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Downtown Saco History

The following narrative was prepared in late 1996 for a nomination of a portion of Main Street, Saco, to the National Register of Historic Places. The article, prepared by Thomas Hardiman, curator of the Saco Museum for the City of Saco, serves as a good introduction to the physical and social history of the downtown.


The nomination of a large part of downtown Saco as a National Register Historic District acknowledges the rich architectural and social heritage which makes the Saco Valley distinctive and important to the broader understanding of the history and culture of Maine. The Historic District covers a wide area and encompasses an impressive variety of architectural styles, reflecting the unusually complex social structure which has evolved in the city over the past two hundred years. The District covers a broad spectrum of social history and includes some of the most important examples of architecture in southern Maine, including numerous commercial and civic buildings as well as residential structures which reflect most major trends in American architecture from the late eighteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. The district qualifies for National Register listing under Criteria A, for being associated with important events, Criteria B, for being associated with the lives of significant people, and Criteria C for containing works of a high artistic value and works of several master builders and architects. Criteria Considerations A and B also apply to specific properties in the district.

To understand fully the importance of the District, one must first consider the complex history of property ownership and development which led to the uniquely rich complement of architectural styles and types. Perhaps as important as any building individually (including four already listed singly on the National Register), is the group as a whole, and the ordered and well-documented way in which the neighborhoods on the Eastern side of the Saco River developed. This history has broad implications for the understanding of Saco's place in the history of Southern Maine and in the history of economic and urban development of Maine in the 19th century.

Though the history of European settlement in the Saco Valley predates the Pilgrim era of Plymouth, the rich and colorful history of Saco in the 17th century, immortalized by Folsom and Drake, has little to do with the understanding of modern Saco. The first and farthest- reaching event in the development of Saco was the Pepperrell purchase of James Gibbins' third division of the original Lewis and Bonython patent in 1716. All of the proposed Historic District lies within this land purchase.

Young William Pepperrell's purchase covered some 5000 acres and included timber privileges for an additional 4500 acres. Pepperrell immediately subdivided his land, not into house lots, but in broad swatches perpendicular to the river. These were sold alternately to Nathaniel Weare, millwright, and Humphrey Scamman, mariner, not for settlement, but for the most expeditious removal of the land's timber resources. The division which has the greatest implications for the Historic District is the division along what is now Main Street, with Pepperrell retaining the area east of the road, including the mill privilege below the falls, Weare buying the area to the north of the road, and Scamman buying the area above that, roughly to the line of Scamman and Union Streets. Next above Scamman's lot was Pepperrell's so-called Great Lot.

Weare's division was sold in 1731 to a group of settlers, the largest portion going to John Sellea. Sellea sold his lot to Joseph Hill in 1736, setting aside a burying ground on the southern side of what is now Storer Street. This subdivision of Weare's purchase marks the beginning of development in what is now Saco, primarily along Water Street and the northern side of Main Street.

Not to be outdone, Pepperrell began selling and leasing the property near the landing below the falls. In 1752 he gave four acres of land near the falls to the town for a common, a meetinghouse and a new burying ground so that the eastern part of Biddeford would be a distinct town called Pepperrellborough. Undoubtedly Sir William had plans for a great metropolis at Pepperrellborough, but he died in 1759, before anything but the meeting house was built, and the separation of Pepperrellborough from Biddeford was not formalized until 1762 . Pepperrell's lands passed to his nephew, William P. Sparhawk, who sold off a few parcels, including Indian Island and the Great Lot, to Pepperrell's former clerk, Thomas Cutts, and a large parcel at Deep Brook to his former agent, Tristram Jordan, before the vast holdings were seized by the state of Massachusetts during the Revolution. These lands remained undeveloped until they were ultimately auctioned off by the state in 1798-9. Thus the only eighteenth century development within the modern city center was in the old Weare division north of Main Street and the Pepperrell landing settlement east of Common Street, and in fact that is where the city's only eighteenth century houses on their original sites are to be found today.

