Castine, Maine is an indecently pretty place, the very paradigm of a New England village, classic crisp white houses on Elm-lined streets, sloping to a breathtaking harbor at the mouth of the Bagaduce River.   It is a history-proud town,with dozens of charming historical markers noting the sites of important events of the last four hundred years. Though the village has infinite charms, time is short, we all have lawns to mow, and we’ll look at just a very few today.
The earthwork ramparts of Fort Madison, built as defense against the British in 1812.  It didn’t work, and for a time  after, our peninsula was again part of England.

The rugosa roses are in full force this week, scenting the air and delighting the eye.  One hedge in particular sweeps uphill at a curve on Perkins Street in Castine, leading to the front door of a most unlikely and charming little cottage.

According to the 1896 edition of Augustus Wheeler’s history of Castine, this cottage was originally the Witham farmhouse, its first floor one of the few stone buildings in town.  In 1884, Frank Wood, an entrepreneur from Bangor who built a number of picturesque log structures in the neighborhood in an effort to develop a summer colony, built a new cottage atop the stone foundation, using bark covered logs.  His original renovations can be seen below.   A few years later, another renovation gave the cottage its current form.


Sometimes, while watching a movie, no matter how engrossing it may be, I will be distracted by the set design-sensitive soul that I am.  Such was the case when I recently watched ‘Giant’, the wonderful, wonderful George Stevens production of Edna Ferber’s story of Texas rancher Rock Hudson, his refined aristocratic wife Elizabeth Taylor, and their neighbor James Dean.  I’m sure their characters had names, but c’mon:  Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean.  They really don’t make them like they used to.

The set design plot goes something like this:  Rock Hudson, back East on business, visits an associate at his old Maryland homestead—I did not get a screen shot of the exterior, but in Hollywood fashion, the set more resembles one of those Georgian country houses so beloved by the fox-hunting set on Long Island in the early years of the last century.  As he enters the front hall, one finds oneself not in Maryland, but suddenly in New England, for the set designer has based his design on one of New England’s handsomest 18th century interiors, the hall of the Moffatt-Ladd house in Portsmouth New Hampshire.  There are differences—the door heads are Federal, in the style of Salem’s Samuel McIntyre.  But, small quibble.

In love, Elizabeth Taylor dances in her parent’s hall
The original:  The hall at the Moffatt-Ladd house in Portsmouth NH

Later, we find Rock dining with Elizabeth and her family, partaking of Maryland hospitality.  This room was copied from the drawing room of Arlington House, the Custis-Lee mansion in Virginia.  We’re getting closer—after all, Arlington is just the other side of Washington from Maryland

Despite a slight difference in proportion, there is no mitaking the historical source for the dining room set.

Two views of the White Parlor at Arlington house, with its lovely Leghorn marble fireplace surround, and reeded over doors.

In short order, Rock and Liz marry, and go home to the gloomy old house built by Rock’s father on the family’s Reata ranch, in the middle of Nowhere on the Texas plains.

The newlyweds are greeted in the baronial hall by Rock’s less than friendly sister.  The Old Dominion gentility of Liz’s childhood home has been left far behind.

But not to worry, distraction from the brooding decor arrives in the person of brooding James Dean.

But, that doesn’t keep Liz from updating the decoration in the hall, despite Rock’s family.

After awhile, everyone in the movie seems to strike oil, and the decorating at Reata really takes off—Liz brings things  up to snuff, chic in monochromatic gray to complement her hair (The years have passed, and she’s now the mother of nearly grown Carole Baker).

A drawing room by Frances Elkins
A bedroom designed by Frances Elkins

 The Hall gets yet a sleeker treatment also, but I didn’t get a screen grab.  However, at some point, Liz and Rock wind up at a new hotel development built by James Dean, who also struck oil.  The set designer really knew what he or she was up to, for the suites in this hotel would do Dorothy Draper proud.

And there you have it—how a design fan sees a classic movie.

 Baz Luhrman’s set designer could take lessons.


