Built in 1876 for Francis & Edward Fassett
An iconic High Victorian in the West End Historic District
It is the physical embodiment of his architectural raison d’etre. Verticality dominates. It sits on a pedestal that is nearly 6 feet tall. Perfectly symmetrical, if we exclude the porches, the mass of the house ascends in a pyramidal form to a perch far above the street. It overlooks the curve of Pine Street and the intersections of Thomas and Carleton Streets. Smack dab in the middle of works by the resident.
117-119 is not the first home Francis Fassett built for himself. Nor is it even the first he built on Pine Street. That title goes to the little gem above at 92 Pine that Fassett had built in 1866. He purchased the land for our subject in 1868. The sellers were John Bundy and John Marshall Brown. Fassett paid $5000 for the lot.
Francis Henry Fassett was born to John and Betsey Fassett in Bath in 1823. John was a painter by trade who served as a constable and was active in the local Sons of Temperance Society. Betsey died in 1837. John died in 1859. He lived the last years of his life with Francis and his family. Francis married Mina Welch of Bath in 1847. They had 5 children before she died in 1859 at the age of 34. Francis married Harriet Hudson in 1861. They also had 5 children.
Fassett utilized masonry in much of his work and here, on his own house, he pulled out all the stops. From brackets to plinths to corbels and more, it’s all here. Executed in rose brick, sandstone, granite, and various stone used in Fassett’s signature segmented columns. The amount of masonry, level of craftsmanship, and trade connection would lead me to believe that Nathan Redlon was the master mason on the building.
Francis Fassett apprenticed with a Bath joiner named Isaac Cole at the age of 11. He worked with Cole and learned the trade. At some point in the 1850s, he changed his vocation to ‘architect’. Of his early works, little remains other than the ‘Church Block’ on Front Street, the light-colored building in the middle of the image below, and, possibly, its neighbor across the street.
Fassett is something of a historical mystery. There is no known photograph of him. He is listed in a group shot at the Maine Memory Network but there is no identifying information and there are at least 2 dozen men in the image. Also, there is no concise listing of all his works, which must run into the hundreds. As such, I cannot say for sure what his first works in the city would have been. He advertised a new building on Center Street in 1865 which was most likely destroyed in the Great Fire. There had to have been earlier works as he had been in the city for 2 years by that time.
Fassett and his builders were a crafty group. The image above shows the Carleton Street side, or # 119 Pine Street side, of our subject. Note the brick structure between the second-floor windows above the left side of the porch. That is a fireplace. In a bedroom no doubt. There is a matching unit on the Pine Street side of the projecting bay. Below both of these fireplaces, on the first floor, are doorways for the porch. It would seem that Fassett decided, rightly IMO, that integrating a chimney and fireplace mass with the needed access to the porch would be a technical and aesthetic headache that was not worth resolving. The more elegant solution was to insert a carved sandstone corbel into the wall at the belt-line and project the fireplace and chimney on it. This solution provided second-floor chimneys, resolved the issue of the porch doors, added some relief to the wall surface, and broke up the long expanse of the roof-line. These chimney units are mirrored on the 117 Pine Street side.
The Great Fire was Francis Fassett’s moment. With over 1000 buildings destroyed, including much of the dry goods, printing & publishing, and financial sectors, demand for his services was high. As we have seen, many families who had lived in the area now called the “Old Port” moved to the West End and Deering Street neighborhoods. This added to the demand for his services. Perhaps the gem of his post-fire designs was City Hall. His design lasted until 1908 when it was gutted in a fire and replaced with the current building.
Although the exact influences on Fassett’s work are unclear, I think one likely source was Samuel Sloane’s “The Model Architect” of 1852/53. It was republished in 1860 which, with the original publishing date, brackets the period in which Fassett changed vocations. Although there are no examples of direct taking from Sloane, Fassett utilized decorative motifs, window arrangements, and other details in his works. In 1868, he took his version of the Grand Tour visiting England, France, Italy, and Germany.