The Weare property was divided into reasonably large homestead tracts. By the early nineteenth century, some of these had been subdivided into small neighborhoods, generally family enclaves, while others, such as the Thornton, Nye, Hartley, and Jordan lots remained largely undeveloped. The haphazard development of this property in a two century process of subdivision, re-subdivision, and further subdivision explains the peculiar architectural character of this part of the district, with Georgian, Federal, Greek, Victorian, and modern buildings jumbled together, some on large lots, some on small lots. It is this sampling of eras which gives Saco its charm.

The Pepperrell lands below Main Street that were auctioned off in 1798-9 were divided into small house lots oriented to a grid of new streets opened in a remarkable example of early urban planning. The lots were purchased not by settlers but by speculators who quickly resold the improved or unimproved properties. A few nouveau-riche merchants like Joseph Leland and Cyrus King purchased contiguous lots on which they built stylish mansions, but primarily the lots became filled with the homes of tradespeople and petty merchants. It is their homes that define this area today, with some alterations and a few additions.

The old Scamman lands were never developed to the extent of the other divisions, because Elm Street was not laid out until the 1790s and remained a minor road until the 1820's. While there are some small Greek Revival era neighborhoods along Union, Vernon, West Pleasant, and Temple Streets, the area above Elm Street still retains much of the flavor of its rural heritage.

1780 - 1825

Saco remained sparsely populated until after the separation of Pepperrellborough from Biddeford in 1762. The area's enormous resources for fishing, lumbering, shipbuilding, and water-powered milling attracted new settlers to the clay banks of the east side of the Saco. The long course of the Saco River from the White Mountains in New Hampshire provided endless supplies of natural resources and countless potential markets for trade goods. Merchants like Thomas Cutts and Tristram Jordan established lumbering and trading empires that brought prosperity to the region. By the time of the Revolutionary War, international commerce had increased to the point that the government established a Customs District at Saco. While trade flourished, the settlement still clustered around the falls. Main Street was still so largely vacant that a privateer was built near the site of the present Masonic Block.

One of the few reminders of this era of Saco's history is the Solomon Coit house (380 Main St.), built circa 1785. George Folsom, writing in 1830, described Captain Coit as an "eminent shipmaster", whose ships carried Saco lumber to ports around the globe. The Coit house is one of the few surviving works of master builder William Pepperrell Moody (1741- 1787), builder of the Cutts mansion (HABS ME 7). With its triangular window pediments and panelled interior, the Coit house is the best example of Georgian architecture remaining in Saco. Two other houses, the Benjamin Pike (10 School St, c.1817) and Abraham Forskoll (25 Cross St., 1830) houses were built long after the Georgian style had faded from fashion, but are generally Georgian in plan and ornamentation, and show the tendency of Saco builders to retain traditional building types long after more current styles were well established in the area.


From the separation of Pepperrellborough in 1762 to the turn of the century the town's population grew dramatically, from 540 to 1842 persons, and to 2532 by 1820. The principal industry throughout this period remained sawmilling and shipbuilding. By 1800, there were seventeen sawmills in operation near the falls, sawing 50,000 board feet per day. A commercial center developed near the falls at Pepperrell Square, originally called the haymarket. The square was ideally located between the mills above the falls and the wharves below the falls and was the cross roads to the upper and lower bridges to Cutts Island. While the character of the square has changed since this early period, there are a few early commercial buildings nearby on lower Main Street, including Abel Hersey's frame harness shop (236 Main St., c.1814), Tristram Hooper's brick and stone store (237 Main St., 1824), and the Manufacturer's Bank (224 Main St., 1825). The town voted in 1805 to drop the weighty name of Pepperrellborough in favor of the ancient name, Saco.

In the early nineteenth century Saco was home to a number of important historical figures. Richard Cutts was a U.S. Congressman and comptroller of the Treasury, as well as brother-in-law of President Madison. Gen. Cyrus King was also a Congressman and Minister to Great Britain, and William Pitt Preble was Minister to the Netherlands. The eminent lawyers Prentiss Mellen and Ether Shepley each went on to serve terms as Chief Justice of Maine's Supreme Court. The presence of these figures, combined with the tremendous mercantile wealth of the lumber barons, gave the town great political clout despite its small size. The economic power of the community was enhanced by the founding of Saco Bank in 1803, with Thomas Cutts as director, and by the establishment of the first heavy industry, Saco Iron Works, in 1811 by Thomas Cutts and Josiah Calef.

