J.M. Rice Block, Houlton, 1897

THE STORY

The J. M. Rice Block, built in 1897, is a contributing building to the Market Square Historic District of Houlton, which was officially listed in the National Register in 1980. The district is significant for its collection of large commercial buildings built during the economic boom resulting from the construction of the New Brunswick Railroad in 1870 and the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad in 1893. Standing three stories tall on a prominent corner on Market Square, the J.M. Rice Block is a large brick masonry structure on a granite foundation with Classical-Revival-style details. The building’s namesake, J. M. Rice, owned a furniture manufacturing company named J. M. Rice & Co.

Since its construction, the building has undergone remodeling and its ground floor façade has been altered from its original design. In 1986, the J. M. Rice Block was included in a Downtown Revitalization Program for Houlton.

THE THREAT

The existing tenants were moved out of the building when the current owner identified a prominent commercial tenant and began efforts to rehabilitate the property. Unfortunately, the owner’s financing fell through. As a result, rehabilitation efforts have been on hold for more than a year during which time the property has sat vacant.

THE SOLUTION

The J.M. Rice Block is included in the 2005 Downtown Revitalization Plan for Houlton. It has also been identified as a key building to be redone in order to bring additional activity to downtown. New financing or a new property owner needs to be identified to move the project forward and to bring businesses to the J. M. Rice Block building and the Houlton downtown.

Keen Hall, Freedom, ca. 1850s

THE STORY

Located at the intersection of Main Street and Rt 137 in Freedom, in close proximity to the recently restored Freedom Mill, Keen Hall was once the family residence of Carter B. Keen. Keen attended Freedom Academy, practiced law in Washington D.C., and, in the 1910s, became the first director of the Postal Savings System, a part of the U.S. Postal Service that provided an alternative to traditional banking for immigrants and the working class. Even prior to this success, Keen regularly donated to Freedom Academy, funding the repairs to the 1836 Academy building (which no longer stands). Later, Keen conferred ownership of Keen Hall to the Academy for use as the Principal’s house. More recently, the building housed the offices of Farmstead Press before it resumed the function of a private residence.

THE THREAT

Keen Hall has sat vacant for more than 5 years, and was recently acquired by the town of Freedom due to tax foreclosure. When the town placed the property up for bid in the summer of 2014, the Freedom Historical Society presented the only bid for the abandoned building. Issues with the title delayed conveyance of the property from the town to the Historical Society, setting back the proposed renovation plan. While the roadblocks for transfer of the title have been cleared up, Freedom Historical Society now needs to raise the necessary funds to rehabilitate the distressed property.

THE SOLUTION

The Freedom community has embraced the potential for innovative adaptive use of this historic structure and has already completed two successful adaptive use rehabilitations in the village area in recent years. The Freedom Historical Society has consulted with the community and a preservation architect to develop a plan for a library/community center that will meet a variety of needs. In addition to the proposed office, library, archives, exhibit space and community meeting space, the proposal for rehabilitation includes a studio apartment located on the second floor. This practical adaptation has the potential to provide the Historical Society with a rental income and be an anchor to help spur development of Main Street. This income-producing adaptive use also provides a model for other historical societies across the state seeking to preserve historically significant and well placed properties. Financial support is necessary to help with the rehabilitation project. 

Jonathan Eddy House, Bangor, ca. 1855

THE STORY

The Jonathan Eddy House built about 1855 was the first Mansard style building constructed in Bangor. Jonathan Eddy was a lumber merchant descended from the first settler of what is now Eddington, on the Penobscot River. Elaborate interior and exterior detailing connect the house to the Italianate designs of Maine architect Darius Lawrence. A native of Castine, Lawrence moved to Bangor during the building boom of the 1830s and is noted for a number of important houses. The early use of the Second Empire Style for the Jonathan Eddy house serves as a reminder of the wealth and ambition in Bangor in the early nineteenth century. In 1902, the house was adapted into the Home for Aged Men resulting in a considerable extension of the ell and the construction of an elevator tower both of which are present today. After the nursing home moved into a new facility in the area, the Jonathan Eddy house continued to be maintained and housed a social service agency until its sale in 2006. Since then the building has sat largely vacant.

