2003 Maine’s Most Endangered Historic Resources
Introduction by Tara Phelps, Program Intern, Columbia University Historic Preservation Master’s Program
Buildings link our past to the present and future. They tell our stories if we listen—the story of a family growing up captured in a house or the stories of workers in a factory. A municipal waterworks tells us of a town fighting off a cholera epidemic by drinking from its safe, fresh water. Other buildings tell darker tales of slavery, poverty and oppression. Together, these structures create the layers of history that support our cities, towns and rural districts. These buildings are our conscience and our collective memory. When we tear them down, important parts of our past are erased.
Each year, in the name of progress, we tear down historic buildings, often replacing them with structures only designed to last ten years or less. Other buildings escape development only to suffer slow decay, forgotten until renovation is impossible. Many communities and individuals, feeling overwhelmed by the financial and technical requirements of preservation, see no alternative to demolition, but dedicated people using creative financing can often make a difference.
The goal of Maine Preservation’s Most Endangered Historic Properties program is to insure the longevity of Maine’s architectural patrimony. Begun in 1996, the program is intended both to increase public awareness of the need to preserve and to provide leadership and support in the rescue of critical historic structures. Nominations are solicited each spring and reviewed by the Preservation Outreach Committee. The Board of Trustees then creates a final list.
The program has been a great success with only two listed buildings having been demolished. The list has four major thematic categories—barns and agricultural buildings, traditional downtowns, historic neighborhood schools, and granges. It includes buildings stretching from Down East to Up North with nearly every Maine county and structural type represented. Together, they tell the story of Maine.
The sites and structures on this year’s list tell stories that touch the soul of all Mainers: “Sea Urchins” cottage in Bar Harbor, a one-room schoolhouse in North Alfred, the Brick Church in Lovell, the Colcord House of South Berwick, the Norway Opera House, and the Sheepscot Village Historic District. We also included Grange Halls statewide for this year’s list. Maine Preservation has highlighted these endangered properties. Now, it is the responsibility of all of us to ensure those properties are not lost.
Sheepscot Village Historic District – Sheepscot
Saved! Sheepscot Village is one of the most significant cultural landscapes in Maine, whose history stretches back thousands of years. Sheepscot has both prehistoric and historic archaeological sites and is home to the oldest road in the State of Maine, the King’s Highway. The Village of Sheepscot was settled during the 18th and 19th centuries and today is considered one of the few places in the United States that appears almost exactly as it did one hundred years ago. The nomination states “Sheepscot retains a rare sense of place in its early architecture, spectacular landscape and scenic vistas. It is the overall historic context of the village that makes it a valued resource for artists, writers, historians, and those who treasure its unspoiled history and beauty.”
It is the unspoiled nature of the village that was threatened by a Maine Department of Transportation’s plan to expand the bridge and its approaches over the Sheepscot River. The footprint of the bridge has not changed since 1794, and residents feared that the bridge expansion would have a negative impact on historic sites near the bridge. “The expansion project will increase areas of fill, change the grading of the river bank, potentially damage sensitive wetlands and will require the removal of old growth trees. The result is that the project will irreparably alter the treasured historic Sheepscot cultural landscape.” Ultimately, Maine Department of Transportation resolved not to expand the bridge and its footprint, deciding on a design that would protect the landscape and history of Sheepscot Village.
District #5 Schoolhouse – North Alfred
Saved! Built in 1872, the District #5 Schoolhouse is the last district school in Alfred on its original site. This picturesque structure has lived through a multitude of community uses. Today, the Schoolhouse continues to house various community activities such as a meeting place for local organizations and an annual Christmas open house. Future plans may also include converting it to a schoolhouse museum. Located in a rural and scenic region of central York County, new residential development is planned on land immediately behind the school. The local Historical Society, Boy Scouts and other volunteers have been working hard to restore the building. The exterior restoration was completed in 2005. Their most recent accomplishment is the restoration of the outhouse and the woodshed. A local Boy Scout troop will work to paint the floors and to finish the desks on the interior of the schoolhouse this summer (2006). The Historical Society held their annual potluck banquet there last fall.
