Maine's Municipal Tax Valuation Lists, Statewide

The Story: Municipal Tax Valuation Lists are an underutilized, imperiled, and irreplaceable records of buildings in many communities. Inventorying houses, barns, and industrial and commercial buildings, these records indicate not only who was taxed and how much, but serve as vital records for buildings, recording owners, building dates and changesto structures. Some towns have retained these records since their founding, but many others are unaware of the potential of these massive volumes.

The Threat: Many municipalities no longer have these records on file, and many others may not be aware that they do. These volumes, often the first to go into storage or be discarded because of their size, are an increasingly rare window into the history of property ownership and the overall development of Maine’s communities.

The Solution: An effort to survey towns and determine the status of these records, to inventory them, and preserve them as a valuable resource will pay long-term rich dividends. While these records have been traditionally held by each municipality, a statewide list or database of Municipal Tax Valuations Lists could also be compiled. State law requires notification of the State Archives prior to the removal or records.

Pennell Institute, Gray

The Story: The Pennell Institute, a brick Italianate building with a distinctive clock tower, and the Pennell Science Laboratory are integral parts of campus of the former high school that served the Town of Gray.  The buildings were completed in 1886 and 1897 respectively, and have housed educational and civic institutions since their opening. The Pennell Institute had a reputation as one of the finest high schools in New England and had several graduates of distinction, including….. The main building currently houses the Gray Historical Society, and the Science Laboratory is unoccupied.

The Threat: After years of legal dispute over the ownership of the building between the school district and the Town of Gray, the courts ruled in September 2007 that Pennell Institute is owned by the town. For years, vacant parts of the complex have suffered from neglect and deferred maintenance. Wooden entrance vestibules on the main building have sustained water damage. Structurally, however, the building remains solid.

The Solution: Now that ownership issues have been settled, work can begin on developing a plan for the future of the Pennell Institute that will ensure its preservation and use for years to come. Many residents of Gray and alumni of the Pennell Institute have been working to raise funds and awareness about the building’s history, plight and potential. Voters passed a budget that includes funding for the Institute’s maintenance. A plan use for the unoccupied spaces and funding to repair them must now be developed.

Masonic Temple, Portland

The Story: The Masonic Temple in Portland houses a local lodge, regional orders, and the Masonic Grand Lodge of Maine. Even this headquarters for Masonic activity in the Maine faces problems common to smaller lodges and fraternal organizations statewide, making it emblematic of issues facing historic fraternal organization buildings. Constructed in 1911 by architect Fredric Thompson, this commercial block occupies a prominent position in the Portland streetscape between First Parish Church and City Hall. An example of Beaux-Arts Classicism, the exterior is monumental in character, and the interior boasts spaces reflecting that style, including a decorative two-story hall with attached Corinthian columns.

The Threat: A portion of the building was sold for commercial office use nearly two decades ago. Like many fraternal and community-oriented institutions, Masonic membership has declined and funds are scarce and the Trustees of the building are preparing to sell for commercial development. The sale of the building would likely result the unique interior spaces’ substantial alteration.

The Solution: Fraternal organizations are facing declining membership state and nation wide, a problem that can lead to organizations relinquishing buildings too large for current needs or for lack of funds to maintain older spaces. Sensitive reuse by buyers of former fraternal organization properties would help preserve these resources.

Rock Rest, Kittery Point

The Story: Built and operated by the Sinclair family from the late 1930s to the late 1970s as a summer guesthouse for African-American tourists, Rock Rest provided a safe haven from the de-facto segregation faced by black travelers on vacation. The core of Rock Rest is an 18th c. York County cape, rebuilt with new end chimneys and entrance hall, and expanded over the years to accommodate more guests. The property retains its original guesthouse furnishings and extensive documentary materials about guests and business operations, providing a window into the operations of this unique site. Rock Rest was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Threat: Rock Rest has been only minimally maintained the last 10 years, and has stood unoccupied for the last four. Attempts to bring the seller together with a buyer who would preserve the buildings have so far been unsuccessful. A sale on the open market could result in the demolition of these historically significant buildings.

