On the corner of Dow and Cape roads in Standish, flanked by an orchard and ambling stone walls, you may have noticed a neatly-kept farmstead. Built in 1769, the Dow Farm was purchased by the Dow family in the 18th century and remains in the ownership of descendants nearly 250 years later. The main house was expanded with a kitchen ell in 1832 and a connected barn in 1876. Late in the 19th century, Victorian-style flourishes, including a front dormer, were added. The property was an active farm until the 1930s when the last generation of full-time Dow occupants passed on. From that point until 1974 the Dow family used the property as a summer getaway.
But without full-time residents, the home became susceptible to vandalism and neglect. No modern updates were made, the paint was peeling, the plaster ceilings were falling in, and wallpaper was peeling off. The sills and joints underneath the house began to exhibit signs of rot, and rodents became an increasing problem.
In 1976, Donald Essman noticed the Dow house and, inspired by his strong interest in restoration carpentry, offered to serve as caretaker. The brother and sister who owned the house, Zelma Bryan and Claude White, allowed Don to move in and begin performing repairs in exchange for rent. Little did any of them know that this would initiate a decades-long restoration of the property, a 40-year labor of love for Don and his husband Mike Bendzela, conducted with the guidance and support of the Dow family, who have established legal life-long tenancy for Mike and Don.
Starting in the 1970s with the development of a long-term restoration plan, the house was repainted, and the plaster ceiling restored in the back parlor. In the 1980s the sill plates of the house were replaced as well as the windows. Don also installed a bathroom, re-clad the exterior in new clapboards, removed the Victorian-era dormer and re-shingled the roof with period-appropriate wood shakes. For good measure, he rewired the house and painted the interior rooms and redid the floors. The 1990s saw new chimneys and fireplaces, a reconstructed woodshed, new granite foundation, exterior repainting, and the installation of reproduction wallpaper. The farm’s pastures were re-established and an apple orchard was planted. In the 18 years of the 21st century interior redecoration has continued, and the barn has been restored.
Through the joint efforts of Don Essman, Mike Bendzela, and the Dow descendants, now represented by Claudia White and Ken Faulstich, the farm buildings and farmland have been lovingly brought back to life. Their visionary dedication shows the outstanding results that years of persistent, collaborative and careful work can achieve.