Built ca 1868 for Captains Russell Lewis and Jacob Winslow. Design by Francis Fassett
A brick Mansard Style double house in the Deering Street Historic District.
Captain Jacob Winslow was a big gun. His monument in Evergreen Cemetery, one of the largest at some 20 tons, leaves little doubt of his standing. He was born in Pembroke Maine in 1827 to a ship captain named Jacob, who was also the son of a ship captain, and his wife Elizabeth. He was, it would seem, destined for a life at sea. He married Philena Morton of Lubec in 1853. They had 1 daughter, Carrie, born in 1867.
Russell Lewis was born in 1826. His wife, Mary Elizabeth Hodgdon, was about the same age. They both were born and raised in Boothbay where the Hodgdon family name is connected to the maritime industry to this day. Russell and Mary married prior to 1853 based on the date of the birth of their first child, Mary, on January 11th of that year. Interestingly, the record says Mary was born in Portland yet census records, city directories, and deed records show the Lewis family in Boothbay until the middle of 1860. There is no record of their marriage.
It’s a brawny structure very much in the norm for Francis Fassett’s work of the period. Very heavy quoins, now painted a very deep black (Is this historically accurate?), and a tightly held beltline that incorporates all the first story cornice lines create a very strongly defined and delineated group of spaces. The building’s placement on a substantial basement and its massive tower and belvedere, sadly removed, work to emphasize the overall impact.
Jacob and Philena Winslow were living on Atlantic Street when Russell and Mary Lewis bought the nearby house from the Whetmores in 1860. Although there is no direct linkage, one wonders if they knew each other due to their shared field of employment. What is for certain is that, in 1868, they purchased the lot on Deering Street from Rufus Deering and hired Fassett to design our subject.
Although the main façade is rigidly symmetrical, each half of the building is a unique unit. This is immediately noticed when you look at either sidewall. The ‘Lewis’ side at #12 is notable for the second-story bay window and stacked bay windows beyond. The details of the façade are carried through this wall. The bays on the second story are much simpler in design than the first. The windows are surrounded by hefty brick frames on a corbeled sill. The frames are hooded with insets and grand keystones.
The ‘Winslow’ side at #14 is much simpler than its neighbor. One lone bay window at the first floor rear is the only break in the wall surface. This bay carries the details of the main façade bays. This wall may give us a good view of how the entire building looked originally. The remnants of whitewash show how the trim elements would have been highlighted against the unadorned wall of the main body. This would have given a much more lively feel than the current colors.
Jacob Winslow and Russell Lewis shared a double-house in Portland Maine with their families for almost a decade before they would, in a relatively short time, share tragedy. On May 4, 1877, Philena Morton Winslow died of ‘paralysis. She was 45 years old. On May 18 of 1878, Mary Elizabeth Lewis died of Bright’s Disease or chronic nephritis. She was 52 years old. Both were buried in Evergreen Cemetery.
Jacob Winslow was a very successful mariner who, by 1873, owned a fleet of 20+ vessels with an aggregate tonnage of some 8500 tons. By 1880 his eponymously named company would have over 100 vessels with tonnage nearing 50,000 tons and was one of the largest maritime fleet owners in the US. Russell Lewis took up the wholesale lumber business after 1870. As he was carrying lumber as his primary cargo in his sailing days, this was a logical progression and matched Portland’s growth as a clearing port for timber products.
Russell Lewis never remarried after the death of his wife Mary. In 1888, he sold 12 Deering Street to Mary and Frank Sawyer and moved to his daughter’s home on State Street where he lived until his death in 1911 from ‘exhaustion after the fracture of a femur in a fall’. Jacob seems to have preferred women from Lubec as he went back there in 1881 and married Melvina Wilder Clark. They would have two children, Philena, born in 1882, and Grace, born in 1883. Grace died in 1901 of heart disease. Jacob died in 1902 of chronic nephritis. Melvina sold 14 Deering Street to Dr. Edville G. Abbott in 1903.
The service ell at the rear is a two-story block with all the details of the main block. It also shows the variations in each unit. The differing roof lines on the lowest segment of the mansard are interesting. I believe the right-hand unit shows the original line. The left side shows the changes, remuddling, done when the unit was converted for use as a home and doctor’s office. More on that later.
