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!
Main Street Architecture
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!
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.
Peru Creamery House // 1895
The Creamery House in Peru, Vermont is perhaps the most “Vermont” building I have ever heard of. The building was constructed in 1895 George Richardson (1852-1920), a local farmer who operated the use as a place where cheese was made from the excess (unsold) milk of the area farmers. Eventually, the building was acquired by the Town of Peru and converted to a town hall, used for meetings, dances, dinners and parties, serving as the true town gathering place. The town relocated its offices to the former Peru Schoolhouse (featured previously) and this building went back to its roots and is presently home to the Peru Historical Society and the Main Street Makery, a community craft workshop and new town gathering place!
Old Peru Schoolhouse // 1864
In 1816, the turnpike to Manchester, Vermont was completed and ran through the small town of Peru. As a result, inns and taverns were built, and the young village of Peru began to grow, with farming and lumber businesses being the most common employment in town. A village school was built here and in the town’s other school districts. By the end of the 19th century, the lure of moving to the Western U.S. and cities for industrial work caused some population decline in Peru, and a larger, consolidated school was built in the town village. This schoolhouse on the hill was constructed in 1864, replacing the former one-room schoolhouse on the lot. The school consolidated again in the mid-20th century when further population decline necessitated a school district encompassing Peru and nearby towns. This building was later converted to town offices, a use that remains to this day.
The good news is that the town’s population is seeing a resurgence, led by both tourism and the Bromley Mountain Ski Resort as an anchor.
Crocker Tavern // c.1754
One of the largest pre-Revolution houses in Barnstable is this stunning Georgian manse, known as the Crocker Tavern. The c.1754 home was built along Main Street in Barnstable Village by Cornelius Crocker (1704-1784), who operated it as a tavern along the Old King’s Highway, the main stagecoach route through Cape Cod. Cornelius died in 1784, and he left the eastern half of his house and land to his grandsons Robert, Uriah, and Joseph Crocker; the western half of land and house went to his daughter Lydia, widow of Captain Samuel Sturgis who died at 25, she never remarried. The house was “to be divided through by the middle of the great chimney“, a feature which was likely removed under separate ownership. Lydia eventually acquired the other half of the house, and continued operation of the tavern as her father did before her, though it was known as Aunt Lydia’s Tavern. The property was passed down through the family until 1925, when the property was left to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (later renamed Historic New England) as a historic house museum. The Georgian house and property were eventually de-accessioned by Historic New England and the tavern can be rented out on AirBnb!
King Mansion // 1894
After the American Revolution, Lt. Joshua King settled in Ridgefield and built the King Mansion in 1801, a Federal style home that commanded the Main Street lot. King was born in Bridgewater, Massachusetts and fought in the Revolutionary War near the border of Connecticut and New York. After the war, he settled in Ridgefield and married one of the most eligible bachelorettes in town Anne Ingersoll. Anne was the daughter of the Rev. Jonathan Ingersoll, pastor of the Congregational Church of Ridgefield. After a long life running a store and raising a family, Joshua died in 1839, a year after his wife. The mansion was inherited by their son Joshua Jr. until his death in 1887. In 1889, a fire destroyed much of the house. When it burned down, The New York Times described it as “the grandest old mansion in the village.” It was quickly replaced by the current house, modeled after the original but larger, which was placed much farther back from the road in the Colonial Revival style. Fire damaged the house again in the 1990s, and the present structure was restored and enlarged from 2002-2004, its HUGE!
Freetown Town Hall // 1888
Welcome to Freetown, Massachusetts, a town I had not really heard about until recently (don’t come after me)! The land here was originally occupied by the Wampanoag Tribe, who lived off the earth well before colonization. In 1659, twenty-six Plymouth Bay settlers bought from the local native leaders the large tract of upland meadow thereafter called the Freeman’s Purchase, which includes much of Freetown and parts of adjacent towns. The land was divided into lots the following year, but settlement did not occur in earnest until the 1680s. Fall River used to once be a part of Freetown until it separated in the early 19th century, believe it or not! Freetown today is divided into two villages, which historically developed almost entirely independent from one another: Assonet and East Freetown. Assonet became the major “downtown” or populated area of the town and it is named after the River upon which is straddles. East Freetown was always more rural and today retains that charm. Due to Assonet’s location, a new town hall building was proposed in the last decades of the 19th century there. This structure was built and designed in 1888 by Charles C. Marble from Fall River, who combined the Queen Anne style with elements of the Colonial Revival style. The building contained the town offices as well as the fire station. Its wide double doors originally opened onto North Main Street have been replaced with windows, with flared eaves.
Denmark Odd Fellows Hall – Denmark Arts Center // 1884
This two-and-a-half-story building sits on Main Street in the small town of Denmark, Maine, and has contributed to the town’s cultural life since it was built in 1884. The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) is a non-political and non-sectarian international fraternal group that promotes the ethic of reciprocity and charity. It was founded in 1819 by Thomas Wildey in Baltimore, Maryland, evolving from the Order of Odd Fellows founded in England during the 1700s. New buildings sprouted up all over the United States in the 19th century, in cities as large as New York City and towns as small as Denmark. This IOOF Hall is Italianate in style, with brackets at the cornice and hoods and round arched windows in the gable end; it also shows some Greek Revival details with corner pilasters and the pediment. When Raymond Hale, the last member of the IOOF Lodge passed away, the town purchased the old Odd Fellows Hall. The city could not maintain the property and had no good use for it. Residents in town voted in 1991 to sell the building rather than demolish it. Local residents bid on and won the building with the aim to convert it to a local arts center. In August 1994 the owners signed over the deed of the Odd Fellows Hall to the Denmark Arts Center, a non profit organization. From that time until present, the old building, now the Denmark Arts Center, has again served as a community focal point, providing cultural activities for the people of Denmark and surrounding towns.
Cunningham Block // 1896
The Cunningham Block in Millbury was constructed by, and named for Winthrop P. Cunningham (1820-1895), and his son and business partner, Russell Clark Cunningham (1845-1907). Winthrop Cunningham had come to Millbury in about 1837 and worked for Waters, Flagg & Harrington prominent gun manufacturers in town. His foundry work there brought him into a partnership with Matthias Felton in the Millbury Foundry Company. The Cunningham Block is sited on a prominent corner lot and built into the slope of the hill which drops down toward the river. I am especially fond of the curved corner facade and repetition of the paired round-arched windows on the second floor.