Sewall Property HABS/HAER Photography

In the spring of 2022 I had the wonderful opportunity to collaborate with my colleague Paula Sagerman on the documentation of the Elmina B. Sewall Property, in Kennebunk, ME, for HABS/HAER. The house, a magnificent mid-century Colonial Revival mansion, was acquired by the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge for use as an administrative headquarters and visitor center. While most of the house’s principal architectural features will remain, the renovations will require changes that constitute an adverse effect under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (as amended). The United States Fish and Wildlife Service hired Paula to manage the HABS documentation, and I was subcontracted to prepare the HABS/HAER photography package.

Mrs. Sewall was the daughter of Frederick Brewster and his wife, Margaret. Mr. Brewster was an early executive and officer with Standard Oil Company, whose fortune was ranked second only to his employer, John D. Rockefeller. Mrs. Sewall was divorced in 1945, and in 1955 she contracted with Wadsworth and Boston Architects of Portland, Maine to design the house in a restrained Colonial Revival style. The house was built in 1956, and a low concrete dam was built in the adjacent Fernald Brook in 1957 to form a small pond, with a wooden covered bridge spanning the top of the dam.

While the house’s exterior is subdued, the interior is truly elegant, starting with the magnificent wood-paneled foyer. The foyer leads to a back hall that connects the kitchen and the living room on opposite sites of the house, with a staircase leading to the raised basement. A lovely wood-paneled library opens from the foyer, while a small side hall directly off the entrance leads to the dining room and the enclosed staircase to the second floor.

There were a number of challenges with this project, starting with the gray, damp weather that lasted the entire week that I was in Kennebunk and had an impact on the exterior photographs. In addition, the building has been unused for many years, resulting in a great deal of vegetation growing around the house which obscured many of the views and caused me some disappointment. The interiors, however, were all free and open, and a wonderful treat. All of these photographs were made on Ilford FP4 4×5 black and white film, which handled the interior views in particular with beautiful tones.