HOUSE TOUR 1: Parker House

Old houses that have had long family occupancy have an atmosphere and romance that cannot be easily faked. In our town, one such house is Parker House, a landmark which has surveyed the local scene since 1812.  Built for Robert Parker, whose wife Ruth was daughter of Joseph Wood, one of the founders of the town, it is a handsome four-square Federal, amply and well proportioned, with later Colonial Revival enhancements.  This is one of several houses in town that carry the probably apocryphal legend of having been stopped in mid-construction during the war of 1812, when we were briefly British again. The local parson left behind a journal of his days, and whether or not it is true that the other constructions were interrupted,  we know that he continued working on his own new house nearby, for he records hearing the cannons of battle in  Hampden on a warm September afternoon while shingling the roof.

  After a succession of owners in the 19th century, the house was purchased in 1900 by Mrs. Virgil Kline, a descendant of Mrs. Parker's sister Edith Wood Hinckley.  Mrs. Kline, married to the chief attorney for the Rockefeller interests in Cleveland, had had an interesting career as the manager and owner of the Boston Ideal Opera Company, a travelling light opera company that was instrumental in bringing Gilbert and Sullivan performance to America.  Mrs. Kline's own turreted and shingled summer house, 'Ideal Lodge', was just up the road from Parker House.  (For the story of that house, which should be read in conjunction with this post, click HERE:)  

Parker House as it appears today
Parker House as it appeared before the renovations of 1900 (Photograph courtesy of Maine Historic Preservation  Commission)
After a gentle renovation by Mrs.Kline's architect, George Clough of Boston, Parker house acquired new porticos and french door, with a grand balustrade around the eaves, giving the house the proper New England ancestral air that Mrs. Kline, an early collector of local antiques, sought.  The house became the summer home of Mrs. Kline's sister, Mrs. Frederick Augustus Merrill, who furnished the house with family artifacts and antiques collected locally.  In 1916, the property was conveyed to Mrs. Merrill, and has descended to her great-grandson, who has been restoring and improving the house since taking possession, with a sensitive eye to its unique character, while at the same time making it practical for the 21st century, and respecting the gently worn and faded qualities that give the house much of its aristocratic air.  His intelligent and subtle approach gives rebuke to many who have gut renovated similar houses up here (if you want a condo in Greenwich, buy a condo in Greenwich, or build a new house don't strip a beautiful old house of its elegant features and character.  Why be ordinary when you can be special?

Parker House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

After the 1900 renovations, Parker House was almost an ideal of the Colonial Revival movement

The Parlor as it appeared in the early 1900's, with an 1830 Boston made piano  and one of a group of family portraits painted by J. Harvey Young

The interior was little altered in the Clough renovations.  In the hall, the robustly paneled front door and wide sidelights added by Clough give more light and presence to the hall, but the simple Federal moldings and newel post were retained.

The parlor as it appears today, with more of the family portraits by Young.  Dr. Frederick A. Merrill is over the fireplace
The modern chinoiserie wallpaper is a licensed Winterthur design

The wide pine board dado under the chair rail was boldly faux grained, probably in the 1830's or 40's,, to look like Honduran mahogany.    

French doors were added in 1900 to access the new side proticos flanking the parlor and library, giving a more expansive air to the square rooms

In true Colonial Revival fashion, with its strong sentiment for the past, the original  kitchen, with its huge cooking fireplace and bake oven, became the dining room in the 1900 renovations.  A new kitchen was installed in the service wing at rear.

The current owner removed partitions between the dining room, back hall and  a sitting room to make one large room, over 40 feet long, with three exposures.  He broke the length, and masked a difference in ceiling heights, with  antique Doric columns that echo those of the porticoes outside
Looking through to the front room
The ell kitchen was redesigned by the current owner, with a new window over the vintage stove opening  up space.

The upper hall

The brass bed warmer, designed to hold hot coals which would then  be run between the sheets to warm the bed  in earlier times was a favorite decorative accessory for the centrally heated Colonial Revival.   The one seen here to the right of a bedroom fireplace is still in place 100 years later.

A tester bed and printed cotton curtains and hangings, with a William Morris inspired paper, give this room proper Colonial Revival street cred.
Most of the contemporary pictures in this post were taken during a benefit house tour.  Despite the fact that there were 30-50 people wandering through the house at any time, only once did a person get in the photos (followed by so many others that I gave up---never have I seen so many people emerge from one bedroom).

