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!
The Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland, Maine, designed by Guy Lowell, architect of Boston with local associate architect George Burnham was designed in 1906 and completed in 1910 and is the best in Classical Revival architecture. On the north and east sides is a three-story addition built between 1988 and 1991 by Terrien Architects Inc., showcases how Modern additions can be contextual and recessive, highlighting the historic buildings which they are attached to. What do you think of the original courthouse and its addition?
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
After the Civil War, the Village of Versailles’ Congregational Church was seeing less attendance and its deathknell was a fire which destroyed the building in 1870. That next year, a vote was taken by members of the Congregational Church as to a preference for their denomination. A majority voted for Methodist Episcopal and asked the New England Conference to appoint a Pastor for the new church. Funds were gathered and this church was opened in 1876, in the Italianate and Victorian Gothic styles. The building sits upon a raised brick foundation with small windows on the facade. In 1887, the Versailles church was linked with Baltic and Greenville (Norwich) the following year.
While Baltic has long been the dense population center of the Town of Sprague, Connecticut, the Village of Versailles has also had ties to industry and growth. The village was originally named Eagleville but was renamed sometime in the late 19th century. The village is located along the Shetucket River and has had industry, which was slower to grow than neighboring Baltic. The village had a wood-frame school building, which was consumed by fire in the early 20th century. In 1924, this substantial “fire-proof” school was built just at the time the Town of Sprague was consolidating schools, in the three main population centers: Baltic, Hanover and Versailles. The schools were consolidated again and this building was sold in the mid-1950s. It was later a Masonic Lodge and is now a commercial use, occupied by Dark Manor, Inc., a haunted house company.
Built adjacent to and just a few years after the St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Church in Baltic (last post), the Academy of the Holy Family stands as a high-style Colonial Revival building in the town. The building stands four full floors with a raised basement and attic story, and is symmetrical in its design. A large fan-light transom and stone trimmings add much depth to the buildings large massing. The structure was built in 1914, and has housed the Academy of the Holy Family, a private, Roman-Catholic all-girls prep school, which is still active today.