Shown here is the courtyard before the vandalism perpetrated on it by Vizcaya’s then director and board in the 1980’s.
Since then, Maine has passed both a returnable bottle bill and one of the stiffest drunk driving laws in the nation, pretty much taking care of the Miller can problem, and our village was one of the first in Maine to have re-cycling at the local dump, now known as the Solid Waste Disposal Center (I still call it the Dump), but the things one sees tossed away, waiting to fill up the landfill is shocking. The town has a sewage treatment system, and no longer does the estate of a major department store heiress discharge the waste of its 10 bathrooms directly into the bay, as we discovered on another class outing. Progress is being made. Yet, despite all we know, there are still an alarming number of public building sized SUV’s and gigantic Pickups trolling local streets, totally unnecessary for daily life, making that giant Buick Wagon of my youth look like a pedal car,(when did the humble pickup trucks of my childhood become the size of a semi, and why?), and in the summer, big box stores are artificially cooled to the temperature of a refrigerator. The local food movement has some traction, but is expensive, and the food mostly gets transported home in one of those Ozone burning SUV’s (wtf is wrong with people?). People drive insanely fast, making a joke of fuel economy, but lawns are mostly organically fertilized now—rare is the sight of one of those unnaturally green weedless chemical lawns. We mean well, but there’s a long way to go before we get there.
The Dilettante is having a not-so-dilatory week—busy doing things he doesn’t know how to do, like wire a barn, build a deck, and he is up against a paid writing deadline, so here’s a little eye candy so you won’t all forget me—six buildings that catch my fancy, for diverse reasons, in no particular order.
The rich and cranky elderly eccentric, living in his vast mansion, tended by a few faithful retainers, the music of pipe organs filling the empty halls, is a standard cliche of B-literature and movies. For nearly 30 years after inheriting his wife’s millions, Edward Searles would admirably live up to this script
Within the house were interiors in virtually every style, from Gothic to baroque to Louis XVI, with the high level of finish one would expect from a man whose career had been with America’s top decorating firm.
To visually tie all this to Pine Lodge, Searles built a turreted bridge across the Spicket, designed by Vaughan.
The concert hall and organ factory were inherited by Walker, but the castle was left to relatives named Rowland, with the hope that they would carry on the Searles name (as opposed to the nephew contesting the will, whose name was Searles), and occupy Pine Lodge as a family seat. They did neither. The place was discreetly placed on the market, and in 1922, opera diva Geraldine Farrar was trying to buy the estate. The sale did not take place, and several sales of the contents were held over the years, disposing of Searles’s collection. In 1930, a portion of the original wing of Pine Lodge, nearest the wall, was torn down.
Searles went on to build two more castles over the border in New Hampshire, which we’ll cover more quickly later this week. Despite his many eccentricities and reclusive nature, he was a generous philanthropist, and gifted his home town with a series of handsome buildings—a railroad terminal, two schools, three churches, a YMCA, an inn, and more. I’ve just run out of steam on this post, however, and I suspect your attention span wavered long ago also, so we’ll leave the story here.
John Black was an Englishman, who had been recommended for the position of secretary to one of Washington’s Generals, David Cobb, who after the Revolution had come Down East as agent for the Bingham family, who had recently purchased 2,000,000 acres of Maine with an eye to development. Black had been recommended to Cobb by the Barings of Barings bank, who also had a stake in the Maine lands. He did well in his job, in due course married Cobb’s daughter, and succeeded his father-in-law as the Bingham’s agent. Black became the leading citizen of the area, and in 1827, his fortune secure, he set about to build a house on a hill outside Ellsworth.
