TEXT BY JULIE SENK
You’ve no doubt read guides to Maine’s worthiest hikes, leaf-peeping, and dining spots — the best, of course, compiled in our flagship, Down East. But say you’re a lover of historic Maine houses — where should you focus your energy and what should you look for once there? We gave architectural historian/Instagrammer Julie Senk — when she posts a brooding Georgian or gingerbread house-like Gothic Revival, hearts fly — the near-impossible task of choosing her top five house-spotting areas in the state. Arm yourself with her detailed daytrip itineraries, and brush up on some key architectural styles, and you’re ready to hit the road.
In the 17th through the 19th centuries, shipbuilding boomed along the Mousam and Kennebunk rivers, and the stately homes on Kennebunk’s Summer Street offer a window into the lives of the era’s wealthy sea captains, shipwrights, and merchants — as well as a primer on Maine architecture. Nearly every major style is represented, from the 1760 Georgian-turned-Federal William Lord House (20 Summer St.) to the 1904 Colonial Revival Charles Goodnow House (34 Summer St.). When the vessels became too big for the rivers and rusticators discovered the coastline in the late 19th century, grand Shingle-style “cottages ” began cropping up on Kennebunkport’s winding Ocean Avenue — cruising at a gentlewomanly pace with your windows cranked down is a given here.
The exhibits on local history, art, and culture at the Brick Store Museum (117 Main St., Kennebunk; 207-985-4802), housed in a trio of linked 19th-century brick buildings. On Summer Street, keep your eyes peeled for the 1782 Hugh McCulloch House (160 Summer St., Kennebunk), a splendid Georgian whose second owner operated a shipyard in the backyard (fun fact: hinged walls in the upstairs bedrooms swing out to form a ballroom) and the famous 1825 Wedding Cake House (104 Summer St., Kennebunk), a Federal-turned-Gothic with embellishments inspired by Italy’s Milan Cathedral. Need a room and not afraid of ghosts? The circa 1814 Federal Captain Lord Mansion (6 Pleasant St., Kennebunkport; 207-967-3141) is elegant and rated AAA 4 Diamond; never mind Nathaniel Lord’s late wife, Phoebe, who some say still roams the place. On Ocean Avenue, stop to see the 1902 Bush family compound, Walker’s Point (viewable from a turnout just past St. Ann’s Episcopal Church at 167 Ocean Ave., Kennebunkport), and the 1915 Stone House (197 Ocean Ave., Kennebunkport), a landmark Shingle-style structure that appears to have sprung from the rocky ledge.
Begin at Main St. and Rotary Park in Kennebunk. Follow Main St. for 1.3 miles, then continue on Summer St./Rte. 9A for 3.7 miles. In Kennebunkport, turn left on Western Ave./Rte. 9. Travel .3 mile, then turn right on Ocean Ave. After .27 mile, turn left on Green St. and travel .06 mile to the Captain Nathaniel Lord Mansion. Return to Ocean Ave. and turn right. Follow Ocean Ave., then Turbats Creek Rd., for 3.34 miles. Turn left at Wildes District Road to head back toward downtown Kennebunkport.
Portland’s West End neighborhood is well known — and well worth touring — for its grand 19th- and 20th-century residences, but to fully grasp the city’s architectural history, you owe yourself a schlep up the East End’s Munjoy Hill. Workers from the Portland Company locomotive foundry were the first to settle in what was then a cow pasture in the 1840s; later, residents displaced by the Great Fire of 1866 sheltered in army tents set up in stone-lined fields. A subsequent housing boom transformed Munjoy into the city’s most densely populated and ethnically diverse neighborhood. As you climb from the base of the hill, with its simple vernacular homes, to the area between North Street and the Eastern Promenade, packed with modest Greek Revivals, Italianates, and Second Empires, to the Prom, where the well-to-do erected massive Queen Annes and Colonial Revivals, you get a sense of what city life was like for residents of all backgrounds.
The Ann Freeman House (147 Congress St.), a circa 1857 brick Italianate that narrowly avoided an early demise when the Great Fire burned out on its front lawn. Two blocks up from Eastern Cemetery is the 1914 cast-concrete Green Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church (46 Sheridan St.), founded by an escaped slave and home to the oldest black congregation in Maine. Grab a croissant at Belleville (1 North St.; 207-536-7463), a bakery in a mansard-topped building that functioned as a pharmacy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Stop at the Curtis Family House (23 Lafayette St.), a circa 1850 vernacular Italianate once owned by the family that opened the world’s first chewing gum factory (still standing at 291 Fore St.). When ogling the Eastern Prom’s high-style homes, pay particular attention to the shingled Queen Anne designed by John Calvin Stevens (5 Eastern Promenade) and the ornate, pilastered Colonial Revival across the street (6 Eastern Promenade).
Park near the Eastern Cemetery on Congress St. Walk uphill on Congress 2 blocks and turn right on Sheridan St. Walk 1 block to the church, then loop back to Congress and turn right. Walk 2 blocks, then turn left on North St. Take the first right on Quebec St.; walk 1 block and turn right on Lafayette St. Walk 2 blocks back to Congress and turn left. Walk 5 blocks to the Eastern Prom and turn right. Follow the Prom 3 blocks to Fort Allen Park, then backtrack to Congress.