In my boyhood, two iconic pictures defined our sense of place and history in our community.  The first was a painting, ‘A Morning View of Bluehill Village, 1824’ by the Reverend Jonathan Fisher, a Yankee polymath who had come here fresh out of Harvard in 1795 to be the first settled minister of the village.  The other was a late 19th century ‘Bird’s Eye View’, lithograph, coincidentally done 100 years after Parson Fisher’s arrival.
Fisher’s painting is a summary of his life and career in the town.  Although Blue Hill, originally New Andover, was settled in 1762, near the tidal falls at what is now South Blue Hill, the young village at the head of the Bay that he painted had barely existed but for a couple of houses, and had grown up in those thirty subsequent years. Fisher’s journals carefully record his progress on the work, traipsing to the Treworgy farm on the next hill (now known after later owner’s as Greene’s Hill), with his homemade camera obscura, to make the first sketches in September 1824, and then note progress on the work until completion in April 1825.
Parson Fisher’s home-made camera obscura
The village spreads out below, quiet in the morning light.  In the foreground a man (Fisher?) drives a snake from this Eden.  There were probably roosters crowing, maybe the first hammers working on the boats under construction on the shore of the harbor, but we can’t hear those sounds.  All is quiet, frozen in time.
Detail of the Fisher Farm from A Morning View of Blue Hill
The Fisher House from the same perspective today.
Opposite where he sat surveying the scene, on the top horizon, was Fisher’s raison d’etre for choosing this perspective: his own farm, with its tidy orchard, the meeting house where he preached just downhill, with the parade ground before it. It is a scrupulously honest picture. In the right middle ground is the Baptist meeting house, to which Fisher, a stern Calvinist, had lost much of his flock when it was founded a few years before. In a village near the Eastern Frontier, far removed from the centers of art, this painting was considered a marvel, and was  revered locally long before it found its way into the collection of the Farnsworth Art Museum, and countless books about American folk art and early 19th century culture.
A late 19th century photograph captures the view originally painted by Fisher
And on the opposite hill, one looks across to the spot (indicated by box) from  which  Fisher painted his view.  The photograph, actually two joined,  is from the series used in the creation of the bird’s eye view
The second view was created by an artist using dozens of photographs taken in panoramic perspective, then mechanically re-aligned so as to appear taken from the air–a dozen years before the Wright Brothers would go aloft, and aerial photography become commonplace.  What fascinates and compels me to write about these pictures this morning is that each is shows the view from almost exactly the opposite center of the other–they literally look across to each other. In the bird’s eye view, the Treworgy Farm is on the horizon about a third way from the right, and in the Fisher painting, one looks across to the spot directly below the airborne viewer.
The village has become quite a different place in the bird’s eye view. Fisher’s meetinghouse burned in 1842, and was replaced with a new Congregational Church downhill, closer to the center of the village.  The Baptist meeting house has become a church, with a spire echoing that of the Congregationalists.  A main street of stores, with post office and restaurants has grown up at the edge of the harbor.
The Town Hall, designed by George Clough
A new town hall, designed by the architect son of a local shipbuilder, has just been constructed, Colonial in idea, but its Roman arched front clearly inspired by the new classical ideas of the great Chicago Exposition of a couple years before.  As with Fisher’s painting, a schooner is coming into the harbor, but despite sails, this one has smoke or steam rising from a stack on its deck.  Although Fisher’s village still mostly survives, the 20th century is almost there, and in the foreground is a harbinger of things to come—a big shiny new summer hotel for the newest Maine industry, rusticators.
The hotel, the Blue Hill Inn, was designed by William Ralph Emerson, the Boston architect who practically invented the shingled style of summer architecture favored on the Maine coast, and was the latest marvel of the town, supplanting the boarding houses and modest village hotel of earlier years.  The Inn was not a success, and with the removal of a wing, was converted to use as a summer cottage in the early1900s.  Later, it served as a temporary hospital, and in the early years of the Depression, it went up in flames.
The 21st century is not being kind to the village of the 19th and 20th centuries.  Poor planning, lack of zoning, changing tastes, a little greed, changing economies and myriad other factors are wreaking changes on a scale that is unprecedented in our collective memory.  Change used to be gradual, and somewhat organic (South Street, new home of both roundabout and Dunkin’ Donuts, was still a narrow gravel lane as recently as my childhood).  In recent years, the change has been faster, more definitive, and more destructive.  As I type this, a rotary is being constructed at the dusty crossroads to the left of the Inn, and a Dunkin Donuts is going up on the inn site, across from the supermarket and Rite Aid drugstore that started the commercial sprawl.
Bird’s eye rendering of the new Dunkin’ Donuts