THE THREAT

Unoccupied for nearly a decade, deferred maintenance and updated systems must now be addressed. Without maintenance and rehabilitation, this historic property will continue to deteriorate, causing loss of historic fabric and blight to the neighborhood.

THE SOLUTION

The current owner could seek financing and use historic tax credits to rehabilitate the building or consider its sale at current market value to a new owner who can make the necessary repairs and place the building back in service. The Jonathan Eddy House has great potential to resume its role as a fine mixed-use or residential building. Its location at the intersection of State Street and Forest Avenue where it is ringed by various businesses would make all or part of the ground floor ideal for office or other commercial use. The City of Bangor is supportive of adaptive use of historic properties and is eager to see this property become once again an asset to the city.

James O. Crooker House, Norway, ca. 1865

THE STORY

The James O. Crooker House, built about 1865, is a fine example of late Greek-Revival Style and retains many of its historic features. In 1867, James Crooker, a noted tinsmith and hardware dealer, also built a commercial building on Main Street to house his hardware trade during the second half of the nineteenth century.This building has since been occupied by three generations of L.M. Longley and Son, another independently owned hardware store.The house plays an important role in the history of the Town of Norway as the original home of a noted tinsman and business owner whose legacy of a full-feature hardware service, including custom metal fabrication, has had a substantial impact on the local built environment for generations. The Crooker House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1988 as contributing buildings to the Norway Historic District. The house is currently owned by a trust along with the hardware store building and an adjoining commercial property on Main Street.

THE THREAT

The Crooker house is situated in the neighborhood adjoining downtown. The house is in good structural condition, but has been vacant for three years and is falling into disrepair. The trust has dwindling assets and can no longer invest in ongoing maintenance, Without a new owner, the house will continue to fall into disrepair. After years of decline, Norway downtown is undergoing revitalization. The house and the neighborhood are key to continuing the town’s momentum.

THE SOLUTION

The Crooker House will require a buyer who will rehabilitate the house in concert with a preservation easement to ensure that the house retains its significant historic character, while furthering downtown revitalization. 

Weston Homestead, Madison, ca. 1817

THE STORY

Located in Madison, the Weston Homestead provides an important link to the early settlement of the area and is a historic regional landmark. The first owner of this house was Deacon Benjamin Weston, whose father, Joseph Weston, was among the first to settle the area in 1771. In 1817, Deacon Weston commissioned Ephraim Spaulding to build the current Federal Style house on his family homestead, replacing an early log structure. The Weston family has retained ownership of 343 acres of forest and farmland with the house for over 225 years. Today the house sits in remarkable condition, retaining much of its original interior finishing and is little altered from its original form. One of the most remarkable features is the intact wallpaper dating from 1817 in the hall and 1836 in the parlor. The house was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 for its architectural significance and for its association with the early settlement of the Madison region.

THE THREAT

Sitting along the Kennebec River, the Weston Homestead includes the Federal Style house on six acres of land, surrounded by 282 acres of forest and 50 acres of cropland. The house, while remarkably well preserved by the Weston family in its early nineteenth century design, has not been lived in full time for over two decades and is well out of date for everyday use. After over 225 years of ownership, the Weston family is looking to sell the house and all surrounding land. To make the nineteenth century house livable to a twenty-first century occupant, many modern updates are needed. If updates are done without knowledge of modern preservation practice this could put the historic fabric of the structure at risk. The sale of the house without a preservation easement would likely result in the loss of interior finishes and historic fabric and potentially demolition

THE SOLUTION

The house and surrounding 343 acres are for sale. The family is seeking a preservation-minded buyer who wants to carry on its stewardship of this historic property for future generations with a preservation easement in place.

Oak Grove Chapel, Vassalboro, ca. 1786

THE STORY

Built in 1786, the Oak Grove Chapel is a post and beam structure retaining its original hand-hewn rafters. Listed in the National Register in 1977 as the River Meeting House, the Chapel was one of the first Quaker Meeting Houses in Maine. In 1895, the Quaker Vassalboro Meeting of the Society of Friends deeded the meetinghouse to the Oak Grove School, which undertook an unusual architectural adaptation transforming the original T-shaped humble meetinghouse into the current picturesque shingle style chapel. Updates included a tower and portico, stained glass windows, and a new basement foundation (achieved by raising the structure several feet). Upon completion of the renovations, the chapel was renamed in honor of its benefactor, Sophia Bailey of Winthrop. The chapel remained part of the Oak Grove School for Girls, and later the Oak Grove Coburn School, campus until the school closed and was purchased by the State in 1990 to use as the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. The Chapel is now owned by the Oak Grove Foundation and cared for by an independent nonprofit known as The River Meeting House and Oak Grove Chapel which formed to advocate for the restoration of the historic property.