While lacking in Georgian style houses, the Historic District is rich in examples of the Federal Period that demonstrate the town's emerging affluence and steady expansion. The Daniel Page house (311 Main St.,c.1799) is a simple three-bay cape which was the first house to be built on the Pepperrell lands auctioned off in 1798. At the other end of the social spectrum is Thornton Hall, built for merchant Joseph Leland in 1801-3 (331 Main St.). Thornton Hall was one of the first square, three-story Adam style townhouses in southern Maine and is one of two houses in the district with traditional attributions to master builder Bradbury Johnson (1766 -1819), who resided in Saco from 1801 to 1816. The other house attributed to Johnson is the Stephen Sawyer house (78 North St.,1807) - both houses copy design elements used on documented Johnson buildings.

Another outstanding early Federal Period structure is the Cyrus King mansion (255 Main St., 1807), which is notable both for its refined Adam style details and for its association with King, the first lawyer to settle in Saco, Minister to Great Britain, Representative to Congress, and General in the State Militia. Less pretentious is the Thomas Cutts, Jr. house (74 Middle St.), which was the residence of Judge Shepley during the War of 1812. The dependence of Saco's economy on the Atlantic coasting trade can be demonstrated by the dearth of building between 1807 and 1815. Real prosperity is not evident until the 1820's, by which time the fad of shallow hipped roofs had passed, and the appearance of Boston-trained masons, such as Abraham Cutter (1799 - 1886), had created a demand for brick houses. The first of the new type of house with a high attic story and a facade which is a sheer plane of masonry is Joseph Leland's second house (92 Middle St., c.1820). Its flared granite window caps set flush with the wall plane would be copied numerous times in local buildings.

Gov. John Fairfield's house (86 Elm St., 1825) is significant both for its association with one of Maine's most prominent politicians and for its architecture. It is a throw-back to the older hipped-roof style of house, yet its painted brick facade is so severely planar it lacks any sort of masonry lintels or even any regular masonry bond. A later owner felt compelled to relieve the facade with a colonial revival portico. Other late Federal Period houses include the John Johnston house (83-85 Middle St.,1824), with its formerly elliptical fanlight and gothic drop cornice, the Elizabeth and Henry B. C. Greene house (374 Main St.,1827), and the very late Dr. Goodwin house (146 Elm St.,1841, David Ricker builder).


The history of the development of Saco took a dramatic turn in 1825, when Cutts Island, with its tremendous water power potential and thriving iron works, was purchased by the town's first industrial corporation, the Saco Manufacturing Co. The following year, the corporation erected a brick cotton mill, 210' by 47' and seven stories tall. It was the largest cotton mill in the United States at the time. The venture ended tragically when the mill burned to the ground in 1830, but the seed of industry was planted and a new corporation, the York Manufacturing Co., built a new brick mill in 1831. The York and its successors milled cotton goods on Factory Island from 1831 to 1958.

The opening of the first mill in 1826 had a number of far-reaching effects which led to the urbanization of Saco. Most obviously, the factories brought new prosperity to the area and generated business for merchants, shippers, farmers, and tenement owners. The enormous mill attracted skilled workers from other urban centers, including the textile centers of England and Scotland. These immigrants brought both technical knowledge and urban experience with them. The signs of social turmoil appeared almost immediately. In 1827, Saco's only established church, the First Parish Congregational, experienced a mass dissention among its members and five new denominations were founded that year. One of the expressions of this revolt still extant is Trinity Episcopal Church (403 Main St.,1827, John Johnson, builder). Trinity Church is significant as one of the earliest Gothic Revival churches in Maine, although recent changes have greatly altered its appearance. The diversity of immigrants increased throughout the century with the Irish arriving in the '40's and '50's, the French Canadians in the '50s, '70s,and '80s, and eastern Europeans in the '80s and'90s.