Upon his return, Francis Fassett dove headlong into the architectural field. His works were built all over Maine and New Hampshire. They include:
- The Sagadahoc County Courthouse
- Maine General Hospital
- Sacred Heart Church
- Westbrook High School
- Gardiner High School
- The Pythian Opera House, Boothbay Harbor
- The Mallett Office Building, Freeport
- The Baxter Library
- The Hancock County Jail
As his workload grew, Francis Fassett needed assistants. One of the first to enter the office was his eldest son Edward who was born in 1848. His story is sad and compelling. He may or may not have attended Portland High School. He was working in his father’s office by 1869. In 1872 Edward married Miss Armenia Angevine in Manhattan. Armenia was 25 and the middle child of George and Jane Angevine. George was a clerk at various businesses in and around the Lower West Side of the city where the family lived. In 1873, Mary Angevine Fassett was born in Portland. In 1876, Grace was born. 1876 was also the year Armenia died at the age of 28. For reasons I have not been able to determine, she was buried in Lacrosse Wisconsin. Mary was buried with her when she died, in St Louis (?), in 1889. The historical record shows that Francis and Edward started the construction of our subject in 1876, no doubt to hold the growing family. Sadly, that growing family would have to wait.
1873 was also the year that a young man who had just graduated high school entered the office as an apprentice/office boy. He had grown up on Cedar Street in what is now Bayside. His father was a clerk. The family had moved to Portland in 1857 when he was 2. His name was John Calvin Stevens and he would, in time, become a partner and grow to become Portland’s best-known architect. But that’s another story.
The 1880 census found Francis, Harriet, and 3 children, Joseph, Mina, and Hattie living in 117 Pine with 119 being empty. Edward and his brother William were in Denver Colorado in 1880. He was working as an architect, with William working as a lawyer, but I can find no record of anything Edward designed while in Denver. In 1881, Edward married Lucia K Gile in Denver. The following year, Francis HG Fassett was born in Portland. Edward and Lucia had 5 more children, including 4 more sons of which 2 were twins, over the next 10 years.
The year of our subject’s construction, 1876, was the year another recent high school graduate entered the office of Francis H Fassett. His name was Fred A Tompson and he would grow to become a partner before starting his own practice in 1891. Tompson’s work would be marked by a monumental quality and a certain playfulness with details. But, again, that’s another story.
Francis Fassett continued to practice architecture into the new century. City directories list him and Edward until 1907. Fassett died of pneumonia on November 1, 1908. He was 85 years old. He had practiced for over 50 years. Harriet and Mina Fassett moved to Park Street where they took rooms in the Sherwood Hotel on the corner of Gray Street. Harriet died in 1916.
117 Pine Street was vacant for much of the 1910s. One interesting person who rented it was a retired Army General who was born in Portland in 1844 named Charles Badger Hall. Hall served in Louisiana during the Civil War and was named the commandant of the Infantry and Cavalry School, Signal School, and Army Staff College at Fort Leavenworth in 1905. He served until his retirement in 1908. His wife, Lucretia, died in 1902. Charles Hall lived at 117 Pine Street until his death in 1914.
119 Pine was occupied by a boot and shoe wholesale merchant named Alfred Berry. After Harriet died in 1916, the children sold the property to Berry. He died in 1923. His son, Harold inherited the property. He rented 117 irregularly and 119 more consistently. In 1941, Harold Berry sold our subject to the WH Clifford Company. They owned it until they merged with JB Brown in the 50s. On into the late 20th century, the house would be apartments. The 1963 city directory listed 13 different tenants between the 2 units. Some of the renters over the decades were:
- Harry & Susie Brinkerhoff. Harry was the Portland city manager in the 20s
- Joseph & Blanche Noyes. Joseph ran a machine shop on Front Street in South Portland.
- Fred & Blanche Johnson. Fred ran an auto repair shop on the corner of Congress & Sheridan Streets.
- John & Frances Knox. John was an insurance agent.
- William & Elinor Clark. William was the Vice-President of the Bancroft Martin Rolling Mills in South Portland.
- John & Gertrude Galt. John was the sales manager of the American Can Company on Read Street.
117 Pine Street was converted to condominiums in 2003/2004. There are 5 units.
119 Pine Street is a 4 family apartment building.
Condition for both units is very good.