The Solution: The future preservation and interpretation of Rock Rest has many interested parties, from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to the Seacoast NAACP, with feasibility studies and grants for initial planning secured. The site would be included in the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail, and would be an important heritage tourism site. This support can be built upon by bringing attention to this valuable chapter in Maine’s history and the threat the property faces from development.

United Baptist Church, Lewiston (LOST)

The Story: The most prominent building on the west side of Lewiston’s downtown, the United Baptist Church was constructed in 1922 to better serve a growing membership on the site of the former Main Street Baptist Church. The United Baptist Church congregation had formed in 1917 from three smaller churches, following the trend towards unification in the Baptist faith. The building is in the English Gothic style, and the fifty-foot main entrance tower has welcomed the faithful since its construction.

The Threat: Like many urban churches, the United Baptist Church has experienced declining membership, and as a result of inadequate funding, the church building has been gravely imperiled by years of deferred maintenance. The congregation, which has dwindled in recent years to some 35 members, is strongly considering selling the property.  A buyer would most likely demolish the church.

The Solution: The situation at United Baptist has only recently come to light, and as a result, solutions are in their infant stages. According to engineering estimates obtained by the church, repair of structural and roof damage would cost about one million dollars, but some preservationists question this estimate. With the increased visibility of the problems facing United Baptist, hopefully the religious and civic committees of Lewiston can come together to find new funding and new uses for the landmark church.

Free Will Baptist Church, Bowdoinham

The Story: Built of native brick on the highest point of Bowdoinham Ridge, the Free Will Baptist Church served as a religious and social hub of the community for 100 years after its construction in 1837. The modest and graceful church building was the place where Maine evangelist Frank Sanford heard his “first call to God.”  After the church disbanded, the congregation left the building in the care of the Ridge Cemetery Association, which began to raise funds to repair it.

The Threat: The roof of the church is currently in serious, but not irreparable, structural condition, as a hole in the roof has gone unpatched.  The breach is currently covered by a plastic tarp. Estimates to close the roof and address structural concerns are much higher than originally anticipated. Water has begun to infiltrate the church, which faces demolition by deferred maintenance.

The Solution: While there is passion in the community to save this historic structure, an organized effort has yet to coalesce around the Free Will Baptist Church. Repair work began through a New Century Community Program grant in 2006, but was halted when further issues were discovered and funds were insufficient to tackle the new challenges. The upcoming 250th anniversary of Bowdoinham can help illuminate the place of the Free Baptist Church in the towns past and the potential role for the building in its future.

Storm Windows, Statewide

The Story: As energy and winter heating costs rising, many Mainers are looking for ways to make their homes more efficient and weather tight. Purveyors of new windows tout the efficiency of replacements, many of which are less durable that historic windows and are thus more expensive over the long term in spite of initial energy savings they provide.

The Threat: Storm windows are being marginalized as an option in the face of aggressive marketing by new window companies. The removal of historic windows from a home and removes a piece of craftsmanship which in many cases could be repaired, and removes an element of its historic character.

The Solution: Innovations in storm windows are producing long-term, light-weight, less-expensive alternatives to window replacement that outlast vinyl or new wooden windows. The addition of storm windows to historic windows produces an R rating of 2, the same R-2 rating as a double-paned window. “Maintenance free” actually means it cannot be fixed, putting a building owner in a shorter endless cycle of “replace and throw away.”

Landfills, Statewide

The Story: Landfills themselves aren’t currently historic resources, sadly they are where many historic resources wind up. The largest category of waste in land fills, occupying roughly 1/3 by volume, is building products.

The Threat: While Maine’s waste management practices are among the best, the need to devote more space to landfills can negatively impact the quality of life in surrounding communities.

The Solution: Keeping buildings and their historic materials in use and out of landfills results in a host of benefits to the community. The degree to which we can reuse buildings and building materials through skilled rehabilitation practices results in repair instead of replacement, at a lower cost while developing and employing skilled craftsmen. The net result is substantially less waste.

