The Hunter-Atkins House, located at the intersection of Route 201 and Northern Ave in Farmingdale, ME was built in approximately 1828 and remained a single-family house until 2010 when it was purchased by the Kennebec Savings Bank. The Bank planned to renovate the house for use as a new branch, but learned from their engineers and architects that neither the house nor the site would meet current standards for a bank. At that point they entered consultation with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission regarding their plan to demolish the house and build a new branch bank building on the lot. Among other requirements, the Preservation Commission had the Bank document the building for the Maine Historic Building Record (MHBR) and produce a National Register of Historic Places nomination for a historic district that included the houses on U.S. Route 201. I was brought on board to carry out the HABS-level photographs and write the historic narrative for the MHBR, and to produce the National Register nomination.
Farmingdale is a small community along the west bank of the Kennebec River in Maine, between the cities of Gardiner and Augusta. Since its creation in the early 19th century, it has been something of a suburban, bedroom community associated with Gardiner, which lies immediately to the south. Most of the prominent houses in Farmingdale face U.S. Route 201, once a sleepy road that parallels the river connecting Gardiner and Augusta that now is a busy, two-lane commuter thoroughfare. While nearly all of the original 19th and early 20th century houses on Route 201 survive, very few remain occupied by single families. They are, therefore, ripe for commercial development.
The main part of the house was built in approximately 1828, by John P. Hunter, a native of Topsham, ME and Revolutionary War veteran. Hunter one of the men who took advantage of the rapid rise of lumber manufacturing in Gardiner. Like many of its neighbors on Route 201, the house fronts on the main road but has its main entrance on the side. At that time, it consisted of the front, hip-roof block that faces Route 201, which contained a central front hall with double parlors that faced the road, and an ell that contained a kitchen.
Hunter died in in the 1860s, and his widow sold the house to Joseph P. Atkins, another wealthy lumber manufacturer in Gardiner. In approximately 1868, Atkins added on a second ell and a carriage house to the rear of the building, giving it more or less its present form. Atkins also presumably added the distinctive Italianate elements during his renovation, including curved brackets supporting the eaves and the red roof tiles.
After a series of two owners in the early twentieth century, the house came into the hands of Lewis and Katherine Sheaffer. Katherine was the daughter of Robert P. Hazzard, who owned Snow-Hazzard Shoe Company in Gardiner. Katherine’s uncle, Ralph Littlefield, owned the house but wanted to move; when he couldn’t sell the house for his price, he gave it to his niece and her new husband. Katherine’s father then hired John P. Thomas, an architect in Portland, ME, to carry out an extensive renovation. These renovations included converting the double parlors at the front of the house into a single large room, and adding three new bathrooms with beautiful terra-cotta tiles on the second floor.
The Sheaffers carried out additional renovations, turning a laundry room in one of the ells into a modern kitchen, while the original kitchen became a sitting room between the dining room and the new kitchen. Lewis and Katherine remained in the house until 1971, when they sold it to Dr. Ulrich Jacobssohn and his family. Dr. Jacobssohn lived in the house until shortly after his wife died in 2004.
The project points to the bittersweet nature of my HABS-level work. As a preservationist, it is always hard to see grand old buildings like this being torn down. However, I am honored and grateful to have had the chance to provide a dignified farewell to the house. So many significant historic buildings and structures simply go away without anyone paying any attention. The Kennebec Savings Bank, moreover, was very supportive of the work, and helped me a great deal. The MHBR package, including photographs and historic narrative, are now housed both at the MHPC and in the Farmingdale Historical Society’s collections, contributing the community memory of this grand house.
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