Onthe first Sunday in November, the weather was gray and indifferent, not pleasant enough to encourage outside chores, not bad enough to stay inside with a book.   Even as I was contemplating this dilemma, knowing that outdoor chores were really the correct answer, the phone rang.   It was Sidekick, in much the same mood, wondering if I might not be interested in a road trip ‘up’ to the Colby College Art Museum in Waterville (although actually due west a couple of hours, like all trips inland in Maine, it feels ‘up’).  Road trip with a favorite partner in crime or chores?  The decision took about 1.3 seconds.

On the outskirts of China, a Greek Revival farmhouse with beautiful Ionic columns
Further down the road, this handsome whitewashed brick Federal was once the summer home of Ellerton Jette, who was the chairman of the Hathaway Shirt Company, whose long defunct factory was once Waterville’s major employer.  Here was housed much of the collection of American art that Jette later donated to  the Colby Art Museum.
For those too young to remember, ‘The Man in The Hathaway Shirt’ was one of the most successful ad campaigns of all time.  Hathaway was a small regional manufacturer when Ellerton Jette went to David Ogilvy, then arguably the most powerful man in advertising, with a tiny budget and convinced him to take on the Hathaway account.  The rest is history.  When the Dilettante was little, Dunham’s of Waterville, with its rows of pastel oxford button downs was where we all got supplied with our Hathaway shirts and Bass Weejun loafers.

Not quite two hours later, after a drive through China, we arrived at Colby. The  campus is a handsome one, created in the 1930’s.  It is a classic of its era, the creation of one Dr. Bixler, then the ambitious president of what the then small regional college.  Sitting on  Mayflower Hill, its Georgian buildings and quadrangles were inspired by the great early Universities, including Harvard and the University of Virginia.

The original 19th century Colby College Campu

The centerpiece is the Miller Library, a  Colonial Revival building with a whiff of Independence Hall in its architecture.  191 feet high, it was, until the 1970s the tallest building in Maine.  (Since you ask, the current tallest building is an apartment building in Portland.  At 203 feet, it ranks 46th or 47th—depending on how you interpret the Wikipedia information—among each State’s tallest buildings.  Only Vermont, North Dakota, and Wyoming rank higher, I mean, lower.)

The Miller Library on the ‘new’ campus at Colby College, for years the tallest building in Maine.
We parked and strode to the museum entrance,  only to be confronted with a chain link fence with a sign that said ‘Closed for Renovation until November 8th’.  We had checked the schedule online before leaving home, and on the museum’s schedule page found no evidence that the museum was anything but open.  As it turned out, the closure was mentioned on the home page, but we had googled ‘schedule’, thus by-passing that page.  You’d think those smart people at the museum would have troubled to mention it on their schedule page also, wouldn’t you?  Thank-you.  So would I.  Especially on the schedulepage.  Really.

The museum was closed to prepare for the construction of the new Lunder Pavilion, to house a collection of artworks donated by the Lunder family, heirs to the Dexter Shoe fortune.  While I find it a handsome design, I question the agressive way in which it breaks scale with the surrounding buildings.

Colby’s collection is well worth the visit.  Among the works we didn’t see that day are:

John Singleton Copley
Mrs. Metcalf Bowler (Anne Fairchild), 1758-1759
Oil on canvas
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ellerton M. Jetté
Winslow Homer
The Trapper, 1870
Oil on canvas
Gift of Mrs. Harold T. Pulsifer
John Marin
Stonington, Maine, 1923
Watercolor and charcoal on paper
21 3/4 in. x 26 1/4 in.
Gift of John Marin, Jr. and Norma B. Marin
Fairfield Porter
Stephen and Kathy, 1963
Oil on canvas
Museum purchase from the Jere Abbott Acquisitions Fund

Regrouping, we decided to save the day by going through Rome—and then continuing on to South Solon and visit the South Solon meeting house, with its amazing frescoed walls, for our dose of art.