The growth of a technically skilled population in Saco attracted other technical industries to the area, including foundries, belting and harness making factories, and, most importantly, machine shops. The arrival of the Portland, Saco, and Portsmouth Railroad in 1842 ushered in a new era in transportation of goods and passengers. For more than a quarter century, the new industries brought new workers and skilled workers brought new industries. While the textile mills are mostly gone, manufacturing remains a vital part of Saco's economy because of this long tradition of a technically skilled labor force.

The development of the industrial center on Factory Island was paralleled by rapid growth in the commercial center around Pepperrell Square. This area has several fine early Greek Revival commercial blocks : Central Hall Block (206 Main St.,1828) ; Deering Block, Pepperrell Square (6-10 Pepperell Square,1833); Saco House (209 Main St.,1837, Toppan & Cutter, builders); Deering Block, Main Street (190 Main St.,1846); and the Gilpatrick Block, Common Street (6 Common St.,1846). The Central Hall and Deering Blocks (Main Street) are notable for their two-story granite post and lintel facades.

Between 1820 and 1850 Saco's population more than doubled, to 5797 persons. This rapid growth strained the ability of the town government to meet demands for services. Before the social changes of the factory period, town government was run by and largely benefitted the old mercantile aristocracy. By mid-century, the government, like the town, had become more democratic, and most civil servants were simple shop keepers or humble tradesmen like Abraham Forskoll, cabinet-maker and Town Clerk, and Abraham Cutter, mason, school agent, and Alderman. One of the most visible achievements of this period was the controversial but farsighted expenditure of town funds to create a civic space, Saco City Hall (300 Main St.,1855, Thomas Hill, architect, National Register listed). As originally built, City Hall combined a generally Greek Revival form with Italianate and Gothic details, and housed fire barns on the ground floor and a large public hall on the second floor. City Hall remains the center of local government and the newly restored public hall is a focal point of community political and cultural life. Another important early civic building is the handsome Greek Revival Locke School (31 Beach St.,1844, Thomas Bulkley, architect), which now houses offices. It was built to relieve overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in the downtown school district

In domestic building, the preference of local builders for an extremely severe type of late Federal architecture blurs the transition from the Federal Period to the Greek Revival Period. The permanence of the plain masonry style was assured by the development of the York Manufacturing Company starting in 1831. The town's largest employer for more than a century, the York continued to build mills of the Federal Period Waltham-type well past mid- century. With few exceptions, the York Co.'s lead was followed by most area builders.

The addition of a fluted-columned porch to the three-bay James Curtis house (312 Main St., 1828) makes it appear as if it was built all of a piece twenty years after its documented date of construction. The J. P. Mellen house (15 North St.,1834, John Ricker, builder) is basically a Greek Revival house designed by a builder from a generation that couldn't let go of certain Adamesque forms like the elliptical fanlight. Likewise the Joseph Hobson house (398 Main St.,1828), despite its five-bay facade and elliptical fanlight, has a remarkable proto-Greek interior with anthemia and laurel wreaths carved on its original mantels. The house is also notable as the home of Saco's first mayor, Joseph Hobson.

The advent of the prostyle temple form of house in the Thacher-Goodale house (121 North St., 1828, John Johnson, attributed builder, National Register listed) demonstrates that more than one local builder had difficulty adapting to the new fashion in architecture. The plan (it was the first temple-fronted house in Maine) is purely classical, yet it lacks any form of classical detail: its elliptical arches and reeded ornament are taken from the idiom of the American country builder of the period. It is worth noting that, after the Thacher house, twenty years passed before another temple-fronted house was built in the Saco Valley. For much of the century, the Thacher house was home to Stephen L. Goodale, Maine's first Secretary of Agriculture.