THE THREAT

The Chapel is underutilized with deferred maintenance, and is falling into disrepair. There is ongoing water infiltration through the roof and the foundation. As recently as five years ago, its current owners were considering options to dispose of it, including demolition. In response to this threat, the Friends of the River Meeting House and Oak Grove Chapel formed to advocate for the preservation of the structure and to assist its owner with the management of the historic property. Their efforts convinced the Oak Grove Foundation to commit to not destroying the property; however, the Foundation has not funded rehabilitation expenses. The Friends is primarily composed of Oak Grove School for Girls alumni, and unless a use is identified for the structure and a more broad-based community of supporters can be included in their efforts, the future of the building is uncertain.

THE SOLUTION

The Friends of the River Meetinghouse and Oak Grove Chapel conducted an assessment of the underutilized building and began fundraising for its preservation. The Friends and the Foundation could consider identifying an active use that provides sustainable funding for both deferred and ongoing maintenance, which could include offering this striking building for sale for adaptive use with a preservation easement. In the meantime, contributions are essential to stabilize the building and prevent further deterioration.

Old Surry Schoolhouse, Surry, 1872

THE STORY

The Old Surry Village School was first opened on December 19, 1872. Considered modern for its day, it was built by Jesse M. Ray for $2,000 and was designed featuring large glass windows on three of its four walls, with the length of the building facing east. The building functioned as a school for 80 years, until 1952. Some students who attended the school still reside in Surry. From 1958-1986, the school served the town of Surry as its firehouse. In 1986 its deed was passed to the Women’s Auxiliary who used it as a community center. When the Women’s Auxiliary was no longer active in 2014, the group deeded the building and land back to the town of Surry. The town organized the Old School House Committee in February 2015 to take responsibility over the building and its activities.

Presently the building is vacant as the town decides how it could continue to serve the community. There is expressed interest in continuing to use it as a community center. The building has much of its historic integrity. It still has the blackboards on the walls when it was used as a school and its original windows. The most major change is the replacement of the wooden floors on the first floor with a concrete slab and new doors.

THE THREAT

Despite continuously serving the community of Surry for over 140 years, potential demolition of the building is a major concern. For continued public use, the building must be brought up to code. The initial bids for the town for work are quoted at over $700,000 which has raised the question of whether the building repairs would cost too much for the town. Since the building is presently vacant, there is also increasing pressure on the town to find a use for it. Presently, the building is under threat of demolition via a training burn. At the September 1, 2015 Surry selectmen meeting, the town postponed the decision, under the condition that further movement toward a preservation plan and fundraising is maintained.

THE SOLUTION

Many communities that have demolished buildings without a plan in place for the land have found themselves with vacant non-revenue producing land for years. Since the passage of the State Historic Tax Credit in 2008, over a third of a billion dollars ($340 million) have been invested in rehabilitation of significant historic buildings, ultimately driving community revitalization across the state.

At the September 1, 2015 Surry selectmen meeting, the Old Surry Schoolhouse Preservation Group was organized in an effort to develop a preservation plan and fundraising efforts for the building. With the plan must also come a future use for the building. There is an expressed interest in using the schoolhouse as a community center again for community events and meetings or even use it as a market. It is located at the junction of ME-172 and ME-176 and has a high visibility from the street, providing a great, prominent location in the town. The group could consider its potential for resale for adaptive use, which if income-producing, could use historic tax credits. Residents interested in saving the building are asking for more time to reassess its condition and value, make a plan, and raise the needed funds.