In Norridgewock, on the banks of the Kennebec, this 18th century tavern hangs on, barely….
Hungry, we stopped for lunch in Skowhegan, an old mill town on the Kennebec,  where a few years ago HBO filmed ‘Empire Falls’, based on the novel of the same name by Richard Russo, about…an old mill town.  The first time I went to Skowhegan, decades ago, the last log drive was taking place on the Kennebec—millions of logs being floated downriver for processing.  Not environmentally sound, but a stirring sight nevertheless.
The last log drive on the Kennebec.  In places, one sees the Kennebec as it appeared 240 years earlier, when Benedict Arnold led his troops upriver to Quebec during the American Revolution

The ‘Empire Grill’,  the old diner from the movie, had closed, and a sports bar offered no sustenance.  On the strip heading out of town, we found a family restaurant, in what appeared to be a converted Pizza Hut—the architecture is unmistakeable.  Perhaps here I should mention that a friend refers to the road out of Skowhegan as ‘the driveway to Quebec’, and one definitely senses the French Canadian influence in the area culture.

For these two hungry tourists, the defining moment was when we spotted Poutine on the menu.   Somehow, in a lifetime of trying all foods bad for me, this one had eluded me, a Canadian logger favorite of French Fries covered with brown gravy (ever the effete elitist, I was about to type ‘sauce’, but in fact, it was gravy) and melted cheese curd, and in our case, crumbled bacon.  Appalling in concept, delicious in execution.
Poutine.  Okay, so it wasn’t Lutece, but trust me, we licked the plate clean.

We reached Solon in the mid-afternoon bellies full, arteries clogged (did I mention that we also had the restaurant’s home-made meatloaf sandwich, well prepared and delicious—comfort food on a crisp fall day,on the largest slices of bread I have ever, ever, ever seen?  It was a sandwich for Brobdinagians).  Solon is an old town, its streets lined with handsome buildings that have see better days.  In this part of Maine, the way of life is often hard, employment scarce, and the smug pleasures of the coast, romanticized and ordered to the satisfaction of the well to do, are far behind.

Up in the middle of nowhere:  the Solon hotel anchors the town.  A friend said ‘Oh yeah, the Solon hotel.  R.E.M. played there’.  One learns to expect the unexpected in rural Maine.
As in most of early 19th century Maine villages in more prosperous times, the evidence of talented builders using Asher Benjamin’s pattern books for inspiration can be found.  This lovely little Greek Revival doorway, complete with triglyphs and metopes (however oddly spaced in the apex of the pediment) can be found on a Cape on Solon’s Main Street.  In this part of Maine, tin roofs are the norm
Across the street, this oddly shallow 19th century house, not even 12 feet deep,  is irresistable.
The road to South Solon
A handful of early 19th century farmhouses survive on this high ridge–this example has escaped modernization, and has yet another lovely pattern book door surround.   It sometimes seems that the early builders could do no wrong.

At the meeting house, we spent a happy hour marveling at the 1950’s frescoes in the late afternoon fall light.  While there, we were charmed by the appearance of a young man who had grown up in the neighborhood and had brought his son to see the murals and the pew where his father had sat when he was a boy.   For a full account of the Meeting House and its frescoes, please click HERE

We decided to go home by way of Athens, and mapped out our trip, only to find that the road petered out to a single dirt lane.   With the light waning, we decided this was not the day to be lost driving about the woods of Maine, and turned around and head down to I-95.   All was not lost, though, for we were rewarded on that back road by this view of Saddleback Mountain and the Rangeley hills an hour distant.

Leaving the Meeting House, a rainbow illuminated a sky that echoed that of the frescoes within
The view from a field near Athens.

(Skowhegan was also the home town of Maine’s estimable Senator, Margaret Chase Smith. In this season of really silly presidential hopefuls, here story is worth recounting.  Click HERE for the Dilettante on Mrs. Chase)