The flowering of the Greek Revival style in Saco in the late 1820's coincides with the prosperity brought to the area by the development of large scale manufacturing on Cutts Island. It also marks the beginning of a long parade of romantic revivals in local architecture and can be directly linked with both the increased influence of printed builder's guides and pattern books, and the sharing of information by fraternal mechanic's societies, the first of which was founded in 1816 with John Johnson as president. Even joiners' own simple houses, like those of John Cole Cummings (417 Main St., 1840) and Luke Gordon (120 Elm St., 1837), benefitted from classical proportions set out in the works of Benjamin, Nicholson, and Shaw. Large five-bay houses like those of Benjamin Pike (305 Main St., c.1840) and Simon Milliken (57 North St.,1844) differ very little from houses built twenty years earlier except in their articulation of corner pilasters and heavy architectonic friezes. By the 1840's the five-bay house had all but disappeared from the Saco Valley builder's repertoire, having been replaced by the three-by-four bay plan presaged by the remarkably futuristic Thacher-Goodale house in 1828. These houses vary in size, and in having end, front and rear, or interior chimneys, but all are side-hall gable-front plans, many sited like the Thacher-Goodale house, with the main facade away from the street.

After the Thacher house, the earliest three-by-four bay house in the District is the Abraham Cutter house (45 Middle St., 1841, Toppan & Cutter, builders). It is part of a group of three-by-four bay brick houses on Middle Street built for extended members of Abraham Cutter's family. The survival of a large number of three-by-four bay houses (including 23 within the District) demonstrates the popularity of this house plan during the region's greatest period of population growth.

The six-by-four bay double houses present another interesting study group for this house type. The Townsend & Randell houses (69-71 Middle St., 1846, William Townsend, builder), David Ricker block (78-80 Elm St., 1848), Dr. Goodwin house (146 Elm St.,1841, David Ricker, builder), and Hill - Goodale houses (49-51 North St.,1852, Thomas Hill, builder) are all similar in plan, yet are extremely different in their ornamentation, and each can be attributed to a specific builder. The district contains a number of other significant Greek Revival double houses, such as the Cobb & Low houses (9-11 Beach St., 1848, Cobb & Low, builders), that do not follow the standard three-by-four bay format. A very significant group of double houses is the three William Deering houses built on Vernon Street in 1852 (23-31 Vernon St.). These are five-bay back-to-back double tenements built to house middle income workers from the textile mills.

The William Deering houses exhibit another interesting trend in regional building: the story and a half house with the wall plate raised above the floor level of the half story. This house type can be documented as early as 1742, in the Boothby farm on the Scarborough town line. Most of the examples in the District date from the second half of the nineteenth century, and the vast majority of them sit on Vernon or North Streets.

The last significant group of Greek Revival houses is the small group of temple-fronted houses built during the brief resurrection of the form at mid-century. Between 1847 and 1854 eight houses and one church with giant-order free-standing columns were built in Saco and Biddeford. The three extant examples within the District are the Tracey Hewes house (29 School St.,1850) and Hamilton Hall (42 Beach St.,1852), which have a prostyle plan and an Asher Benjamin "column and entablature" order, and the Daniel Owen house (64 Middle St., altered 1854), which has a semi-pseudo-peripteral plan with an Ionic order.

The Gothic Revival was a second important romantic revival in Saco Valley architecture which reflects the increased availability of builder's guide books and an increased sophistication in local patrons of architecture. One of the first Gothic houses in New England was built by Bradbury Johnson in 1804 (demolished 1864) for Saco's eccentric State Representative, Joseph Bartlett. As has already been stated, Trinity Church (403 Main St., 1827, John Johnson, builder) was one of the earliest Gothic churches in Maine. Despite the important early appearance of the Gothic Revival in Saco, only a handful of examples remain within the district as testament to the former glory of the style. The George Leighton house (28 Beach St., 1846), 17 Pepperrell Square (c. 1860), and the Horace Woodman house (163 North St.,1866) are the only Gothic cottages extant within the district. The Hannah Leland house (81 North St.,1878) is a late example of a house showing the Gothic influence. An unusual remnant of the type is the Nott-Deering house (103 North St., c.1850), which was originally a back-to-back Gothic duplex with rusticated flush-board siding, steep gables, and pierced verge boards and set in a planned naturalistic landscape. In 1948, under the direction of Strickland & Strickland of Boston, the house was shorn of its gables and Gothic trimmings and transformed into a French Provincial estate.