During the American Revolution, the Commonwealth offered 100 free acres of land to hardy souls willing to clear 16 acres within four years in what is now Oxford and northern Cumberland counties. Post-war, more settlers, lured by cheap land ripe for farming and industry, joined those early residents and the recipients of pre-Revolution land grants. Villages sprouted along the Saco and Androscoggin rivers first and spiderwebbed from there. A drive through towns such as Fryeburg, Lovell, Waterford, and Bridgton reveals some of the state’s archetypal 19th-century connected farmhouses with Federal and Greek Revival flourishes; look for high-style interpretations in town centers, as well as late-1800s Gothic Revival and Italianate influences.
Get to know the area’s history at the Fryeburg Historical Society Museum (83 Portland St.; 207-256-3001), located in an 1832 Federal Cape. Detour through the 1857 Hemlock Covered Bridge, one of only nine such structures left in Maine and the only one employing Paddleford trusses. Arrive in Lovell before 9 for breakfast at the Center Lovell Inn (1107 Main St.; 207-925-1575), a circa 1830 farmhouse with later Italianate and Second Empire touches. Stroll the Waterford Historic District along Routes 35 and 37 — a collection of historically significant buildings on Keoka Lake. In downtown Bridgton, note the handsome, classically influenced 1913 Public Library (1 Church St.) and enjoy high tea at the Clipper Merchant Tea House (32 Main St.; 207-803-8111), an 1870s farmhouse with Italianate and Second Empire embellishments.
Start at the Fryeburg Historical Society. Turn left on Portland St. After .22 mile, turn right on Main St./Rte. 5. After 6.7 miles, turn right on Frog Alley Rd. and go 2 miles to the covered bridge. Loop back to Rte. 5 and turn right. Travel 2.9 miles to Lovell. Continue on Rte. 5, then Rte. 35, for 19.6 miles to Waterford. Continue on Rte. 35 for 1.11 miles to Sweden Rd. Continue on Sweden Rd., then Waterford Rd., for 5.37 miles. Turn left on Rte. 93 and travel 6.54 miles to Rte. 302 East. Continue on Rte. 302 for 1.15 miles to Bridgton.
While English proprietors established Maine’s earliest coastal towns in the south, those farther north were largely founded in the 18th and 19th centuries by immigrants seeking opportunity and/or a break from repressive Massachusetts Puritans. Among the most notable was a group of Scotch-Irish “Borderlanders” — known for their independence and wariness of outside authority — who settled Belfast, Boothbay, Damariscotta, and Newcastle. Sailing, shipbuilding, and fishing flourished up and down the midcoast in the 1800s. For proof, look no further than the high-style Federal and Greek Revival homes erected for the titans of those industries on Washington Street in Bath, Main and Federal streets in Wiscasset, Glidden Street in Newcastle, and Main Street in Damariscotta, where we’ve concentrated our tour.
The Maine Maritime Museum (243 Washington St., Bath; 207-443-1316), home to the only surviving shipyard in the country where wooden vessels were built. Visit the graceful 1843 Gothic Revival Winter Street Church (880 Washington St., Bath) in broad daylight — it’s purported to be one of the city’s most haunted spots. Tour the ornate 1807 Federal Nickels-Sortwell House (121 Main St., Wiscasset; 207-882-7169) and note the 1855 Captain George Scott House, one of only about 19 Octagon houses in Maine (63 Federal St., Wiscasset). See some of New England’s oldest prisoner graffiti at the 1811 Old Lincoln County Jail (133 Federal St., Wiscasset; 207-882-6817). Admire Riverside (39 Glidden St., Newcastle), a pristine 1840 Greek Revival with a Doric-columned portico. Roam the 1754 Chapman Hall House (270 Main St., Damariscotta; 207-882-6817), a wood-frame Cape and the oldest residence in town.
From Rte. 1 in Bath, turn north on Washington St. and travel .9 mile to Edward St. Backtrack on Washington St. for 1.9 miles to the museum. Return to Rte. 1 and travel north for 10.4 miles to Main St. in Wiscasset; turn left on Federal St. and go .6 mile to the jail. Return to Rte. 1, and travel north for 6.7 miles to Newcastle; turn right on the Rte. 1 Bus exit. After .6 mile, turn left on Glidden St. and follow it to the end. Backtrack on Glidden St. to Rte. 1 and turn left. Follow Rte. 1/Main St. for .07 mile to Damariscotta.
Winding roads and hillsides dotted with 18th- and 19th-century Capes and farmhouses — many with classical and Victorian embellishments — distinguish this stretch of coastal Hancock County and speak to its rural character. In the Blue Hill Historic District on Union and High streets, you’ll also spot Federal, Greek Revival, Colonial Revival, and vernacular buildings. Despite its remote location, the area was a prominent player in the shipbuilding industry and remained connected to bigger markets. The account book of Shubael Watson, owner of a store in Brooklin (then known as Naskeag), dating back to 1762, notes expenses for a trip to Salem, Massachusetts, a center of colonial commerce. When steam-powered vessels with steel hulls rendered the region’s wooden boats obsolete in 1865, granite quarrying, copper mining, and, later, tourism filled the void.
