On the first Sunday in November, the weather was gray and indifferent, not pleasant enough to encourage outside chores, not bad enough to stay inside with a book.   Even as I was contemplating this dilemma, knowing that outdoor chores were really the correct answer, the phone rang.   It was Sidekick, in much the same mood, wondering if I might be interested in a road trip 'up' to the Colby College Art Museum in Waterville (although actually due west a couple of hours, like all trips inland in Maine, it feels 'up').  Road trip with a favorite partner in crime or chores?  The decision took about 1.3 seconds.

On the outskirts of China, a Greek Revival farmhouse with beautiful Ionic columns
Further down the road, this handsome whitewashed brick Federal was once the summer home of Ellerton Jette, who was the chairman of the Hathaway Shirt Company, whose long defunct factory was once Waterville's major employer.  Here was housed much of the collection of American art that Jette later donated to  the Colby Art Museum.
For those too young to remember, 'The Man in The Hathaway Shirt' was one of the most successful ad campaigns of all time.  Hathaway was a small regional manufacturer when Ellerton Jette went to David Ogilvy, then arguably the most powerful man in advertising, with a tiny budget and convinced him to take on the Hathaway account.  The rest is history.  When the Dilettante was little, Dunham's of Waterville, with its rows of pastel oxford button downs was where we all got supplied with our Hathaway shirts and Bass Weejun loafers.
Not quite two hours later, after a drive through China, we arrived at Colby. The  campus is a handsome one, created in the 1930's.  It is a classic of its era, the creation of one Dr. Bixler, then the ambitious president of what the then small regional college.  Sitting on  Mayflower Hill, its Georgian buildings and quadrangles were inspired by the great early Universities, including Harvard and the University of Virginia.

The original 19th century Colby College Campu
The centerpiece is the Miller Library, a  Colonial Revival building with a whiff of Independence Hall in its architecture.  191 feet high, it was, until the 1970s the tallest building in Maine.  (Since you ask, the current tallest building is an apartment building in Portland.  At 203 feet, it ranks 46th or 47th---depending on how you interpret the Wikipedia information---among each State's tallest buildings.  Only Vermont, North Dakota, and Wyoming rank higher, I mean, lower.)

The Miller Library on the 'new' campus at Colby College, for years the tallest building in Maine.
We parked and strode to the museum entrance,  only to be confronted with a chain link fence with a sign that said 'Closed for Renovation until November 8th'.  We had checked the schedule online before leaving home, and on the museum's schedule page found no evidence that the museum was anything but open.  As it turned out, the closure was mentioned on the home page, but we had googled 'schedule', thus by-passing that page.  You'd think those smart people at the museum would have troubled to mention it on their schedule page also, wouldn't you?  Thank-you.  So would I.  Especially on the schedule page.  Really.

The museum was closed to prepare for the construction of the new Lunder Pavilion, to house a collection of artworks donated by the Lunder family, heirs to the Dexter Shoe fortune.  While I find it a handsome design, I question the agressive way in which it breaks scale with the surrounding buildings.
Colby's collection is well worth the visit.  Among the works we didn't see that day are:

John Singleton Copley
Mrs. Metcalf Bowler (Anne Fairchild), 1758-1759
Oil on canvas
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ellerton M. Jetté
Winslow Homer
The Trapper, 1870
Oil on canvas
Gift of Mrs. Harold T. Pulsifer
John Marin
Stonington, Maine, 1923
Watercolor and charcoal on paper
21 3/4 in. x 26 1/4 in.
Gift of John Marin, Jr. and Norma B. Marin
Fairfield Porter
Stephen and Kathy, 1963
Oil on canvas
Museum purchase from the Jere Abbott Acquisitions Fund
Regrouping, we decided to save the day by going through Rome---and then continuing on to South Solon and visit the South Solon meeting house, with its amazing frescoed walls, for our dose of art.  

In Norridgewock, on the banks of the Kennebec, this 18th century tavern hangs on, barely....
Hungry, we stopped for lunch in Skowhegan, an old mill town on the Kennebec,  where a few years ago HBO filmed 'Empire Falls', based on the novel of the same name by Richard Russo, about...an old mill town.  The first time I went to Skowhegan, decades ago, the last log drive was taking place on the Kennebec---millions of logs being floated downriver for processing.  Not environmentally sound, but a stirring sight nevertheless.
The last log drive on the Kennebec.  In places, one sees the Kennebec as it appeared 240 years earlier, when Benedict Arnold led his troops upriver to Quebec during the American Revolution
The 'Empire Grill',  the old diner from the movie, had closed, and a sports bar offered no sustenance.  On the strip heading out of town, we found a family restaurant, in what appeared to be a converted Pizza Hut---the architecture is unmistakeable.  Perhaps here I should mention that a friend refers to the road out of Skowhegan as 'the driveway to Quebec', and one definitely senses the French Canadian influence in the area culture. 
For these two hungry tourists, the defining moment was when we spotted Poutine on the menu.   Somehow, in a lifetime of trying all foods bad for me, this one had eluded me, a Canadian logger favorite of French Fries covered with brown gravy (ever the effete elitist, I was about to type 'sauce', but in fact, it was gravy) and melted cheese curd, and in our case, crumbled bacon.  Appalling in concept, delicious in execution.

