Glimpses. 97 Danforth Street

Built in 1869 by John Mussey

A very expressive Second Empire home built by a member of one of Portland’s first families whom we have encountered before. It is situated on the northwest side of Danforth Street about half way between High Street and the Morse Libby house.

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An interesting building to say the least. From it’s lack of symmetry to the unusually deep curve of the Mansard roof, there is allot going on here. The first thing I wonder is why the house was built to begin with. John lived in the family mansion next door.

The Mussey Mansion at the corner of High & Danforth Streets. Our subject home is visible at left. Image from Historic American Buildings Survey of 1936

The Mussey Mansion at the corner of High & Danforth Streets. Our subject home is visible at left. Image from Historic American Buildings Survey of 1936

John’s children were all married and living on their own by 1869. It may have been built for another family member or solely for income. The documents do not shine any light on the matter as it stayed in the family until the 1930’s.

The projecting first floor bay is unique in having curved, molded, brick on the corners. A detail I have not noticed anywhere else in the city so far. The strongly profiled cornice on the bay is a bit overscaled but does create some powerful shadows.

Then we have this funky colonialish’ capital on the central pilaster. It’s not one of the classical orders and appears to have an egg and dart motif. Also, it stops well shy of the soffit unlike a normal capital. The pilaster is odd in it being segmented like the quoins on the corners of the building. The 1924 tax photo shows these capitals on the corners as well. They have disappeared in the intervening years.

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All of the openings on the house are surrounded by projecting brick trims that are unadorned. The arches are capped with strong voussoirs. The entry arch is more pronounced and rests on corbeled spring points. A pair of diminutive, fluted columns, shorn of their plinth blocks, flank the door.

John’s granddaughter Emelinn Richardson was the owner of record in 1924. She sold it out of the family in 1932. One last note on the Mussey family before moving on. John’s daughter and Emelinn’s aunt Margaret married Lorenzo De Medici Sweat, yes really, in 1849. Sweat was an attorney who served in the Maine senate and US House of Representatives. They purchased the Hugh Mclellan house on the corner of Spring and High streets and would reside there until their deaths. Lorenzo passed in 1898 and Margaret in 1908. Margaret bequeathed the home, along with funds to build a gallery as a memorial to her husband, to what is now the Portland Museum of Art.

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The home would pass through a range of, mostly absent, owners over the decades. They would include a well known developer and a local entrepreneur known for opening several dinning and entertainment venues in the late 80’s. His ex-wife is the current owner.

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