1860 - 1900

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the dramatic expansion of the cotton mills erected by the York Co., Saco (1830), and the Laconia Co. (1844) and Pepperell Co. (1848) in Biddeford pulled the center of commerce to York Square on Factory Island. In 1850, Biddeford first surpassed Saco in population, and by the end of the century it was more than double the size of Saco. Between 1860 and 1870 Saco's population dropped for the first time in more than a century. The Civil War and the Panic of 1873 both caused temporary declines in the cotton textile industry, but Saco's economy continued to prosper throughout the second half of the century, despite stagnant population figures for the period. Manufacturing diversified, and besides the textile and related industries, there were shoe factories (#34), five cigar factories, numerous carriage-makers, and a hoop skirt factory.

In 1860, fire destroyed the First Parish Congregational Church, built in 1803 by Bradbury Johnson. The Adam style meetinghouse was the pride of the town and the most important local building associated with Johnson. When the parish rebuilt two years later they sent to Boston for the plan. It was the first documented major commission given to a non- resident architect. The church (12 Beach St., 1862, John Stevens, architect, Thomas Hill, contractor, National Register listed) remains substantially unaltered. Its blend of Italianate, Romanesque, and Gothic details and sleek, flush-boarded facade make it one of the outstanding religious structures of the region.

In 1872 the B & M railroad located its station in York Square, reinforcing its commercial preeminence. Nothing remains of York Square today: the remnant of the wooden Second Empire Jordan and Hill blocks at 146 Main Street (c. 1870) is the last remainder of the corridor of commerce between Pepperell and York Squares. The C. W. Boothby Store (162 Main St., c.1860), Jordan & Bryant's Store (228 Main St., c.1860), and the mansard-roofed store at 191 Main St. (c.1870) also represent some of the frame commercial buildings common in the third quarter of the century.

The difficulty of efficiently administering public services led the townspeople to adopt a city charter in 1867. The stagnant growth of the period meant stagnant revenues for the new government, which was still burdened with debt since the construction of City Hall twelve years earlier. The city managed to make some improvements including increased expenditures on roads and a handsome new high school on Spring Street (N.R.). In 1880 a new clock and bell tower designed by Francis Fassett was added to the front of City Hall. Part of the problem with administering services came from the development of a large suburb nearly four miles from City Hall at Old Orchard. The petition to separate Old Orchard from Saco passed in 1883, creating the city's second major population drop in twenty years.

Some of the malaise of civic life was relieved by a renewed vigor in social life in the community, and by local manifestations of nation-wide reform movements. The wants of the less fortunate were met by the Provident Association, founded in 1856, and later by the Salvation Army. Elderly women were given shelter by the Wardwell Home for Aged Women. Fraternal and charitable societies flourished. The cause of education was addressed by the York Institute, founded in 1866, and the Dyer Library, founded in 1872. The cause of women's rights was championed by Sarah Fairfield Hamilton, who lived in Joseph Leland's mansion (331 Main St.). Mrs. Hamilton was a prominent proponent of women's suffrage and a founder of Saco's Women's Educational and Industrial Union. The most notable of Saco's philanthropists was Cornelius Sweetser (home 339 Main St.), who left half of his estate for charitable purposes, including grants for a public park, a public high school, an orphanage, an educational lecture series, and special funds for the York Institute, Dyer Library, Thornton Academy, and Laurel Hill Cemetery. Sweetser's will was structured so that most of these organizations had to match his bequests in order to use the funds.

Expansions at the York Mills in the 1880s and other improvements in the economy led to a flurry of long overdue public improvements. A sewer system, designed in 1876, was built in the early '80's. The Saco and Biddeford Water Company was founded in 1884 to supply fresh water to the congested city centers and provide a system of fire hydrants and public troughs. With clean water and adequate sewers, the city took up other public health issues, including banning swine from streets, squares and dwelling houses in 1885. From 1885 to 1890 the city put in dozens of brick sidewalks and in 1888 a street railway company began running street cars, which continued in operation until 1939.

Education has long been a high public priority in Saco, and the commitment of the community to higher education is best demonstrated in the District by Thornton Academy. Thornton Academy is an important institutional complex that features several outstanding buildings and retains a large part of its original landscape design. The earliest building in the complex is the Wadlin building (438 Main St., 1888), a Romanesque school building which is named for its architect, Horace G. Wadlin of Reading, Massachusetts.