Poutine.  Okay, so it wasn't Lutece, but trust me, we licked the plate clean.
We reached Solon in the mid-afternoon bellies full, arteries clogged (did I mention that we also had the restaurant's home-made meatloaf sandwich, well prepared and delicious---comfort food on a crisp fall day,on the largest slices of bread I have ever, ever, ever seen?  It was a sandwich for Brobdinagians).  Solon is an old town, its streets lined with handsome buildings that have see better days.  In this part of Maine, the way of life is often hard, employment scarce, and the smug pleasures of the coast, romanticized and ordered to the satisfaction of the well to do, are far behind.

Up in the middle of nowhere:  the Solon hotel anchors the town.  A friend said 'Oh yeah, the Solon hotel.  R.E.M. played there'.  One learns to expect the unexpected in rural Maine.
As in most of early 19th century Maine villages in more prosperous times, the evidence of talented builders using Asher Benjamin's pattern books for inspiration can be found.  This lovely little Greek Revival doorway, complete with triglyphs and metopes (however oddly spaced in the apex of the pediment) can be found on a Cape on Solon's Main Street.  In this part of Maine, tin roofs are the norm

Across the street, this oddly shallow 19th century house, not even 12 feet deep,  is irresistable.
The road to South Solon
A handful of early 19th century farmhouses survive on this high ridge--this example has escaped modernization, and has yet another lovely pattern book door surround.   It sometimes seems that the early builders could do no wrong.
At the meeting house, we spent a happy hour marveling at the 1950's frescoes in the late afternoon fall light.  While there, we were charmed by the appearance of a young man who had grown up in the neighborhood and had brought his son to see the murals and the pew where his father had sat when he was a boy.   For a full account of the Meeting House and its frescoes, please click HERE

We decided to go home by way of Athens, and mapped out our trip, only to find that the road petered out to a single dirt lane.   With the light waning, we decided this was not the day to be lost driving about the woods of Maine, and turned around and head down to I-95.   All was not lost, though, for we were rewarded on that back road by this view of Saddleback Mountain and the Rangeley hills an hour distant.

Leaving the Meeting House, a rainbow illuminated a sky that echoed that of the frescoes within
The view from a field near Athens. 
(Skowhegan was also the home town of Maine's estimable Senator, Margaret Chase Smith. In this season of really silly presidential hopefuls, here story is worth recounting.  Click HERE for the Dilettante on Mrs. Chase)


Parnassus said...

My favorite kind of day--an extemporaneous adventure on the road. I love those little touches of naivete in the provincial pattern-book buildings; we get a lot of that in Ohio, too. As you say, the old builders could do no wrong.

By the way, what's left of the old Colby campus?
--Road to Parnassus

The Devoted Classicist said...

Thanks for sharing your your wonderful day. I particularly enjoyed the examples of pattern book entrances and that remarkable shallow house.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

so all was not lost. I love those days wandering around; you never know what you'll find!


The last log drive brought to mind a painting by Marston Hartley.
Thanks for this photo tour of the architecture and special places that you found wandering through Maine.

Mark D. Ruffner said...

I love days like this, when serendipity takes over and surprises are around each bend. And I well remember the Man in the Hathaway Shirt! David Ogilvy's book, Confessions of an Advertising Man, is most entertaining reading.

The Ancient said...


"Mister, you're a better man than I ..."

P.S. I'm with TDC: Great shots of the pattern book entrances.

The Ancient said...

Stray thought --

Wouldn't it be great if people like Gil Schafer, Peter Pennoyer, Bob Stern, etc. could create a movement to preserve not just exceptional buildings, but buildings that represent the best in conventional architecture as well. Without all these "ordinary" buildings drawn in part from the Asher Benjamin pattern book, how will future generations know how to look at what is really exceptional in late 18th and early 19th century construction?

unikorna said...

Your blog seduced me :), I got lost here reading your material, congrats and kisses.

Kellsboro Jack said...

Yours is always an interesting and thorough blog to enjoy reading. To the mention of the summer home of the chairman of Hathaway Shirt Company - Ellerton Jette - I offer this:

Southfield in Williamstown, MA.

Built as a summer home for shirt maker Cluett Peabody & Company chairman, Robert Cluett II. The manufacturer was most noted for their famed Arrow brand shirts. That brand too was noted for its advertisements. The architects were Cram, Goodhue, and Ferguson.