As to the Fisher homestead, it is preserved as a museum, its original orchard replanted a few years ago (for an article about the Fisher Orchard, click HERE.) But, a thousand feet from a car wash and a new commerical parking lot with clear development intentions, its integrity and isolation, which lasted for most of the 20th century, is clearly coming to an end as it approaches its 200th anniversary.

On another note, the photograph below, from the George Stevens Academy on-line student paper, ‘The Procrastinator’, both sums up the local ambivalence about the arrival of Dunkin’ Donuts, and on a more personal note, brings the Dilettante up short, for 43 years ago he was the editor of that paper, then called ‘The Eagle’s Nest’.  At that time it was a mimeographed four-sheet (my great contribution was sharper stencil graphics), and the slick advances in technology and content make him feel very, very old indeed.

Photoshop image of Blue Hill Mountain from GSA Procrastinator, credited to William Hilliard

As for Jonathan Fisher, a current exhibit at the Farnsworth Art Museum explores Fisher’s ongoing fascination with the natural world in his art and writing, culminating in the book, ‘Scripture Animals’ (1833).  Click HERE for more.

MISS SPENCE DISAPPROVES. Dilettante Writes Again

Before movie stars became currency, America’s celebrity obsession was focused on Society figures..  One of 1911’s major tabloid stories was the marriage of recently divorced 47 year-old John Jacob Astor IV, one of the richest men in America, to 18 year-old Madeline Force, a Bar Harbor summer resident.  Thousands of columns of ink were spent on the subject.  The marriage was denounced from pulpits, and from Bar Harbor, the redoubtable Clara B. Spence founder of Miss Spence’s School for Girls, who herself had an opinion or two about the proper raising of a Society girl,  weighed in with a letter to the Editor of The New York Times:

Miss Spence had formerly summered across the bay at Sorrento, but now spent her summers with her longtime companion, and assistant principal the heiress Miss Charlotte Baker, in a cottage on ‘Kenarden Lodge’, the estate of Miss Baker’s aunt,  widow of railroad financier John Stewart Kennedy.  Two years later, they would move to ‘The Willows’ a beautiful cottage designed for Miss Baker by the Boston firm of Andrews Jaques & Rantoul on Eden Street, where they summered with their four adopted children.  The Willows would eventually pass to Miss Baker’s sister, Mrs. Francis Kellogg, and later be sold to Sir Harry Oakes, but that’s another story, which can be found HERE
The Misses Spence & Baker, with adopted daughters Margaret Spence & Ruth Baker (Spence School)
Despite Miss Spence’s disapproval, the marriage went ahead, cut short when Col. Astor perished aboard the Titanic in April of 1912.  In August of 1912, three of the survivors, Madeline Astor, Mrs. George Widener, and Mrs. John B.Thayer, were in Bar Harbor as the guests of Mrs. A.J. Cassatt (whose granddaughter Lois would later marry Mrs. Thayer’s son) at Four Acres, the Cassatt estate abutting the property where Miss Baker and Miss Spence’s new cottage was rising.  
The Willows, the Charlotte Baker cottage
The next summer, even as the Misses Baker and Spence were moving into The Willows, Mrs. Astor was also moving into a cottage designed by Andrews, Jaques & Rantoul a few carefully raked gravel driveways down Eden Street from the famed educator.
La Selva, ocean front in better days
That house was ‘La Selva’ built in 1903 for Pennsylvania coal baron Andrew Davis.  Mrs. Astor’s occupancy attracted endless press outside the gates.  
In 1916, Harper’s Bazaar caught Mrs. Astor as she was about to be remarried.
Mrs. Astor departed after her next marriage a few years later, but La Selva would soon attract another colorful tenant, sometimes referred to as ‘the most beautiful woman in America’, already planning to leave her husband to obtain a Paris divorce, that she might run away with her lover, one of the most famous actors of his day.
La Selva’ is currently for sale.  It is in condition more than a little reminiscent of ‘Grey Gardens’,  I have written its colorful history for ‘House of the Month’ in the current issue of Portland Monthly.  That article can be found HERE.