Future plans include using the schoolhouse as a living classroom and meeting place for local groups.
Brick Church – Lovell
Saved! The Lovell Brick Church was built and organized by early town residents in 1850. It is a classically proportioned single-gable building containing its original massive double-hung windows. The evolution of this church is reflective of many throughout Maine. After the merging of two local churches, the need for this church grew less important and the building gradually deteriorated with the steeple, roof and foundation in need of attention. Although there is still work to be done, the Brick Church in Lovell has made it to our list of success stories because of the immense local support that the community has given through the donation of time and volunteer efforts to make these necessary repairs.
The building is also in active use! Last summer, a special concert series was held at the Brick Church, along with a Folklore and Storytelling Festival (complete with American Sign Language translation). The Church is also used for weddings and as an informal meeting space. Fundraising efforts have been mostly local, but a 2006 grant application is in, and they are hoping to launch a capital campaign to repair some timbers in the roof. Stay tuned for more exciting updates on this inspirational grass-roots effort.
How to get involved:?For more information or to make a donation to the building fund, contact Roberta Chandler at 7 Old Waterford Road, Lovell 04051 or (207) 925-2792.
Statewide – Grange Halls
Monticello Grange in Monticello
Endangered. Our fourth statewide thematic endangered property type, Grange Halls were once a prominent community asset in Maine. Numbering as many as 540 at one time, only 187 exist in our state today, and are being lost at a rate of 3-4 each year. The Grange was founded as a fraternal organization for the social and political interests of farmers and as a result became the central building for all political and social events in town. However, as is symptomatic of many granges, grange organizations often reflect an aging population, fewer members, and a dwindling income. Many of these building are in urgent need of roof, window and foundation repairs as well as updated wiring, plumbing and restroom facilities.
Thanks to the nomination for endangered status submitted by the Monticello Grange, these irreplaceable historic resources have captured our interest and focus this year. The Monticello Grange Hall, located on U.S. Route 1, is the largest downtown structure in this Aroostook county community. Built in 1921 to replace an older grange that had been destroyed by fire, the building is listed in the National Register and is notable for its beautiful interior tin-work. Its condition is threatened with lack of funding for needed repairs, indicative of so many granges.
How to get involved:
For more information or to make a donation to the building fund, contact Louise Beaulieu at PO Box 171 Monticello, Maine 04760.
Sea Urchins cottage, Bar Harbor
Sea Urchins cottage in Bar Harbor
Endangered. Located on the campus of the College of the Atlantic, “Sea Urchins” is one of the few remaining large summer cottages that was spared from the devastating 1947 fire. The c.1881 shingle-style building was designed by the Boston architectural firm of Rotch and Tilden, and is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. In the early 20th century, it was expanded to include a large servants wing, a ballroom, and a carriage house. With the recent passing of the life tenant, the future of this building is now within the sole purview of the College of the Atlantic, whose campus master plan calls for its removal for redevelopment with modern student housing. The building is suffering from deferred maintenance and does not have a building endowment to fund repairs.
Norway Opera House, Norway
Endangered. The 1894 Norway Opera House with its landmark clock tower dominates the Main Street skyline. Considered to be a pivotal building in Norway’s new Downtown Revitalization program, suffered from deferred maintenance with a badly leaking roof and dated wiring and heating systems. The Opera House was the center of community activity for many years, featuring famous headliners and healthy first-floor retail establishments. This building has significant rehabilitation potential and an ability to once again be the star of downtown Norway.
How to get involved:
For more information or to make a donation to the building fund, go to www.saveouroperahouse.org
Colcord House, South Berwick
Gone. Recent emphatic citizen efforts were not successful in persuading the local Planning Board to deny a demolition and redevelopment application for the Colcord House. Located just outside the local historic district, and therefore not protected by the preservation ordinance, this mid 19th century building was reduced to salvage and scrap to make way for a new medical facility of York Hospital. The small-scale village character of Portland Street, a gateway into South Berwick, was dramatically altered with this new development.