The owner has created this video showing the evolution of the house from 1812-2012.

The vintage photographs are from the collection of the owner, and from other local collections.   Thanks to the owner for permission to post about his interesting house.


Raina Cox said...

Ah, lovely.

A Dilly-researched post is without peer.

Parnassus said...

The Parker house is handsome and moreover comfortable, exactly suiting its Maine heritage. I like it in its various guises, which is unusual, as often one feels that a renovation ruins or compromises historical integrity.

This is also a good case of how different interests always seem to converge. I of course like old houses, and as a Clevelander was interested to hear of the Rockefeller connection. Finally, I was fascinated to read about the legendary Boston Ideal Opera Company. Many of their stars continued on into the recording era of the early 1900's; bass Eugene Cowles and soprano Alice Nielsen are particularly well-known to record collectors.
--Road to Parnassus

The Devoted Classicist said...

I was going to ask about that vestibule, but the video takes it to be original (and no doubt useful in Maine). It is interesting that the Colonial Revival was given preference in the last renovation; in other parts of the country, the earlier, true colonial house would have been treasured and taken precedent in most cases, regardless of what came later. But it is a pleasant house all the same, and thankfully, preserved.

The Down East Dilettante said...

Raina, I can't take much credit for this research---most of it already published fact

Parnassus, agreed, and very interesting (also, our little town has long been a summer colony with a strong Cleveland contingent)

Devoted One, the door surround on the vestibule certainly seems to be a Greek Revival alteration to my eye (a number of houses in the village acquired such vestibules in the 1840s and 50s, including my own, since removed). Personally, I think the Colonial Revival slant was the right choice--the 1900 additions respected the house, and 90 per cent of the interior fabric is original to 1812, but the Colonial Revival changes were of high quality, and made for a much more gracious house---it would have been a shame to lose the porches, so pleasant, or the elegant French doors opening to them.

Reggie Darling said...

This is divine. The photographs of Parker House remind me of the interiors of Darlington House when we bought it from the previous owners, who had lived in the house since 1931. Same Colonial-revival interiors, particularly the bedrooms. An all-too-often vanishing relic of times-gone-by. I am glad that we photographed Darlington extensively before we bought it, with its "period" interiors still intact. Thanks for a most interesting and thought-provoking post. Regggie

Mark D. Ruffner said...

Thanks for a very fine posting! I prefer the look of the house with the balustrades, which I think both complemented the revised windows and door, and also unified so many rooves. But I suppose the were not easy upkeep in the Maine climate . . .

ArchitectDesign™ said...

what a charmer! I love seeing houses like this that are so well taken care of and respected by their owners and passed along to the next generation.

Sabra said...

In that photo of the upstairs landing, I can almost hear the floor squeak. Does it?

Jeane M. said...

Wow, old houses really makes me think of my grandmas ancestral house. Got my eye on your next posts.

plumbing said...

The interior of the house is great. Such a warm and cozy house. I just love all the details use here.

Anonymous said...

In some future post DED may applaud the restoration of the balustrades or perhaps a nascent Colonial Revival garden, but for now the owner is humbly grateful for his kind words about work undertaken so far.

Donna said...

Charming house: thanks to you and the owners for showing it to us. We have a lot of Federal-Colonial Revival "marriages" down here and they seem to be well-merged. I think George Clough was actually from Maine, wasn't he?

The Down East Dilettante said...


Correct indeed. He grew up here in Blue Hill.

Anonymous said...

So many fine examples of homes up there in the North east all a result of a different form of slavery mill workers all those people cogs in the wheels of industry the triangle sewing factory where women perished in the flames of the sweat shop on and on But the South fines residences destroyed during the Civil War an agraian based economy and the dust bowl now Farm Bill looms on the horizon we grow cotton here in the south and in Texas only to be sold and milled else where what industry is there for job creation in the USA we are going back to boutique beer boutique cheese

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, hate to burst your bubble but the only creatures exploited in this remote part of New England were trees, harvested in a genocidal manner for timber to build houses and ships. Their descendants have exacted revenge by obscuring our water and mountain views, so it's kind of a wash.

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