The oldest known example of ecclesiastical Gothic Revival architecture in New England is surprisingly located right in Gardiner, Maine, the Christ Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church in Gardiner was organized in 1772 by Sylvester Gardiner, a major landowner for whom the city is named as the town’s main church. Two more vernacular buildings were constructed as houses of worship until a new, fireproof structure was desired. Built in 1820, the stone church was designed by the Reverend Samuel Farmer Jarvis, who was likely heavily inspired by the stone churches found in England. The church has massive lancet Gothic windows with tracery, that in the tower considerably larger.
A massive amount of land on the eastern edge of the Kennebec River was acquired by Sylvester Gardiner in the 18th century, but confiscated by the state during the American Revolutionary War (because Gardiner was a Loyalist who fled). Years later, the land was recovered by Gardiner’s grandson and heir, Robert Hallowell Gardiner. Upon coming to age, Robert Hallowell Gardiner returned to Maine in 1803, after graduating from Harvard, ready to straighten out and manage the holdings willed to him by his late grandfather Dr. Sylvester Gardiner, the founder of Gardiner, Maine. He came with no inclinations or training in business, but his cousin Charles Vaughan in Hallowell helped in steer him on the right course. Starting at the age of 25, Robert Hallowell Gardiner embarked on the task of developing an entire city, Gardiner, but with profit and investment in mind over the next sixty-one years. His business enterprises included: six dams, saw and gristmills, shipyards, foundries, a brick mill, broom making industries, furniture manufacture, paper making and the ice-harvesting business. He married Emma Jane Tudor of Boston (who he likely met during his time at Harvard, in 1805. They soon after built a home for their family and welcomed friends and family to stay there on the massive property. The first Oaklands estate burned in 1834 and the present Gothic Revival mansion on the site was built in 1835-37. Designed by English-born architect Richard Upjohn, Oaklands typifies an English country manor house and features a rectangular hip roof, hooded window moldings, turrets and elaborate stonework. Oaklands is among the first and finest 19th-century rural villas in the State of Maine and is among the most significant in the country. The home remains on over 310-acres of sprawling land which looks out over the Kennebec River, and is owned by the Gardiner family to this day!
This stunning Gothic Revival church was built in 1843, on the site of the blockhouse, erected 80 years prior for the settlers of the area from native attack. In the 17th and 18th centuries, many rural parts of New England had blockhouses erected to allow the settlers a defensive fort from attack. The blockhouses were often garrisoned wooden structures with small windows on all sides to allow for gunfire to attackers below. The structure would protect those inside from arrows and melee weapons. This building however, was constructed later for the Universalists, who believed in “universal salvation,” who had been meeting since 1821 in a schoolhouse beside the town common. The church, in its original state with its steeple and clock, was an extremely sophisticated example in wood of the Gothic Revival style with its pinnacles, lancet windows and pilasters. Sadly, the steeple and clock were removed in the early 1920’s for safety reasons as the structure could not support it without significant engineering. The church and congregation changed to the United Church of Christ-Congregational denomination in 1964. After that, the building was occupied by a brewery (believe it or not), before being reverted back to a church by the current congregation.
The first purpose-built Church of Christ, Scientist church in Maine is this turn-of-the-century edifice constructed in 1905 in Gardiner. Organized in 1897, this Christian Science Society of Gardiner met for several years in members’ homes and public places nearby until Palmer Noyes and his wife Caroline funded the new building. Caroline and Palmer helped establish the first such church in Chicago, after the couple witnessing a ‘healing’ and then heard Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy lecture in 1882. This church in Gardiner was seemingly designed by Caroline, who was likely inspired by architectural influences on the churches in town, from Gothic style lancet windows, to the shingle style facades. The building was eventually converted to a development center for the disabled, and is now known as “The Stone Turret”, a bed & breakfast, with amazing stained glass windows!
Possibly my favorite building type, the local town library buildings of New England, always amaze me with their small scale, yet architectural variety and intrigue. The library in Gardiner, Maine is no exception! This library building was constructed in 1881 from plans by Henry Richards, who was actually born in town in 1848. Henry graduated from Harvard in 1869, and soon after, took a post-graduate course in architecture at MIT. After completing schooling, he was a draftsman with Ware and Van Brunt. Soon after, he was a draftsman with Peabody and Stearns from 1872 to 1876, and then practiced architecture briefly on his own in Boston. During this time he married Laura Elizabeth Howe, daughter of Samuel Gridley and Julia Ward Howe. They moved to Gardiner, Maine and settled in a Federal house (featured previously), to learn more about Laura Richards and their house, check out the last post. Henry lived to be 100 years old! The library building is Queen Anne and Romanesque in style with a round corner tower with conical roof, brownstone and brick construction, and a stained glass ocular window with ogee parapet at the gable end roof. The small local library was added onto numerous times to hold a growing collection which includes works from Laura E. Richards, and Edwin Arlington Robinson, both Pulitzer Prize winning authors who lived in town.
This stunning Federal style house in Gardiner, Maine, was built about 1810 by Ebenezer Byram, who had purchased the land from Robert Hallowell Gardiner, a descendant of Dr. Sylvester Gardiner, the “founder” of the town. Dr. Gardiner was a resourceful Boston druggist, who was one of the principal owners of the Kennebec Purchase, known as the Plymouth Company, who purchased land on the west side of the Kennebec River in Maine. Dr. Sylvester Gardiner had been attracted to the Gardiner area for a number of reasons, primarily because of the depth of the water of the river to the point of Gardiner as the head of navigation for ships here. This house overlooking that river was purchased in 1878, by Henry and Laura E. Richards. Laura Richards (1850-1943) was the daughter of Samuel Gridley Howe, an abolitionist and the founder of the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind. Her mother, Julia Ward Howe wrote the words to The Battle Hymn of the Republic, a tune that I am sure most of you have heard of, but never knew the name. Henry and Laura moved to Gardiner in 1876 after suffering financial reverses in Boston, where Henry worked at his family’s paper mill, and it was about that time that Laura Richards began her writing career. At this house in Gardiner, Laura wrote more than 90 books including biographies (including one on her mother), poetry, and several children’s books. Even more impressive, Laura was awarded one of the first four ever Pulitzer Prize in 1917 for her biography on her mother, years before women were even afforded the right to vote!
