By Regina Cole | Photos by Sandy Agrafiotis
Back in 2003, Paula and Harvey met with a business associate in Damariscotta, Maine. They’d been living in the mid-Atlantic region for 20 years. “When we got to Maine, we took a deep breath, looked at each other, and agreed: One day we’d live where the air is clean.”
Just a year later, they moved to the Pine Tree State, where the famous bracing breeze refreshed their lungs—and an 18th-century house stole their hearts. Two shared passions came together for them at this house in southern Maine: Paula and Harvey live in environmental and historical mindfulness in a two-and-a-half-story center-chimney Georgian. With telescoping ells, it’s a storybook example of New England’s attached farmhouses. It was built in 1742 at the intersection that formed the center of town.
As they learned about the early years of the house, they have deepened their knowledge of late 18th-century southern Maine history. Most recently, an archaeological dig led by Dr. Neill de Paoli and sponsored by the local historical association was begun right at the front door. New information has already come to light. Although 1797 was long the supposed date of the house, new evidence indicates that it was built in 1742, that there was a fire in 1790, and that it was rebuilt in 1797. It looks like the early keeping room, the northwest parlor, and the chambers above are much older than the rest of the house.
One of the archaeologists’ goals is to determine whether this property was the site of a “garrison” sheltering citizens during the long French and English wars of the 17th century. Evidence suggests that the house served as an early tavern, and artifacts dating from ca. 1650–1730 confirm what architectural historians have guessed: that there was a house here even long before 1742. Artifacts include shards of German and English stoneware jugs, tankards, glass wine bottles, English clay smoking pipes, English delftware and Portuguese or Spanish majolica plates and bowls, as well as turned lead and glass quarrels from casement windows.
“We met in college in 1966,” Harvey says, “and soon found out that we love the same things. One of our first trips together was to Colonial Williamsburg.”
“We love 18th-century architecture and design,” his wife chimes in. “The scale, lightness, sense of grace—we can’t get enough!” So when they saw Maine’s great stock of 18th- and early 19th-century houses during their first visit, they began a search.
“We found this house online. After we came up to look at it, we dutifully looked at 10 more before returning to the house we had fallen in love with before we ever stepped inside,” Harvey laughs. Paula adds that the house was comfortable from the day they moved in. “Houses do have vibrations,” she says.
For three decades, Harvey has used firewood for heating and sometimes for cooking. In a house with sections built between 1742 and 1990, the owners simultaneously restrict and customize power sources for maximum energy conservation—and in keeping with the historic interior. The couple searches for furnishings at local antiques shows and shops, and has found suitable reproductions online. “The tricky part is getting the scale right,” Paula says. “As is reflected in the size of furniture, and the patterns of damask, the proportions of the 18th century were more refined than they are today. Not that we’re purists,” she hastens to add. “My goal is to evoke the 18th century, not to reproduce it.”
The house is preserved more than it is restored. The two have allowed the house to keep its evidence of many generations of occupants. From the early 18th-century sensibility of the massive keeping-room fireplace, all the way to the classically modern kitchen . . . from the antique front hall with its early 20th-century wallpaper to the vaulted 1990 family room addition, this house is accommodating.Published in: Early Homes Fall/Winter 2012