An architect could have been summoned from the city, given Black’s cosmopolitanism and wealth, but instead, he chose a local builder with talent for design, Seth Tisdale, and together, they created an elegant, and for the time, modern, house with a revolutionary side hall plan. And how did they do this? They took a plate from the 1816 edition of Asher Benjamin’s American Builder’s companion, customized it with details from the book, ordered brick from Philadelphia, and some time later, they had built what was in those times the then grandest house in eastern Maine, elegant, gracefully proportioned, with one of the loveliest curved stairs to survive from that era—all using the helpful instructions of Asher Benjamin. In fact, with the graceful semicircular stair, they did Benjamin one better, replacing the straight upper landing with an s-curve that neatly completes the circle. I don’t have a picture available, but the transition of the scrolled stair bracket decoration to the upper landing facing is virtuosic.
Most of Woodlawn’s lovely details, railings, door casings, mantels, balustrades, interior shutters, can all be traced to designs chosen from Benjamin’s book, and the finished result shows just how far a talented builder could go, with a set of rules to follow in gauging proportion and detail. In copying Benjamin’s design, the floorplan was followed exactly, but the elevation was tweaked, with triple hung windows reaching to the floor from the drawing rooms, and portico along the front of the central block. What a huge difference from today’s builder houses, with their ‘one of everything’ from the window catalog. What we have lost from average building in recent years is proportion and grace, whatever architectural style is being essayed.
I can think of a dozen other houses around here from the early 19th century with surprisingly lovely and sophisticated staircases—the Ruggles House at Columbia falls is a particularly fine example—and so it remains until the 1940’s. And from then on, I cannot think of a house, no matter how well designed, or expensive, that has a really worthy stair. It’s a mystery to me.
John Black’s grandson, George Nixon Black, who used the house only in the spring and fall, died in 1927, leaving Woodlawn, its expansive park-like grounds, and three generations of family furnishings to the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations, who administer it as a house museum and park. The house’s lovely furnishings are as Mr. Black left them in 1927. For more information, visit the Woodlawn website http://www.woodlawnmuseum.com/ It is one of half a dozen exceptional historic houses to be visited in this region.
Incidentally, the last Mr. Black, in addition to his munificent gift of Woodlawn to down east Maine, was also a major benefactor of the American collections at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, has also achieved immortality in architectural history for having commissioned one of the most admired houses of the shingle style, his summer home at Manchester Massachusetts, designed by Peabody & Stearns. This is definitely not a house out of the pattern books, and is a virtuoso performance by young architects at the beginning of their successful practice. Kragsyde was demolished in 1929, two years after Black’s death, but interestingly, a copy has been built, reversed from the original plans, on Swan’s Island, not 25 miles from Woodlawn.
Photo Credits: Color Photos by Dilettante or from Woodlawn website, black & white photos of Woodlawn from Historic American Buildings Survey. Staircase 1 from Sotheby’s Realty
The Pierce Mansion on Middle Street in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is one of the great Federal houses of New England, an American interpretation of Adam motifs. Built in 1799 by John Pierce, the house remained in the hands of his descendants until the 1950s. The design is sometimes attributed to Charles Bulfinch, and indeed is nearly identical to his now demolished Appleton house in Boston, and has details virtually identical with those on his Ezekial Hersey Derby house in Salem.
- Feeding America is annually providing food to 37 million Americans, including 14 million children. This is an increase of 46 percent over 2006, when we were feeding 25 million Americans, including 9 million children, each year.
- That means one in eight Americans now rely on Feeding America for food and groceries.
- Feeding America’s nationwide network of food banks is feeding 1 million more Americans each week than we did in 2006.
- Thirty-six percent of the households served have at least one person working.
- More than one-third of client households report having to choose between food and other basic necessities, such as rent, utilities and medical care.
- The number of children the Feeding America network serves has increased by 50 percent since 2006.
- Feeding America food banks provide food and groceries to 33,500 food pantries, 4,500 soup kitchens and 3,600 emergency shelters.
- 68 percent of pantries, 42 percent of soup kitchens, and 15 percent of emergency shelters rely solely on volunteers and have no paid staff.
- 55 percent, are faith-based agencies affiliated with churches, mosques, synagogues and other religious organizations; 33 percent are other types of non-profit organizations.
One can follow the results on their blog: