Built prior to 1860 for Dependence and/or Henry Furbush (Furbish). Possibly designed by Charles A Alexander.
A fascinating brick Italianate on the Waynflete Campus.
It’s a house that sugar built. Dependence Furbish, or Furbush, was the superintendent of the Portland Sugar House. His son, Henry H, would later hold the same role. Dependence was a founder and held the patent for the steam-driven refining process that was at the heart of the business.
Readers familiar with Portland history will no doubt know about the Sugar House. Started by John Bundy Brown in the 1850s, the building, seen above, was a colossus that ranked in the top 3 for sugar production on the Eastern Seaboard at the time of its destruction in the Great Fire of 1866. It had been designed by Charles A Alexander, who was the city’s preeminent antebellum architect. Alexander also designed ‘Bramhall’, Brown’s palatial estate on the Western Promenade. It is this connection to the Furbish’s employer, along with the location of the building in a neighborhood of other contemporaneous works of Alexander’s and design similarities, that lead me to believe, without confirming information, that our subject came from the office of Mr. Alexander as well.
The house is, in many ways, a simple and common 3 bay wide by 3 story Italianate that is seen throughout the city. Most examples have beltline moldings that define the stories. Here, we have a single belt line course at the third storyline that is working more to create a frieze than its traditional use. And that’s just the start of the differences.
It sits on a low pedestal, mostly to account for the sloped site which increases as it moves southwest towards Danforth Street. This slope can be seen in the lowest step of the stairs in the image above. it’s a bit short for its width, possibly to deal with the afore-mentioned sloping site. All the window openings are gloriously devoid of trim but for a simple projecting brick band. They are all arched topped and, intriguingly, most of the 1st and 2nd-floors units start from the floor line. The primary window has a tripartite arrangement and is divided by a sash line at about the two-thirds point. The other windows are mostly single or double-hung sash units.
The brickwork is laid in an interesting pattern of alternating groups of headers and stretchers in the same course. This adds some texture to the surface but the effect is subdued by the current mottled surface. The current surface, with its spotty complexion, and the tax photo below, lead me to consider the possibility the building was originally stuccoed. At the least it was whitewashed. Either way, the surface would have been more homogenous but the whitewash would have left the pattern of the brick whereas stucco would have created something of a ‘skin’ over the building.
Up to this point in our story, I have avoided much of the early history for 16 Storer Street. This is primarily due to having inconclusive evidence for said history. The Portland Historic Resources Inventory of 1976 gives a build date of 1860 and attribution to Henry Furbush. I have not been able to confirm this and I have my doubts about it. Census records, city directories, and some deeds put Dependence on the site and Henry as his son but I find no document wherein Henry is given title. In fact, Henry only appears once in the Registry of Deeds and that is for a property farther down Danforth Street. Dependence had purchased the land for 16 Storer from Luther Fitch in 1851. That purchase was for a contiguous lot from Spring to Danforth. It would later be divided.
Census and city directory information says Judge Edward Fox lived in our subject. He purchased it between 1873 and 1880. I, once again, cannot find any documents in the Registry of Deeds for this purchase. Edward died in 1881 but his widow, Martha, lived in the house until she sold it to Ethel Baxter in 1909. For this, we have a deed!
Clinton Lewis Baxter was born to James Phinney and Sarah Lewis Baxter in 1859. Much like the afore-mentioned John Bundy Brown, James P Baxter was a titan of Maine industry in the second half of the 19th century. Baxter had been involved in the development of the canning of vegetables, corn in particular. The industry saw explosive growth in the 1860s, ’70s & ’80s and would lead to countless Maine towns having a ‘Corn Shop’ or ‘Corn Mill’ Road/Lane. James P Baxter’s story is far too deep, he lived to the age of 90, for this blog. By the time Ethel and Clint Baxter purchased our subject, he was the president of the Portland Canning Company. It’s worth noting that Clint and Ethel also owned, but did not live in, the house at 85 Park Street which we have looked at previously. The Baxters were the last residents of the property. Clinton died in 1931 and Ethel sold it to the Waynflete School in 1945. She died in 1946.
The second floor has the same asymmetric window arrangement as the first. The primary feature being the shallow projecting bay window in the center of the facade. It is gently curved on its sides and has the same tripartite window arrangement as the first floor. The arched top window to the left of the bay is another odd feature in that it has a different radius curve than the windows below.
The porch and entry are, in my opinion, not original. The bricks and bond pattern of the porch are dramatically different from the body of the house. Enough to be of a different period. Also, the columns are very plain square forms with no details at all. The entry itself is a bit dowdy seems more fitting to the period of the Baxter’s purchase. This might explain why it looks so dramatically different in the tax photo. Perhaps it was still relatively new in 1924.
The northwest side of the house presents another unique element in the curved first-floor wall. Somewhat reminiscent of the round front houses of Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, this ‘bay’ is the full width of the block and has an apsidal quality to it.
The southeast facade shows the effect of the sloping site to its fullest. A seemingly squat, 3 story building is now a full 4 stories A detail of note here is how the small windows of the 3rd story ‘frieze’ echoes the arrangement of the 2nd story bay window below them. A simple detail that is very effective and, I feel, very characteristic of Charles A Alexander’s somewhat playful architectural style.
The house is, as noted, a part of the Wayneflete Campus is in very good condition. It has had alterations and additions to better integrate it into the needs of the school. I think these alterations and additions have been respectful of the building while speaking of the modern times and materials in which they exist.
Charles A Alexander was a major influence on architecture and the related arts in the pre-Civil War era. His influence was great but there is scant information about him or his life. This is a shame. It’s a story that deserves to be told and his is a legacy that deserves to be remembered.