Architect George M. Harding built this boxy Italianate style house as his personal residence on Deering Street in Portland, Maine. Harding was very busy in the late 1860s after the destructive Great Fire of Portland in 1866. He designed some of the finest commercial blocks Downtown, including the Rackleff Block and Woodman Block, both excellently preserved landmarks in town today. For his own residence, he pulled out all the stops, with bold proportions, carved trim details, and a center tower capped with a mansard roof. The tower was removed in 1956, but the rest of the house is just stunning. Architect-designed houses for their own residency are always fun to find!
Francis Waldron House // 1867
Francis Ashby Waldron (1816-1898) was born in Buckfield, Maine to an old New England family. He moved to Portland for job opportunities and worked as a merchant, eventually establishing Waldron and True with business partner Samuel True. The firm was engaged in dealing grain, salt, corn, and more. After a few years of profits, Francis had this Italianate style mansion built on the fashionable Deering Street just west of Downtown. The property was passed down to his children after his death in 1898, and it remained in the family until 1950. The house originally had a prominent belvedere at the roof, but it was eventually removed. The former Waldron House is now maintained as a law office.
Printer’s Exchange Building // 1866
Why is commercial architecture from the second half of the 19th century so perfect? This structure in Downtown Portland is known as the Printer’s Exchange Building and was built in 1866, amongst the ashes of the buildings lost in the Great Fire of 1866. Charles Quincy Clapp is credited as the designer of the structure, which is Italianate in style with the paired round arched windows set into larger openings. The rounded corners are a really subtle but splendid touch in the design. The building got its name as it was home to the Eastern Argus and the Portland Daily Press, among other newspapers who rented the space from owner, Horatio Nelson Jose. I really like this one!
Thompson Block // 1868
Another of Portland’s stunning mid-19th century commercial blocks is the Thompson Block, built in 1868. The structure is one of the most high-style commercial buildings in Maine and is in a great state of preservation. The building was designed by George M. Harding, a VERY busy architect after the disastrous Great Fire of 1866, which destroyed much of Downtown Portland. The building stands three-stories tall with a polychrome slate mansard roof providing a full fourth floor, a subtle and great way to get extra height without making a building too overbearing. The mansard is broken up at the facade by dormers with round-arch windows and keystoned and eared hoods. If only all cities held off urban renewal, we would have so many more structures like this!
Portland Mariner’s Church // 1828
Talk about a unique church! The Mariner’s Church in Downtown Portland was built in 1828 and is modeled after Faneuil Hall in Boston and East India Hall, Salem, Massachusetts; and was the first Greek Revival building in Portland (with some lingering Federal flair). It also for many years was Portland’s largest building! Its concept was that of a place of worship and education center for seamen of the port city between their voyages on the open sea. The ground floor was designed to house shops for merchants whose rent would support and maintain the building. The structure is virtually unchanged from how it looked nearly 200 years ago and showcases the importance of the sea to the port towns and cities of New England!
Portland Custom House // 1868
Probably my favorite building in Portland, Maine is the former Custom House building, an imposing granite building located a stone’s throw from the Portland Harbor. It was built to accommodate the city’s growing customs business, which, by 1866, was collecting $900,000 annually in customs duties—making Portland one of the most significant seaports in the country. The building is typical of the notable designs completed under the direction of Alfred B. Mullett, Supervising Architect of the Treasury from 1865 to 1874. Constructed between 1867 and 1872 (due to delays in obtaining granite for the upper stories) the U.S. Custom House combines elements of the Second Empire and Renaissance Revival styles and is one of the best preserved custom houses in New England. The interior custom hall is especially remarkable.
Woodman Block // 1867
Located next-door to the Rackleff Block, this high-style Second Empire commercial block in Downtown Portland, Maine really turns heads. The Woodman Block (like its neighbor) was built in 1867 from plans by architect George M. Harding, who designed the building for George W. Woodman, a drygoods dealer. This stunning commercial block originally housed Woodman’s dry goods firm, Woodman, True, and Company. It later held a druggist and medicine company. The building retains much of its original architectural character minus the iron cresting which once capped the mansard roof. They don’t make them like they used to!
Rackleff Block // 1867
Late 19th century commercial architecture in downtowns all across New England always transport me to the past because they evoke the days of carriages in the streets and the hustle and bustle of post Civil War American cities. After Portland’s Great Fire of 1866, many standing or damaged wooden buildings were replaced with fireproof construction in the event of another conflagration. Five years before the Great Chicago Fire, this was the greatest fire yet seen in an American city. It started in a boat house then spread across the city. Amazingly, only two people died in the fire, but ten thousand people were made homeless and 1,800 buildings were burned to the ground. This is one of the buildings constructed in the rebirth of the downtown/waterfront of Portland. The Rackleff Block was built in 1867 from plans by architect George M. Harding, who designed the building with details reading Italianate and Victorian Gothic. The building retains its original cast iron storefronts and ornate cornice with brackets.
Portland Central Fire Station // 1924
The Central Fire Station in Portland, Maine was built in 1924 and designed by William R. Miller & Raymond J. Mayo, architects located at 465 Congress. Lester I. Beal, a draftsman employed by Miller & Mayo, participated in the design. It was erected to contain the administrative offices of the Portland Fire Department, as well as to house fire engines and other apparatus of the inner city district. Portland has one of the oldest fire departments in the nation, 1768, when Falmouth appointed fire wardens to look for fires at night and alert the residents. In 1786, the citizens of Falmouth formed a separate town in Falmouth Neck and named it Portland, after the isle off the coast of Dorset, England. After the Great Fire of 1866 destroyed much of Downtown Portland, a new central station was built in 1867. The structure was deemed obsolete with new, large ladder trucks replacing smaller engines. The entire downtown block was demolished for the current Central Fire Station for the present building. The small building is at the center of a large lot, which is likely a candidate for redevelopment in the future (after some adjacent surface parking lots are developed).
Portland City Hall // 1909
The City Hall in Portland, Maine is among my favorite civic buildings in New England and is the third that was built on this site. The previous city hall on the site of the present City Hall, completed in 1862, burned in Portland’s Great Fire of 1866. It was reconstructed in 1867 by designs of Francis H. Fassett, a Portland-based architect. In 1908, it burned again. So much damage was done that the building had to be removed. The present Portland City Hall was designed by the New York architectural firm of Carrere and Hastings, assisted by local Portland architects John Calvin Stevens and his son, John Howard Stevens who together, oversaw day-to-day changes and work to the building. Interestingly, John Carrere is quoted as saying he would rather have his reputation rest on the Portland City Hall than upon any other building he designed (and he designed MANY great buildings). The impressive structure was inspired by the New York City Hall, which was built about 100 years prior in 1803-1812. The Portland City Hall remains today as a great visual anchor for the revitalizing downtown area of Portland.