Stimson Hall, Gray, ca. 1900

The Story

Featuring a two story temple-front facade, Stimson Memorial Hall is one of only a few architecturally prominent landmarks in the center of Gray. It was listed in the National Register in 1992. Located at one of the principal intersections at the center of the town, the children of Theophilus and Mary Stimson financed Stimson Hall as a memorial to their parents. Theophilus Stimson was a blacksmith who served in the State Legislature in 1842-43 and later ran a tavern. The Stimson children commissioned the distinguished Cincinnati architectural firm of Elzner and Anderson to create the large Hall in 1900. A. O. Elzner, who had received training at MIT and within the office of H.H.Richardson, and his partner George M. Anderson, who was educated at Columbia University as well as the Ècole des Beaux Arts, designed the Hall as the primary auditorium for meetings and socials within Gray. Upon its completion, the building featured a large first floor hall with a stage and dressing rooms and an upstairs reading room that acted as the town library until the 1950s. In the 1980s the upper floor was closed for economic reasons, and the first floor was renovated so that the stage equipment was removed, balcony enclosed, and carpet was laid over the wooden floors. Stimson Hall also housed some of the Town Office municipal operations and was used for town meetings until 2010.

The Threat

In response to Maine Preservation placing Pennell Institute on its Most Endangered list in 2008, the Town of Grey rehabilitated Pennell and moved its town offices there and has not invested in repairs on ongoing maintenance to Stimson Hall since. A referendum in 2013 asking taxpayers to approve $500,000 in spending for repairs did not pass. In late 2014, Gray began obtaining bids for demolition of the historic hall with an agreement to list the property for sale for a short period of time. Preservation supporters fear that efforts have not been made to market the property to the correct target audience, in particular developers interested in adaptive use of historic properties. Most recently, the Gray Town Budget for 2015/2016 removed all allowances and operating costs for Stimson Hall. With the neglect of the building’s maintenance and the clock ticking before its demolition, immediate action needs to be taken to prevent the loss of this historic building.

The Solution

While Stimson Hall needs updating, the building is not derelict and most of the later additions could be easily removed. Many communities that have demolished buildings without a plan in place have found themselves with vacant non-revenue producing land for years. Since the passage of the State Historic Tax Credit in 2008, over a third of a billion (340 million) dollars have been invested in rehabilitation of significant historic buildings, ultimately driving downtown revitalization across the state. With so few architecturally significant properties, Gray would be well served to hold a public charrette for this key property to generate ideas for its rehabilitation and adaptive use. The town could then market Stimson Hall to preservation minded developers with a preservation easement in place.

Old Bridgton Town Hall, Bridgton, 1852

The Story

Originally known as the Town House, Bridgton Town Hall was built in 1852 as a replacement for the 1791 Bridgton Meeting House. Built as the largest single meeting space for the town of Bridgton, the Town Hall’s central meeting room was finished with a plaster arched ceiling, flanking platforms for seating and a large central cast iron stove for heat. During a 1902 expansion, rooms were added at the back and the fixed seating was removed from the meeting room. The current asymmetrical façade was also constructed in this year: the front door was moved to the right and the front right corner of the structure was cut away to create an entry porch with a large classically styled column placed at the outside corner. The rooms to the left of the porch became the new town offices. Much to Bridgton’s surprise, the builder installed the Doric column upside-down, and the mistake has never been corrected. Throughout its history, the Town Hall has been used for annual Town Meetings, socials, concerts, and other community functions. Recently, the town offices were moved, and the former offices in front were converted to men’s and women’s locker rooms. The town hall became recreation center, hosting activities like basketball, Tai Chi, and ping pong on a daily basis in addition to being a municipal and community center.

The Threat

Despite serving as excellent example of how an historic building can be adapted to new uses to meet the changing needs of a community, some members of the Bridgton community placed two referendum questions on the ballot to stop the Town from continuing to invest in the building, both of which were defeated by the voters.. This group argues that tearing down the historic building in order to make way for new development would increase the tax base. Town Selectmen accepted a bid in June, 2015 to complete necessary repairs to the sills, foundations and to upgrade mechanical systems. Community members recognizing the value of this historic building have won the latest fight, but the issue remains contentious, and with additional funding likely to be needed over the coming years, the fate of the building is not yet secured. While the debate seems to be framed as either the town restores the building or tears it down, there are also many examples of historic structures that have been successfully adapted by private parties to become cultural and economic drivers for downtowns.

The Solution

In response to the voters, the Selectmen should continue to invest in the building while also actively seeking new community users for the space, which increases the social and economic vibrancy in town. A future option could also be to sell the building to a new owner interested in adaptive use – a far better option than demolition, which should be taken off the table.