La Selva, views of entrance front taken two weeks ago


Mt. Desert Island from Hancock Point (photograph, Ivy Main via Wikimedia Commons)
I’m afraid I’ve been a bit boring lately.  As the manuscript for the book starts to take shape, my focus has been narrowed to near obsession, on the architecture of the 27 different summer colonies that fan around this section of the coast, from Rockport to Winter Harbor, as I continue to visit archives and individuals in the search for interesting material.  Once a Dilettante who knew a little bit about a great many trivial topics, I now know a great deal, much of it trivia, about one topic.
As the concept of summering, or as it was know then, rusticating, gained momentum in Maine in the 1880’s, and as Bar Harbor became one of the most fashionable destinations in the country, a resort boom gripped the lonely shores across Frenchman’s Bay from that gilded place. Large tracts of oceanfront land were gobbled up by real estate speculators hoping to repeat the momentum at Mt. Desert.  Land companies were formed, lots were laid out, those dual necessities—steamship wharves and hotels—were built, illustrated brochures were printed, tennis grounds laid out, and the race was on to attract wealthy city dwellers to each Arcadia.  Despite those common characteristics and amenities–including the imagination-defying views across to Mt. Desert perhaps without peer on the Atlantic coast—each of these colonies developed differently, each with its unique character.
Cottages at Hancock Point, c. 1895 (Courtesy Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society)
Today, those little colonies, far closer to Canada than to Kennebunkport, seem remote—as their inhabitants prefer it—but in the day, when steamship and train were the chief modes of travel, one could take a day boat to Bar Harbor–each community had service—-go shopping, have lunch, or attend a concert or a ball, and be back home on the opposite shore in time for bed.   
Mt. Desert Ferry Landing, at Hancock Point, The Bluffs hotel in background
Hancock Point was, I think, the earliest of these developments (the others were Sullivan Harbor, Sorrento, Winter Harbor, Grindstone Neck and Petit Manan Point), and  geographically the first encountered as one sails ‘down east’ up the coast.  It was conveniently adjacent to the train and steamship landing at Hancock Ferry, where later the crack Bar Harbor Express, originating at Grand Central in New York, had its terminus, trailing behind it the private railroad cars of the plutocrats who then would board a ferry for Bar Harbor.  It was laid out in 1883 by Joseph Curtis, a pioneering landscape architect and conservationist who summered in Northeast Harbor.  It was a far smaller development than the others—125 lots as opposed to the ambitious 2,000 proposed for Sullivan Harbor, for example.

This octagonal cottage, with its rustic porch of natural cedar , was built by a  Mr. Johnson in  1887.  In 1914, his daugher Lettie donated it for use as a library, which it purpose it still serves today.
An early farmhouse, converted to summer use after the development of the Point, with a restraint too seldom seen today.
Many of Hancock Point’s earliest summer residents were not from far cities, but were lumber merchants and bankers from Bangor.  They were soon joined by college professors such as Charles Homer Haskins, the great Harvard medievalist, and by  quietly well-to-do urbanites who preferred to avoid the flash of Mt. Desert (I’ve been to maybe a dozen cocktail parties on Hancock Point over the years, and unfailingly, at each one someone has pointed out how ‘we’ are not ‘fancy’ like ‘them’ over on Mt. Desert).  At any rate, Hancock Point, after two World Wars, a great depression, and changes in travel, is a sleepy little place with big views and some very fine smaller summer cottage architecture along its gravel lanes.

