Homes Down East – Classic Maine Coastal Cottages and Town Houses

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 Fifty-two gorgeous homes, historical, elegant, many on the ocean that, as the book Homes Down East describes them, “remain as fresh and inviting today as when they were built more than a century ago.”

Well, most of them fit that description. Some have burned or been torn down to make way for new bigger more modern homes and summer cottages. Thirty-two of the homes in the book are still standing.

The three authors and one photographer who put this book together for Maine’s Tilbury House Publishers are as distinguished as the homes they write about and photograph.

Earl Shettleworth Jr. has been Maine’s State Historian since 2004, but got involved in this field way back in 1964 when he cofounded Greater Portland Landmarks. He was appointed to the first board of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission in 1971 and has served as the commission’s director since 1976. Earl has written extensively on Maine history and architecture.

Christopher Glass is an Camden architect, taught architectural design at Bowdoin College for 20 years, and is a former chair of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, as well as president of Maine Preservation. He’s authored two previous books on the architecture of Maine homes.

Scott Hanson is an architectural historian with Sutherland Conservation and Consulting in Augusta and has researched and written numerous National Register nominations and Maine Historic Building Record documentation projects. He’s authored one book of his own, and another with Shettleworth.

Dave Clough is an architectural photographer with a special passion for photographing historical buildings. His work has been published in Japan and the United States.

Photographs and More

Let’s start with Clough’s fantastic photographs. If his cover photo of an ocean-front cottage, lights on, sun setting, doesn’t grab you, well, you must be blind. The photo is stunning. But so are all the others in the book. When I first picked it up, I spent an hour just looking at the photos, enjoying every one, and reading a little bit about each house and cottage.

Then I started over, reading all of the interesting text. I know little about architecture, but you don’t need to be an expert to appreciate this book. I did learn a lot about the various periods of design and construction in Maine starting in the 1880s.  I like the way the text on each house is organized. First, you get an introduction by Shettleworth and Hanson who tell us a lot about the design and construction and current state of the house. Then Glass takes over in italicized commentary about the specifics of each design, room by room.

You may recognize some of the homes, like the Walker/Bush compound in Kennebunkport. Last year Linda and I ined at Ocean at the Cape Arundel Inn, and could see the Walker/Bush home from the window by our table. In our travel column, which is published every Thursday in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, we noted that we’d been told George and Barbara Bush ate at Ocean on a regular basis. They weren’t there the night we were, but we later learned they were there the next night!

Cape Arundel

After our experience at the Cape Arundel Inn, I was particularly interested in the book’s report about that area. “In 1870, nine Massachusetts investors joined forces with two local residents to form the Boston and Kennebunkport Sea Shore Company for the purpose of purchasing Cape Arundel in Kennebunkport and developing it as a summer colony. In 1873, the company started marketing its lots by issuing a plan, which was updated a decade later by Portland engineer E.C. Jordan.”

The first summer home was designed by Henry Paston Clark, “the dominant feature of which is the English half-timbered façade supported by rubble stone piers. Since its completion in 1895, Thompson’s ‘Point of View’ has charmed Cape Arundel residents and visitors alike.” Wait ‘til you see the photos!

Clark also designed a home in 1887 for Charles Manning, the manager of one of the largest cotton mills in the world, located in Manchester, New Hampshire. “Kennebunkport was a welcome retreat from the summer heat” in the cotton mill. I can believe that. Clark purchased his lot on Ocean Avenue for $225. You might be able to rent a room in that area today for that price, for one night -- in the off season.

I thought another Clark designed home, constructed for the Reverend Edward Clark who served as the minister of churches in New York and Boston from 1873 to 1902, was truly stunning, with a frame constructed with rubble stone gathered from local beaches. It was disappointing to read that the “Kennebunkport Castle” was torn down by Edwin Robinson of Columbia, South Carolina, to make way for the lawn of his new summer home. That was a crime!

Appendix

The appendix presents the original magazine descriptions of each house and they are fascinating. The parsonage of the First Baptist Church of Gardiner was particularly interesting to me. It was described by the Gardiner Home Journal on October 29, 1890, as “one of the prettiest and most conveniently arranged houses that have been built here for some time.”

I’d say every one of the 52 homes in this book could fit that description!

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