Norway Opera House // 1894

The most substantial building on Norway’s Main Street is this hefty brick commercial block with its prominent corner clock tower. The structure was designed by Maine architect Edwin E. Lewis and built in 1894 as the Opera House with stores along the ground floor. The building was constructed immediately after a large fire destroyed much of the downtown village area of Norway, and was built in such a way to show the strength and resolve of the town, leading the way for a larger re-building effort by the local business community. The Romanesque Revival building features lovely arched windows and brick detailing. The building has seen better days, but a local group has been working tirelessly to restore this beauty to her former glory! The group is presently soliciting donations to restore the roof and rear wall, to keep the building standing for future generations.

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.

Johnson Hall // 1864

After heading west to seek his fortune in the California Gold Rush, Gardiner resident Benjamin Johnson, moved back to his hometown and immediately spent money to buy one of the finest hotels in town. He renamed the hotel Johnson House and served as the manager of the hotel through the American Civil War. The hotel included a two-story stable to the side which allowed visitors to keep their horses and carriages nearby. In December 1864, he completed a two-story vertical addition which added a large hall with gallery above for events and shows, retaining the stable on the ground floor. The demarcation of the two sections is evident from the windows on the main facade and the difference in brick. The hall opened to great fanfare, and with Johnson as manager, hundreds of plays, musicians, and events were held in the event space, which made Gardiner a major hub for socio-cultural life in Kennebec County. In the 1880s, he added a new wood floor upstairs which allowed the hall to be used for rollerskating, a very popular update. Not long after, the stable was converted to commercial space at the ground floor, and upstairs an opera hall. Benjamin died in 1903, and his widow, Henrietta took over, and kept-up with the times, changing the upstairs hall to a moving pictures and silent film theatre. The theatre closed in the mid-20th century, like so many other small local theaters. Good news though! A group of locals is working to fully restore all three floors of Johnson Hall, creating a new state-of-the-art performing arts theater, while maintaining the architectural character of the building.