One of Fassett’s great skills was his ability to create a vertical emphasis by aligning elements and subtly reducing the upper elements in both size and detail. This arrangement is best seen here in the front façade of #12.
The side of the service wing on 14 Deering Street presents an odd arrangement that, in some ways, seems out of character for Francis Fassett. The rear window of the main block carries all the details, sill, hood molding, etc., of the rest of the house. Within two feet of this window/wall is a bay window that projects from the wall into what seems to have been an open porch. The bay penetrates the roofline and changes from a square corner to a clipped corner bay on the second story. The first-floor bay is broken by slim piers holding hefty carved brackets. The work seems to be all of the same period thus eliminating the possibility of an act of remuddling. That such effort was put into decorating the rear window only to have it mostly hidden by the bay seems wasteful of time and effort but may have been insisted on by the Winslow’s.
Frank and Mary Sawyer were living in Deering when they purchased 12 Deering Street in 1888 and when they sold it in 1891. From this, we can determine that they never lived there but had it as an investment. That they were buying and selling properties all over Portland in the period tends to add weight to this determination. The purchaser in 1891 was Charles C Harmon. Harmon was born in Portland in 1856 to an attorney, Zebulon, and his wife Harriet. Charles had married Alice Dana in 1878. He founded Loring, Short, and Harmon sometime around 1870.
Charles and Alice had 4 children, Carrie in 1878, Charles D in 1883, Harriet in 1884, and Alice who died in October of 1886 at 11 months. Alice Dana Harmon died of pneumonia in November of 1886. She was 30 years old. Charles remained at 12 Deering. He married Isabelle Tyler Clark in 1901. Isabelle was born in 1857 and was the daughter of Portland’s biggest ice dealer and one of Maine’s early ‘Ice Barons’, Dennis W Clark. Charles Harmon died in 1923. His will was complex and took some 3 years to execute. 12 Deering Street was sold to Elton Blaisdell, a physician, in 1927. Blaisdell lived, and practiced, there until he sold it in 1967
The garage at 14 Deering Street is a worthy carrier of the Remuddling banner. It was probably built in the ’60s or 70’s when the area was at its lowest point. The intersection of High and Congress Street, a block and a half away, was notorious for drug dealing and prostitution. It’s likely that vandalism or burglary caused the owners to desire secure parking. Regardless of when or why what was created was a ponderous lump of brick with no character or redeeming qualities.
Edville Gerhardt Abbott was born in Hancock Maine in 1871. He graduated from the Bowdoin School of Medicine in 1898. He developed an early orthotic treatment for scoliosis and was a founder of the Children’s Hospital on High Street. Edville and his wife Sara lived in 14 Deering Street until 1917 when they moved to Danforth Street. The purchaser of our subject was Marjorie Holt. Her husband, William, was a physician who practiced out of the home. The Holts would reside there until when it was sold in 1955 to a pair of dentists from Cape Elizabeth named Hathorne and Anton.
12 Deering Street is currently 4 condominium units. 14 Deering Street is still owned by the Antons and is currently listed as a multi-unit commercial building. Condition is good overall if sorely needing a repaint.
When was the “widow’s walk” removed and why?
Hi Mark. There’s no record of when. All we can say for sure is it was after 1924. In most cases, they were removed due to maintenance costs and or decay and an unwillingness on the part of the owners to pay for repairs and upkeep. The city lost allot of beautiful specimens for these reasons.
This article was very interesting as Capt. Russell’s wife, Mary Hodgdon, is my great Aunt. Her brother, Capt. Alonzo Hodgdon, my great grandfather was Master of the Celina for Russell Lewis.
I did a lot of work on 12 Deering Street about 25 years ago. To realize just how big this house is when I started working there the left half of the house, #12, was cut up into 7 apartments! The owners were from Chicago and they bought the house to live in while they were planning a house build up in Georgetown. But they got caught up in remodeling 12 Deering and never built the other house.
I helped them convert #12 from 7 units to 4 units. Three are now three 2 bedroom apartments plus a studio apt in the front section of the first floor.
The interior details are amazing. On the first floor the Mahogany doors are all 8’ tall, all the interior woodwork is Mahogany. The kitchen floor was Teak and Holly like the sole of a ship.
The plaster crown moldings are gigantic. A huge cove with a series of Acanthus leaves.
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