Embodied Energy, Statewide

The Story: “Embodied energy” refers to the energy and resources already expended to construct an existing building. New buildings are nearly always cited as energy-efficient construction, using green building standards like LEED. LEED has erroneously substantially under-estimated the importance of embodied energy in measuring energy efficiency and has also underestimated the great efficiency of well-built historic buildings, which can often be further improved with attic and basement insulation and air-tight storm and sash windows.  Historic buildings are often victim of a misplaced ‘newer is better’ idea where energy efficiency is concerned, but the outlook that new construction is inherently more efficient over the life of the building fails to consider substantial energy usage to produce, transport and erect building materials. A germane example of this is the recent decision by Portland voters to abandon the Nathan Clifford Elementary School in favor of a new school building on Ocean Avenue.

The Threat: The push for greener buildings constructed with greener building materials and methods is in some cases self-defeating. Demolition and equivalent new construction, no matter how energy efficient, typically require decades to equal the energy savings of rehabilitating an existing building.

The Solution: The greenest building is the one that is already built. LEED is just beginning to adequately address the energy and financial savings that come from reusing existing historic materials. This discrepancy undermines the credibility of the rating system as applied to the largest portion of the built environment: existing buildings. By retrofitting historic buildings with additional insulation, storm windows, and by sealing and caulking air infiltration, superior energy efficiency can be achieved. As individuals and institutions strive for greener buildings, it is important to note that adaptive reuse of buildings is the ultimate in recycling.

Old Growth Wood, Statewide

The Story: Many of Maine’s historic structures were initially constructed from old growth wood harvested from trees hundreds of years old. The wood from these trees is much harder, stronger, and less prone to insects, fungus, warping, or damage than the softer, new wood commercially available today. Because the nearly all of these ancient trees have been cut down and are no longer readily available in nature, this wood is preserved in the structural timbers, floors, shingles, and windows of historic buildings and cannot be replaced.

The Threat: Gutting of buildings, wholesale replacement of clapboards, trim and windows and other “modernizations” that purport to save homeowners time and money are actually more expensive than repair. The reliable historic materials are replacedwith materials substantially less durable, guaranteeing increased maintenance costs. The loss of these materials also undermines the historic integrity of buildings.

The Solution: Education about the reparability, durability, cost and energy efficiency of repair and maintenance rather than replacement. Like old growth forests, once this wood is gone, it’s gone forever.

Historic Railroad Buildings, Statewide

The Story: As fuel costs rise, Maine is wisely increasingly looking to alternative forms of transportation that save money and lessen the impact on the environment. In addition to new technologies, existing infrastructure, such as railroads are a great potential resource. An example of a property that can be preserved with this new green purpose is the adaptive use of the Hallowell Freight Shed as a passenger depot, or the reuse of the rail station in Greenville Junction, for passenger or freight service.

The Threat: Many rail stations and other railroad infrastructure face similar threats from demolition or ongoing neglect. Passenger service has long-since been discontinued along most of Maine’s railways, though rising energy costs are causing automobile-focused commuters to re-think the potential of alternative transportation. Preserving existing infrastructure to facilitate alternatives is prudent.

The Solution: Increased awareness that historic railroad buildings are not just part of our past, but possible gateways to future transit and transport options for Maine.

Working Waterfronts, Statewide

The Story: The potential loss of working waterfronts in Maine threatens not only historic buildings and landscapes, but the livelihoods and traditional ways of life of many people in Maine’s waterfront communities. These working waterfronts provide a link between residents and the industries that have shaped Maine, but whose influence is waning in the face of economic change, residential redevelopment and high property costs. The Pemaquid Fisherman’s Co-op is an example of how businesses, with the help of state programs, are struggling to stay viable.

The Threat: Rising property costs, encroaching development, and the high cost of fuel are among the treats to Working Waterfronts. Of Maine’s 5,300 miles of coastline, only 20 miles of working waterfront access remain.*

The Solution: Fortunately, the threats facing Working Waterfronts are being well studied, and there are many organizations and partnerships addressing these issues. The Working Waterfront Coalition is made up of more than 140 industry associations, state agencies, non-profit groups, all advocating for healthy Working Waterfronts, which preserves the heritage of coastal Maine. Programs such as the Working Waterfront Access Pilot Program and the Affordable Coast Fund help protect that heritage.