Constructed c. 1850, this Gothic Revival house in Farmingdale, Maine, has many identifying features common in the style: a symmetrical facade, steeply pitched gable, and lancet windows in the front gable. Besides its architectural significance, the home is also historically significant as the home of Dr. Gertrude Heath. Gertrude Emma Heath (1859-1935) was born in Gardiner, Maine in January 1859. When Gertrude was just three years old, after the American Civil War began, her father died in battle at Fredericksburg, leaving his widow Sarah to run the family affairs. She excelled in school and received her early education in the public schools of Gardiner, afterward attending Hahnemann Medical College at Chicago, Illinois, taking special courses. She graduated from this institution in 1883 with the degree of Doctor of Medicine, and began medical practice in Chicago in 1884, moving back home within that year. Soon after returning to Maine, she accepted a position at the Maine State Hospital, at Augusta, where she specialized in eye and ear conditions. It is amazing learning stories about such strong women, when at the time, women medical practitioners were almost unheard of and women were decades away from earning the right to vote.
The Captain Nathaniel Stone House in Farmingdale, Maine was constructed in 1872 on a small plot of land overlooking the Kennebec River. The charming home was constructed by Nathaniel Stone (1797-1884), a retired ship chandler,(a dealer in supplies or equipment for ships) who moved back to his hometown after making his fortune in Boston. He lived here with his wife, Martha, and his adopted son, Uriah, in this fashionable Second Empire style. Nathaniel died in 1884, outliving his wife by two years. The property was willed to his adopted son Uriah, who quickly sold the home on account of him seeing ghosts inside, he refused to live there because of it. The home was acquired by William Ring, a businessman who owned real estate in nearby Gardiner, Maine. Between 1886 and 1912 he and his family resided at the former Stone House, but by the turn of the Twentieth-century he grew increasingly in debt, and on several occasions he borrowed against his property to meet his obligations. Before the home went up for auction in 1912, a massive fire broke out in the home, destroying all the interior woodwork, and William perished inside. Although significantly damaged, it was largely rebuilt to its original appearance by its eventual buyer and has been an architectural landmark on the Kennebec River ever since. Now that I think of it, maybe Uriah Stone could see the future and saw William Ring as a ghost!
On a rise above the Cape Elizabeth’s rocky shore stands Beckett’s Castle, a picturesque Gothic cottage of a century ago. Designed and built by the Portland literary figure Sylvester Beckett for his summer residence, the Castle was begun in 1871 and finished in 1874. It is said that Beckett constructed the cottage from local gray fieldstone largely with his own hands, though he must have had help, or fabricated this fiction as he would have in his own books. The home was patterned after a typical English castle, but on a much smaller scale, and is tucked away from the street. Sylvester Blackmore Beckett was born in Portland, Maine in 1812, as the son of English parents. Although never attending college, he acquired a modest education and became a prominent journalist and articulate writer. He was admitted to the bar in 1859 and spent much of his time administering and settling estates becoming well-connected in town. Beckett held massive parties in the home, and invitations to the social gatherings held there were highly prized; guests were served expansive dinners cooked in primitive fashion in a large fireplace. Sylvester Beckett died in 1882, and went to his only child, Lizzie. The home fell into disrepair in the 1970s, but was restored by the most recent owner. It was sold in 2018, and the listing photos show some great interior spaces.
When I think of Maine, I think of rocky coastline, lobster, and lighthouses. Located in Cape Elizabeth, just south of Portland, you will find the Portland Head Light, an obscenely beautiful lighthouse, which has provided a beacon to sailors for centuries (and more recently Instagrammers). In 1787, while Maine was still part of the state of Massachusetts, President George Washington engaged two masons and instructed them to take charge of the construction of a lighthouse on Portland Head. Washington reminded them that the early government was poor, and said that the materials used to build the lighthouse should be taken from the fields and shores surrounding the site. The original plans called for the tower to be 58 feet tall, but when the masons were finished, they climbed to the top of the tower and realized that it would not be visible beyond the land to the south. When the masons were ordered to increase the height another twenty feet for visibility reasons, one quit, leaving a single man to finish the lighthouse and a small dwelling. It was completed, and the light, powered by sixteen whale-oil lamps, first shone on January 10, 1791, following its dedication by Marquis de Lafayette. Over the next century, many issues plagued the building and light-keepers, from cold winters and rogue waves icing over the pathways, to a poorly constructed top of the lighthouse, which was re-constructed due to safety concerns. In 1891, the station’s old stone light-keeper’s house was demolished, and upon its foundation a two-story wood double dwelling was constructed. A square brick oil house was also built at the same time along with a flight of steps at the landing. Portland Head Lighthouse was extinguished from June 1942 through June 1945 to avoid aiding German submarines, which did not work as planned. In 1945, the USS Eagle PE-56 just miles off the coast, was sunk by a German submarine (though previously thought to have been sunk by a boiler explosion), only 13 of the 62 crew survived. The lighthouse is now owned by the town, but the US Coast Guard retains control of the light and fog signals.