Omelets and ocean views at The Harbor House (27 Water St., Blue Hill; 207-374-7027), ensconced in a circa 1830 former ship chandlery. In the historic district, observe the 1898 Colonial Revival George Stevens Academy building (23 Union St., Blue Hill), named for a local merchant who dedicated most of his estate to the creation of a school. On Bay Road/Route 175, look for E.B. White’s circa 1795 farmhouse (511 Bay Rd., Brooklin), where he wrote much of Charlotte’s Web. Stock up on coffee bark and sea glass candy at Brooklin Candy Co. (103 Bay Rd.; 207-479-5060), located in a charming vernacular Queen Anne house. Book a room at the cozy 1793 Pilgrim’s Inn (20 Main St., Deer Isle; 207-348-6615), a brick-red, gambrel-roofed building that’s one of the oldest in town.
Park near The Harbor House on Blue Hill’s Water St. Walk east to Main St., then continue on Union St. Walk 1 block, then turn left on High St. Walk 1 block back to Main St. Turn left and walk 2 blocks back to your car. Turn left on Main St./Rte. 172. After .57 mile, turn left on Rte. 175. Travel 20.16 miles through Brooklin, Sedgwick, and Sargentville to Rte. 15. Travel 7.3 miles on Rte. 15 to Main Street in Deer Isle.
Illustrations by KELSEY GRASS
Before 1790, most houses were borne out of necessity, versus devotion to a style. Garrisons, with their projecting second stories, doubled as forts; saltboxes, with their sloped rear roofs, evolved from the practice of adding on lean-tos for extra space; and cottage-like Capes were simple and economical to construct. Early houses tend to be plain, with steeply pitched roofs, one central chimney, and few windows.
The oldest surviving styles are Georgians, built between about 1720 and 1800. Elegant and symmetrical, they have moderately sloped hipped roofs or steeply pitched gabled ones, either one central chimney or smaller ones close to the edges of the house, and, often, doors framed with Palladian windows and decorative pilasters.
The Federal-style houses constructed between about 1790 and 1830 have more delicate ornamentation than their robust Georgian predecessors — elaborate door surrounds with sidelights and elliptical fanlights are typical — and, often, lower hipped roofs. By the end of this period, however, most roof styles were gabled.
After the Federal era, the Greek Revival style became wildly popular across the state until roughly 1850. Unlike earlier buildings, where the roof ridge runs parallel to the street, most Greek Revivals are turned so that the gable end faces forward, often integrating a columned porch reminiscent of Greek temples.
En vogue for a short period from about 1840 to 1865, this style frequently has a very steeply pitched gabled roof with ornately carved gingerbread trim, known as bargeboard, beneath the eaves.
This circa 1850 to 1875 asymmetrical style typically incorporates a few different roof shapes, including very low-pitched and even flat roofs that mimic those on Italian villas, as well as arched windows and deep overhanging eaves, seemingly supported by decorative brackets or corbels.
Distinctive mansard roofs make these 1860s and 1870s Italianate-like houses easy to spot. The tall, box-like crowns, borrowed from French architecture, provide greater head room on the upper floor.
Popularized in Maine by Portland architect John Calvin Stevens and others, these circa 1870 to 1900 “cottages” feature asymmetrical massing, wide porches, and gabled and gambrel roofs that, like the rest of the façade, originally sported wooden shingles.
Fashionable during the Shingle-style era, Queen Annes pair similar massing and roof patterns with an eclectic range of elements, such as towers, turrets, lacy ornamentation, and walls of patterned brick, shingles, clapboards, or a mix of materials.
These 1900 to 1955 homes have elements of the Georgian, Federal, and Greek Revival styles, sometimes with exaggerated proportions. Pedimented dormers and entries with some combination of fanlights, pediments, and pilasters or columned porches are common.
Too far flung to include in our tours, but too neat not to mention, these spots are worth a look if you’re in the area.
Experience the windswept landscape and weathered late-1700s farmhouse (above) immortalized in Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World at the Olson House (384 Hathorne Point Rd.; 207-596-6457).
Tour the 1841 Cape where famed 19th-century opera singer Lillian Nordica was born, and see her glam jewelry and gowns, at the Nordica Homestead Museum (116 Nordica Ln.; 207-778-2042).
Explore the Market Square Historic District — a cohesive collection of Italianate, Colonial Revival, and other elegant buildings constructed between 1885 and 1910, when the arrival of the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad made Houlton the economic and political center of northern Maine.
Cross the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge into New Brunswick to visit Roosevelt Campobello International Park (459 Rte. 774, Welshpool, New Brunswick; 877-851-6663), home to FDR’s beloved 1897 Shingle-style summer cottage, now jointly owned by the U.S. and Canada. (Don’t forget your passport!)
Peek into the lives of 18th-century French Americans at the Acadian Village (879 Main St.; 207-868-5042), a 17-building complex on the St. John River showcasing their work and culture.