A water tower at one of the cottages

This cottage, which sometimes shelters a noted politician, was designed by Fred Savage
The earliest cottages were gingerbread designs, closely sited.  By the end of the 19th century, comfortable but not vast shingle style cottages, on larger lots were the norm.  Landscapes were kept simple, with respect for the natural landscape—very few of the elaborate gardens that characterized some of the summer estates of other resorts were laid out on Hancock Point.
The last built of the pre-Depression summer cottages is also the grandest

A recent guest cottage delightfully references the earliest cottages on the Point
Although the Point layout included a central chapel lot, the current chapel was built around 1900 to designs by the great Maine architect John Calvin Stevens, one of the chief innovators in what we know today as the shingle style.  As with many of the summer colonies, it is one of the finest bits of architecture in the place—and Anglican, of course…


Once again, for those who may ever have wondered why Maine has ‘Summer People’ not ‘Spring People’, I present the answer.  It’s the middle of April, for crying out loud.  Even with our lowered Spring expectations, this is cruel.

Ice Pellets41 °F
Ice Pellets

100% chance of precipitation
Ice Pellets34 °F
Ice Pellets

100% chance of precipitation
Ice Pellets45 | 28 °F
Ice Pellets

40% chance of precipitation
Chance of Snow41 | 28 °F
Chance of Snow

40% chance of precipitation
Mostly Cloudy50 | 37 °F
Mostly Cloudy
Chance of Rain54 | 39 °F
Chance of Rain

50% chance of precipitation
Ever wonder why Yankees are dour?  Wonder no longer.  Apparently April is the New March up here.
In other news, the Maine lobster branding thing sometimes goes beyond the t-shirts and key chains.  these were spotted in a local grocery store.  Yuck. The ‘Lobster Tracks’ ice cream can be found in another aisle.  Since when is 1/2 cup a single serving of ice cream?  Puhleeze.  When was the last time you saw a 1/2 cup carton of ice cream? 


I passed through Manchester, New Hampshire the other day.  New Hampshire’s largest city, it is a sprawling place, with a downtown badly impacted by Urban Renewal, and the decline of the textile industry that once made it one of the great manufacturing centers of New England.  Despite this, many fine examples of 19th century architecture survive, in varying degrees of preservation, amidst the parking lots and malls.  One that particularly catches my eye is the City Hall, designed in 1845 by the enterprising Edward Shaw of Boston, author of several of the most influential pattern books of his era.
Originally stuccoed, and I’m told by a friend, scored and veined to resemble marble, the building was restored with its warm brick exposed, as it has been for many years.  It once dominated Elm Street, the broad main street of the city, with its rows of low brick commercial structures.  Today, its entrace faces one of Manchester’s tallest buildings.
Manchester  Chamber of Commerce

For all the English inspiration of the facades, the belfry could only be American, so distinctive the take on the medieval precedent.

A commercial building next door, probably early 20th century, is a particularly tactful and successful complement to the earlier structure (but too bad about those poorly considered awnings)

Just around the corner, survivors of the earlier mercantile city display the earlier scale

Shaw’s pattern books, like those of Asher Benjamin, helped spread the Greek Revival style through New England.  In the 1840’s, he caught the Gothic bug, and along with New Yorkers Downing and Vaux, helped popularize the new style.

Above, a plate from Shaw’s ‘Rural Architecture’ (Boston, 1842).  Variations of these designs, most often in wood, are seen across New England.


As one sifts through material in search of interesting material for the book, looking for interesting houses and material that will interest and delight the reader, one finds many other things along the way.

For example, I’ve had this illustration, from American Architect & Building News, tucked away for years,  Designed by James Brown Lord for one Mrs. S.K. Henning. Not much evidence that it was ever built, but curious, I persevered.  Even in the age of Google, one has trouble finding much about Mrs. Henning.  Her first name was Sarah, neither husband nor source of fortune are mentioned, and her social life seems to have been led mostly  Tuxedo Park-Bar Harbor over a brief few years before and after 1900.  

