27.6.11

INTERMISSION: ON THE ROAD TO CASTINE

So many deadlines, so little time.  I'm knocking down four articles for publication, opening the shop for the season---delayed by the endless bad weather and a sewer construction project that has deposited more bulldozers, one lane traffic, and orange cones to block the drive than I ever imagined existed, over the last two months, and basically, I am running backwards to catch up, and finishing up a renovation project for a friend that should have completed a month ago.  So, backwards I run, never catching up.  I promise, promise, promise to come up with something interesting once the Fourth is behind me.  

In the meantime, a couple of favorite houses on the road to aristocratic Castine, one of Maine's loveliest and historic villages, its streets still shaded by elm trees and lined with handsome white houses and gray shingled cottages overlooking a beautiful harbor.  My assignment was to interview the owners of one of the most unusual houses there--but more about that, and breathtaking Castine itself, another day.

Both of these houses, dating from the first quarter of the 19th century, have that 'just right' quality---the elegance and spareness that characterizes early Maine architecture at its best----gently landscaped without the suburban displays that people nowadays just feel they must have.   When did people start forgetting that sometimes what one leaves out is more important than what is added?.  For me, this is how an old building looks best in Maine.


In Maine, the old houses were usually attached to their barns by a series of sheds, so that one did not have to go outside on howling winter nights to use the privy, collect firewood, or feed the horses.  In local parlance, this type of building is known as 'Big House, Little House, Back House and Barn' (an excellent book by that title explores the type further).  Along the Castine Road, there are many old capes where this arrangement survives.  My particular favorite is the one above, built for a farmer of refined taste, painted a subtle washed gray.  In the fifty years that I've been admiring it, it has remained in this perfect state---neither shabby nor tarted up, shaded by massive oaks on its rolling old lawn, sheds and barns rambling off to the side, free of 'tasteful' renovation.  


Almost across the road, this house also sits unchanged behind its stone wall, having somehow miraculously survived 200 years without the indignities of replacement windows or doors.  Behind it, fields slope down to the mouth of the Bagaduce River. The worn white clapboards, hand sawn, give pleasing texture, and the thin muntins and wavy glass of the windows have a delicacy that Marvin cannot duplicate, no matter what they say.   The yard is full of old fashioned shrubs.  Looking at the huge Kolkwitzia blooming in front, one understands its common name, 'Beauty Bush'.


Next door is a small ancient cemetery, with beautiful cut stone wall.  Everywhere along the roadside, wildflowers bloom alongside garden escapees gone wild.  Every year, this lovely season, hard won and delicate, seems to go by at greater speed, and one races to soak it all in.  There are many versions of Maine, but in Spring and early summer, this is the one I like best.

12 comments:

columnist said...

Exquisite, I agree, and reeking of "old money", which is a rare treat to find.

Lynn said...

I've always loved the spareness of old houses' "landscaping/ hardscaping" or lack thereof, but I thought I was the only one. Thanks for saying it so well.

Blue said...

A Beauty Bush, indeed, and in a real garden rather than a landscaper's banality. Sorry to read about the pressure but however infrequently you might have to post I still look forward and read with absolute pleasure.

Raina Cox said...

Oh, THANK GOD. I thought you'd run away and joined the circus.

I (selfishly) need constants in my life. I need to know on any given day a Kardashian is behaving badly, Sarah Palin has misplaced her "g"s, and that you Sir are enlightening us as to what qualifies as old money Yankee good taste.

My week is off to a roaring start!

The Devoted Classicist said...

Charming! I have the B.H.L.H.B.H.&B. book and have enjoyed learning about that very practical building tradition.

The Ancient said...

I've said this before, but every time I'm in New England -- and I've been there 18 times in the past six years -- I'm struck by the presence of the dead. You can be in the middle of nowhere on a small road and suddenly you come upon a beautiful old cemetery that's being lovingly tended. They're everywhere -- very unlike Virginia.

But I've never seen a discussion of the how the tombstone industry developed or was sustained. Did stone carvers travel around with blanks?

smilla4blogs said...

"Elegance and spareness" definitely describe the best of Maine...and I have always loved Castine. Your beautiful photos really capture the essence of the town.

This is an insane time of the year...

Mark D. Ruffner said...

Both these houses are beautiful, and isn't it great that they have caretakers who respect their purity of style. The first house, minus its attachments, reminds me of early Virgina plantation houses.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Columnist, so true. I wish I could find some old money at the moment---reeking or otherwise

Lynn, so true---there's a certain romance to the look.

Raina, I'm too lazy to run away to join the circus---I'll wait til it comes to town

Blue, thanks---and hope that your back is better

Devoted--glad to hear it---it is definitely the cold weather version of Palladian farm villas, no?

Ancient, indeed the dead are always with us up here. I'm fascinated that rural Virginia, so like rural Maine in so many ways, does not have similar occurrence

Smilla, accord on both counts. Are you in town, or have you gone south for the summer?

Mark Ruffner, total accord also.

The Ancient said...

Perhaps the ubiquity of small cemeteries in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine has something to do with the depopulation of rural New England in the 19th century. My county in Virginia has a smaller population than it did before the Civil War, but there was never anything like the outpouring of the NE population to the newly-opened Midwest. So maybe we're looking at a reflection of that former population density.

(Along with a well-developed stone carving trade, and easy access to affordable slate and granite. And in Virginia, a decades-long depression following The Civil War, which made even well-to-do families cash poor.)

Janet said...

Oh DED, give yourself a break. It's summer! And we love your images, taken along the byways of Maine (in between deadlines and orange cones). Finally had a chance to see Hamilton House in South Berwick on the way up from Boston this week. AHHHHHmazing.

mrsfurious said...

Fell in love with these connected homesteads on my first visit DE. "Big House, Little House" was written by one of my professors, Thomas Hubka, at the University of Wisconsin School of Architecture and Urban Planning. He teaches a course on vernacular that influenced me greatly. Glad to see he is known far and wide!