Clearly shirt making not only yielded a good fortune but also architectural taste as well.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Parnassus, In my early childhood a few of the old Colby buildings were left, but by the mid-60's, urban renewal fever had blasted away 3/4 of Waterville's old downtown.

Well, Jim Aponovich--I'll be darned.

Ancient, I'm not a better man--just fatter. And your thoughts on preservation will find their way into a future post

Kellsboro Jack, George Cluett was one of the half dozen major collectors of American antiques in the early 20th century. To make appropriate backgrounds, he reproduced interiors details from seme of the greatest hits of early America--the Powell House in PHiladelphia, Samuel McIntire, etc. The result was a sort of baby Winterthur. Really superb stuff. The house is now a school, and the collection is divided among descendants and museums, as well as having gone back into the market (one of Cluett's desks, by Seymour, sold for over a million a few years back.

Rose C'est La Vie said...

Enchanted by the man in the Hathaway shirt turning a blind eye to the man messing about with a tape measure whilst he, the man in the Hathaway shirt, was giving the photographer his all.

Reggie Darling said...

Lovely post and most pleasant journey full of visual (and victuals) surprises. French fries with gravy and melted cheese and meatloaf sandwiches? Sign me up!

Sarah Faragher said...

Hi dear DED, lovely post as always. I've spent many happy hours in the museum at Colby. Favorites - several sublime Rockwell Kent paintings of Monhegan, a little gray Georgia O'Keeffe still life of a shell and feather, a white church in Corea painted by Marsden Hartley, a near life-size portrait of a Spanish dancer by Robert Henri, a huge seagull by Alex Katz. And the room full of Marin paintings, prints, and photographs. Sorry to hear you went so far only to find the place closed. The new addition will make the museum the largest in Maine. I'm a bit sad that that new big glass box is replacing the old studio where I learned how to paint, though.

I must get to Solon someday...

The Down East Dilettante said...

Rosie, ever observant

Reggie, I'm too there, myself

Sarah, Hey there! I'm with you all the way on the favorites, although I do confess that the Katz wing at Colby gives me fatique. I was really looking forward to seeing Sidekick's face when she saw the Marin room.

Kellsboro Jack said...

DED - thanks for the add'l info on George Alfred Cluett and his collecting. More than a few pieces originating from him have since made their way to an assortment of New England msusuems including Clark Art Institute also there in Williamstown.

As an aside, and off topic, I found your tale of interacting with 'Mr. Rowe-Price' to be fascinating in an odd way. It doesn't appear that he was a traditional grifter with his fantasy world. Although ultimately ran afoul of the law living that faux pedigree.

By comparison there was a grifter not too long ago - he owned a North Harbor, Maine property - who concocted a background in order to enrich and uplift himself. The fact the very savvy Strawbridge family (George is a sharp guy) was at all taken is still shocking.

Some links to the tale if ever you're bored:




The Maine home, bought for $715,000, was sold I believe at a profit by Knowles ;>

The Down East Dilettante said...

Kellsboro, naturally I followed the Tony Young story---but had not seen the Marcia Vickers article--very interesting---thanks.

I forgot to mention how interested I was to see the photos of the Robert Cluett house, across the road from the George Cluett house I referenced in my reply---I've admired it from a distance for years.

Kellsboro Jack said...

DED - the Robert Cluett house (Southfield) I'm quite positive was the residence the deposed Shah of Iran's son Reza Pahlavi (and other family too) bought back in 1979 while he attended Williams Collage. The family sold the manor house in 1984.


Today I believe its owned by a developer who based upon the photos has nary a stitch of furniture in the unoccupied grand residence.

With the aforementioned Tony Young I never could get over the fact that not only did he blatantly take from these new friends, but wasn't morally phased in living next door and socializing with them all on their money.

Sarah Faragher said...

I know, Katz is not usually my cup of tea. But that seagull painting I would happily live with (if I had an interior wall big enough to support it, that is).

When walking through the Katz wing I find myself thinking: how great that he has been able to consistently work at this scale. Even if I'm not always fond of the paintings in question I appreciate what it takes to make them.

Dovecote Decor said...

Well, I could actually get lost for a few hours for a meatloaf sandwich. I used to visit an old Rangely lake camp, on an Island there, that was built at the turn of the century by an artist and a Maine guide. It was heaven. Thanks for the memories. Stay warm!!

helen tilston said...

I loved travelling along with you on this wonderful art drive. I love how you dealt with your disappointment and ended up eating poutine, truly comforting food
I am your new follower and look forward to reading future posts
Helen Tilston

Donna Seger said...

Wonderful title, wonderful post, full of lots of discoveries for me! I continue to be embarrassed that I grew up in Maine yet know virtually nothing about it: what a flatlander I am!