I pursued a few leads.  I found Mrs. Henning in the Bar Harbor cottage directory as a guest at one of the hotels in 1893.  Then I found this house, built for James Henning in 1895 in Tuxedo Park, James Brown Lord, architect.  Not the same design, but certainly similar.  
At that point, one assumed that perhaps Mrs. Henning was married to James Henning, and that they decided to build in Tuxedo instead?  At any rate, nowhere in available collections did any larger amount of material appear to exist that would fast-track the Henning cottage into the book, and I moved on.
Since then, the old Bar Harbor newspapers have become available digitally, and a few weeks ago, in pursuit of other information, I came across a mention in the Bar Harbor Record of June 1894 which announced that Mrs. J.H. Henning of Louisville, Kentucky and her two children were guests at the St. Sauveur Hotel while their new cottage on Cleftstone Road was being completed.  Hmmm.  But where on Cleftstone Road, and was it the house shown in American Architect?  This of course, is where your completely undisciplined Uncle Dilettante strays off the path he’s supposed to be following, and true to form, I wandered off to find more.  A quick search turned up an article about Mrs. Henning’s new cottage, describing a house nothing like the one designed by James Brown Lord, which obviously hadn’t been built.
A few days later, again while not looking, I ambled across a longer article about the new Henning Cottage, whose architect was Sidney Stratton (the actual subject of that particular search), who shared office space and occasionally worked with, McKim, Mead & White, and designed a house that will be in the book.
The article was accompanied by a crude wood engraving showing the new house, called ‘Air Castle’, into which Mrs. Henning and children moved on August 01, 1894.  A further search finds the family in residence for the 1895 season, and then they disappear from the face of Bar Harbor, consistent with the 1896 completeion date of the house in Tuxedo Park, completed in 1896.  One has no idea why they departed Bar Harbor so quickly, after having tried it out for a couple of seasons then having built a large cottage only to sell it two years later but there you have it.  On the 1896 Bar Harbor map, the cottage appears, renamed ‘Hillhurst’ and owned by one Helen Seely (for those of you who protest that the shape pictured is not consistent with the house pictured, let me assure you that on the more accurately delineated 1904 map, it does appear correctly).
And there this post would end, except that a few weeks later, I was flipping through an old Bar Harbor guildebook, with pictures of cottages, when what should appear but the engraving below:
The problem?  In the guidebook, the picture was captioned as ‘Cottage at Bar Harbor, designed by Andrews Jaques and Rantoul”.  
I’m resisting further research.  I have a book to complete.
Speaking of Tuxedo Park, after finishing research at the wonderful Walsh History Center at Camden Public Library, I wandered around looking at buildings (I still haven’t put the final nail in my Camden selections. (Sssh, don’t tell the publisher), and while wandering around town, I spotted this new little shingle style cottage, which reminded me of something…(and yes, that picture was taken yesterday March 23, the 3rd day of Spring, or as we call it up here, ‘February II, the Nightmare Continues’)
But enough about the weather—certainly we’ve had enough—the reason that the house looked so familiar is that it was clearly inspired by one of the original houses in Tuxedo Park, Bruce Price’s Travis Van Buren cottage, below.


We are embarking on Week III of not particularly cold (for March), but very gray and dreary weather—rain, drizzle, freezing rain, freezing drizzle, dry snow, wet snow, snow mixed with rain and drizzle, rain and drizzle mixed with snow You get the idea.  And the mud!  Oh the mud!  Maine practically depopulates from mid-March to mid-April, and with good reason.  The winter won’t kill you, but the spring damn well might.
In the interest of public health, I declare this to be Garden Week at the Down East Dilettante, and in denial, will post nothing but pictures of gardens until this ends.

The Asticou Azeala Garden at Northeast Harbor is one of May’s reward for the penances of April 

As are the lilacs that cloud the landscape, for an all too-brief  week at the end of the month (Damariscotta Mills)

Roadsides and sidewalks that had been covered in gravel and winter debris only weeks before come into bloom. (top to bottom: Castine, Damariscotta Mills, Wiscasset)
Along with  flowering trees and shrubs (Castine)

And then as if Winter had never happened, things start to get really serious in June, as with the iris and peonies here in my friend Ellen’s garden
Wild roses  beside my back drive, ephemeral & sweet, climbing six feet through the hedgerow

 And summer goes on, and suddenly, almost without noticing the change, what looked like this in June

Looks like this by August (Thuya Gardens, Northeast Harbor, two views of central allee toward pool)

For a few weeks, the Maine climate is as conducive to gardening as any in the world.  Here, a path in the Beatrix Farrand  designed garden on the Rockefeller estate at Seal Harbor.

Hawk-weed by the side of the road (Castine)