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85 Federal Street

85 Federal Street
[Captain Francis C. Jordan]

85 Federal Street, 1860.

When Captain Francis C. Jordan built "85 Federal Street" between 75 and 79 Federal Street, the neighbors may well have gasped, for it was of a scale quite unlike those of the surrounding houses. The informal zoning of Federal Street when it was laid out in 1805 aimed at a two-story elevation and a common setback. Residents were concerned about new houses being too small rather than too large.

In the area from Bath Street to the railroad cut, the west side of Federal Street had eight houses by 1845, while the east side had only four. The Reverend Benjamin Titcomb's at number 63 (now the Stowe House) and Parker Cleaveland's at number 75 (now owned by Professor and Mrs. William Shipman) were both built in 1806. David Stanwood moved an eighteenth-century house from Maine Street near Mere Brook to number 79 in 1821, and Parker Cleaveland's son John built the brick dwelling at number 71 in 1845.

According to William Shipman, Captain Francis C. Jordan purchased his lot for $500 in 1859 from the heirs of David Dunlap (David's brother Robert owned the land on the west side of the street), and Jordan's new house, completed in 1860, was numbered 77.1

Jordan, a shipmaster born in 1820, had already built one house on Federal Street, at number 70. Later he was to buy another, at number 78, as an investment, and still another opposite Bank Street for his own dwelling. By 1887 the town directory lists him as owning a corn cannery. He developed Pearl Street, later renamed Jordan Avenue, for his business.

It is not yet known whether Jordan had an architect; his housewright was James R. Barker. Perhaps Barker had built the Benjamin Greene (now Delta Upsilon) and H. C. Martin (now Burnett) houses as well. From the Brunswick Telegraph of December 6, 1861:

and a word of this new house. Mr. James Barker has built it, and his work which will bear the closest scrutiny, speaks for itself. . . The General style of the house is liked by most people, but we should prefer, for ourselves, something a little more odd or quaint.

The original impact of the house is almost preserved today, for the cupola, roof balustrade, and smaller portico balustrade are intact. These important features are missing from the architecturally similar Burnett House and Delta Sigma fraternity house. Originally this structure was not white, and there were probably three or four colors where today there are only two. When the house was repainted in 1885 the Brunswick Telegraph of May 5 offered the opinion that "the red of the window sashes should be a shade or two darker."

On the other hand, the present site at 85 Federal Street on the corner of the Bath Road is more advantageous to the untroubled authority of this architecture. Built in the classic symmetrical mode of the previous one hundred years and using classical elements-corner pilasters, porch columns, matched board siding, roof balustrade-the scale has been inflated to reflect Renaissance palazzi. The cupola provides height, and the tall windows are capped by projecting cornices on brackets. The bracketed roofline is a translation of stone Italian forms into wood for the Brunswick client.

The house was moved from number 77 in 1874 by the son-in-law of Parker Cleaveland, Peleg Chandler, when he and his family "modernized" the old family home at 75 Federal in order to spend summers in Brunswick. Chandler wanted more garden and less shade, so he acquired the property next door and moved the house.

Bowdoin's first president's house, roughly on the site of Searles Science Building, had burned in 1838. Leonard Woods, president from 1839 to 1866, entertained a design for a new president's house from Gervase Wheeler before the architect fell from favor but was content to live in bachelor quarters during his tenure. The College bought the house at number 77 from Captain Jordan in 1867 for Samuel Harris, who succeeded Woods as president. President Chamberlain, who succeeded Harris in 1871, preferred to live in his own house, so the College leased it until Chandler bought and moved it. The College repurchased the house in 1890, and President and Mrs. Hyde were allowed to rent it for $360 a year.

The house at 85 Federal Street served as the President's House for the next ninety-two years; during that time it underwent the usual improvements in plumbing and heating. As the College grew, so did the need for public space. In 1925 Felix Arnold Burton '07 designed the first-floor ballroom addition, modeled after Gadsby's Tavern, an eighteenth-centurybuilding in Alexandria, Virginia. Eighty-five Federal Street now houses the offices of the development staff.

Next door at the Marshall Perley Cram Alumni House are more offices in addition to the public rooms on the lower floor. This former dwelling was built at the same time as 85 Federal Street, but doubtless caused little comment, for it was designed in a thoroughly conservative style. Although the rooms are high posted, the exterior does not proclaim this new aesthetic as does that of its next door neighbor. Cram Alumni House seems to be, rather, a fattened version of a typical Greek Revival house onto which have grown a few Italianate features like the entrance portico.

At the time of its construction in 1859 the local critic at the Brunswick Telegraph had this to say on September 9: "There can be no question Mr. Cram's house is as thoroughly constructed as any one ever built in this town, and the only fault we have to find with it, is its too great exterior plainness."

Marshall Cram was a Bowdoin Overseer from 1860 to 1875 and was a merchant and state legislator. He, like Francis Jordan, entrusted the construction of his house to James R. Barker. The house remained in the Cram family and was the lifelong home of Cram's grandson, Marshall Perley Cram '04, who became Josiah Little Professor of Natural Science. When Professor Cram died in 1933, the house was given to the College. It was not until 1962 that it was reworked as the Alumni House, and in 1975 it was formally named for the donor.

Text From: Patricia McGraw Anderson's The Architecture of Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine: Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 1988). ©Bowdoin College.

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