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Maine Hall

Maine Hall

Maine Hall, circa 1876. Studio: Warren's Portraits. Catalog no.: 1450.1.

There must have been relief and pride when the original Maine Hall was ready for students in 1808. It was the building that had been projected in college documents of 1796, before the depressed value of land had forced the Governing Boards to start with a smaller structure, Massachusetts Hall. To the original specifications in the boards' votes—brick, one hundred feet long by forty-two feet deep and four stories tall—had been added a reference to "Hollis Hall in Cambridge." There is a resemblance to Harvard's dormitory building of 1762 in the projecting pedimented section on the long campus facade.

Just as the College had determined to build a third "college," fire struck Maine Hall in March 1822. The day after the fire, various agents of the College set out to seek funds for the rebuilding. At the same time, an article appeared in the Portland newspaper reporting the fire, describing the great need of the College, and thanking residents of Brunswick for their prompt aid in housing students. A few days later this advertisement appeared: "Proposals for rebuilding the college lately destroyed by fire will be received. . . ." The advertisement specified the size of the glass panes, "10 x 8 inches"; the price of a "stone window cap and sill," $3.25; the addition of a fire wall, "the partition wall, now terminating in the 4th story is to be carried 4 feet above the roof; and, finally, "finishing plain, neat, and substantial, with a mop board and strip above. No woodwork around the chimney,—hearth all around the chimney."1 A floor plan from this rebuilding indicates that some of the first-story rooms were to be devoted to recitation, a change from the former interior arrangements.2

Samuel Melcher III, designer and builder of the burnt structure, submitted the appropriate bid for rebuilding; he was paid $6,409.53 betweeen June and September 1822. Once again Melcher's grasp of simple but well-proportioned construction gave distinction to a Bowdoin building.

A painting of the early campus by J. G. Brown shows the rebuilt Maine Hall. It had doorways like those that still serve Winthrop Hall (built in 1822), but they were placed on the principal elevation, facing the campus. The stylistic importance of the hundred-foot-long facade was assured by a center projecting bay, crowned by a triangular pediment in which was cut a semicircular fanlight. A balustrade similar to the one formerly on Winthrop Hall surrounded the roof. The disposition of the chimneys, however, was different from Winthrop's. Winthrop's chimneys are exterior. The interior plan of Maine Hall put fireplaces on the south and north ends—the short walls—an arrangement consonant with the placement of the entries on the long flank.

When the Reverend William Allen became president in 1820, he arrived at a college of four buildings, two of wood and two of brick, set upon a sandy plain. Tying together the campus were a fence and plank walks; providing sanitation and water were "necessaries," cisterns, and wells, and of course there were woodsheds. On September 4, 1816, the Boards had:

voted to elect an agent to take charge of and superintend the lands and buildings belonging to Bowdoin College, and that John Abbott Esq. be the said Agent . . . the sum of six hundred dollars be allowed and paid to John Abbott, Esq. annually, as compensation for his services and personal expences in the offices of Treasurer, Librarian and Agent for the superintendence of the College Lands and Buildings.

The lightning rods and the special roof coating referred to in purchase orders were of no avail in 1836, when once again Maine Hall suffered a devastating fire. A sophomore of the class of 1838, Edward Daveis, wrote to his father, the Honorable Charles Stewart Daveis of Portland, class of 1807, an Overseer since 1816, elected Trustee in 1836:

the Peucinian library was saved with very little injury, losing only those books which were in students' rooms in the north-western end. The Athenaean library containing over three thousand volumes, many very valuable, was entirely destroyed with the exception of such as are out.3

The two rival literary societies, upon petition in 1828, had been allowed to use the first floor recitation spaces in Maine Hall for their libraries and collections, as well as for meetings. Among the members of the Peucinian were Charles S. Daveis and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, class of 1825; the Athenaean roster included Franklin Pierce, class of 1824, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, class of 1825. In the second rebuilding of Maine, special rooms were provided for the societies and for their scientific offspring, Phi Alpha and Caluvian.

For reasons not clear, a contract for the second rebuilding of Maine Hall, in 1837, was signed with Anthony Coombs Raymond, rather than with the original builder, Samuel Melcher III. In 1828 Raymond had finished the Tontine Hotel in Brunswick, a frame Greek Revival structure on Maine Street. Later he was to design the Winter Street Church in Bath and other structures in both towns. Raymond, perhaps upon advice of the president and the Boards, followed Melcher's design for Winthrop Hall, thus not repeating the most prominent features of the first Maine Hall design.

The length and depth of the present Maine are the same as Winthrop, but Maine Hall is taller. The granite block basement rises higher, hence there are several steps leading to each door. The entranceways, placed now at either end, mark this stylistically as a later building. In place of the slender, arched, and only slightly recessed portals of Winthrop, the new Maine Hall has deeply indented openings that are twice as wide and arched elliptically. Although the arrangement of the windows is the same in the two buildings, the lintels are different. Maine Hall has plain rectangular blocks rather than the more lightly proportioned splayed shape of the Winthrop lintels. As the Federal style gave way to the Greek Revival, the swing to more solid proportions was widespread and always occurred somewhat later outside urban centers.

Other improvements were also slow to reach Bowdoin. Running water was not installed in Maine Hall until 1892. President Hyde wrote in his report for 1891 —1892:

Preparations have been made for a thorough reconstruction of Maine Hall the coming summer. New floors, new windows, new partitions, with steam heat and electric light in every room, and water and water closets on every floor will be provided.

The interior refurbishment of 1892 cost $10,000; Anthony Raymond's whole building in 1836 had cost only $10,800. Although the exterior has remained the same since 1837, the interiors of this, Winthrop, and Apple-ton halls have been completely rebuilt within recent years.

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

1. Report of the fire, Portland Gazette, March 9, 1822. Clipping in Sp. Coll., William Allen Papers. Advertisement, Portland Gazette, Mar. 12, 1822. Draft copy in Sp. Coll., Bldgs.: Misc. Papers.

2. Sp. Coll., Boards Votes, March 27, 1822. Also cited in Cleaveland and Packard, p. 92.

3. E. Daveis to C. S. Daveis, Feb. 17, 1836, Sp. Coll., Charles S. Daveis Papers: Correspondence 1808-1840. Also quoted in Hatch, p. 406. There is also a joint letter from E. P. Weston and N. A. Prince to a former teacher describing the second fire in Sp. Coll., Bldgs.: Maine.

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