. They removed to the East Coast where Edward began building mansions.

Mary died after a mere four years of marriage. Her death led to a fierce and public legal battle between Timothy Hopkins and Edward Searles over her estate. The court case, closely followed by the media, involved claims of conspiracies, forgery, spiritual exploitation, and overall manipulation. The West Coast newspapers sided with Hopkins while the East Coast papers firmly stood by Searles. The court eventually ruled in favor of Searles, although Hopkins did receive a multi-million dollar settlement.

A close friend of both Mary and Edward who had been involved in the case, General Thomas Hubbard, suggested that Searles leave a lasting testament of his love for Mary by paying for a new science building at Bowdoin College. Searles, who had admitted in court that he had married Mary “partly out of affection and partly for her money” immediately funded the project, and the resulting facility became known as the Searles Science Building.

After the trial Edward Searles became largely reclusive. He did, however, continue to build mansions until he died. When he died in 1920, his estate was bonded in Massachusetts for $45,000,000. One of his creations, Searles Castle in Windham, N.H., is currently the Presentation of Mary Academy.