Several important civic buildings were constructed in the Colonial Revival Style. The earliest of these is the old Dyer Library (308 Main St., 1893, Horace G. Wadlin, architect) next to the City Hall. Another early Colonial Revival institutional building is the Wardwell Home for Aged Women (43 Middle St.,1889, John S. Locke, designer, Stevens & Cobb, architects).

The prosperity of the 1890s saw a general rejuvenation of Main Street. At the very end of Main St., the Italianate Sweetser Block (146 Main St.,1874) and Berry Block (152 Main St.,1866) were both remodelled and expanded in 1890. Across the street, the three-story Romanesque William Deering Block (163 Main St., 1894) replaced an old wooden store at the entrance to Pepperrell Square. Also Romanesque in style is the Odd Fellows Block (199 Main St.,1896, John Calvin Stevens, architect), a substantial rebuilding of an earlier Second Empire block. That same year, John Calvin Stevens provided plans for the Colonial Revival York National Bank (180 Main St.).

Domestic building in this period is full of variety. After Greek Revival and Federal houses, the third most numerous type of house in Saco is the Italianate. As with all of the other styles mentioned, these houses range from grand and deliberate mansions like the brick J.G. Deering house (371 Main St.,1869, National Register listed) to simple houses like the George Ricker house (117 Elm St.,1869). The earliest example of the style is seen in the Hooper house (79 Middle St.,1831), a simple Federal Period house remodeled with Italianate trim by Charles Kimball in 1854.

As with Greek Revival houses, many Italianate houses can be grouped by design. The John Gaines (92 Elm St., 1857), Jonas Tibbetts (365 Main St., 1860), and J. R. Deering (191 North St., 1866) houses are all three-bay two-story hipped-roof houses with a deep frieze, broad cornice soffit and paired scrolled brackets in a pattern that is repeated on a large number of houses in Saco and Biddeford. The E. R. Bradbury house (37 Beach St., 1862, E.R. Bradbury, mason), with its segmental-headed windows and brick architraves, is another three-bay design which is duplicated in structures outside the district. The most prolific Italianate type is the two-bay back hall hipped-roof with cornice gable plan, which is exemplified by the Lucius Milliken house (65 North St., 1877), the Charles Tuxbury house (416 Main St., 1878), 21 Cutts Street (c. 1872), and numerous others outside the district. Late in the period, Italianate details were used on flat-roofed tenement blocks like those of George Cleaves (5-7 Beach St., 1880) and John Perham (130 Elm St., c. 1890).

The Second Empire style was never as popular in Saco as the other revival styles. However, notable examples include the Augustus Scamman house (294 Main St., 1862, Augustus Scamman probable architect), which is sited with a garden entrance, and the diminutive Perley Bragdon house (418 Main St., 1876). The mammoth Paul Sands house (455 Main St., 1866) generated as much interest for the financial woes it brought to its original owner as for its stately proportions. Another large Sands house, the home of builder Charles Sands (425 Main St., 1875, Charles Jordan, architect) is a rare eclectic house which combines elements of the Italianate, Second Empire, Stick, and Queen Anne styles like a bizarre 3-D pattern book to demonstrate the builder's wares to prospective clients in town.

It is interesting to note a group of five-bay Federal period houses which had their shallow roofs raised to provide added room during the Victorian period. The Abel Hersey house (9 Cross St., 1827), the Cornelius Sweetser house (339 Main St., c.1816, home of the celebrated 19th century philanthropist, Sweetser), and two others outside the district acquired fashionable mansard roofs with pedimented dormers. The Rev. Coggswell house (372 Main St., 1818, Sherburne Tilton, builder) was given a tall Italianate hipped roof with an open facade gable by builder E.R. Bradbury in 1872. These houses represent an intriguing picture of Yankee frugality in a period of architectural excess.

The district contains only two domestic buildings in the Stick style, the Benjamin Goodale house (116 North St., 1879) and the Roscoe Bowers house (408 Main St., c.1885). Both houses feature hipped roofs, vertical stickwork eaves, and elaborate porches. The Bowers house has been home to three Saco mayors, Joseph Hobson, Roscoe Bowers, and Dr. George Love. The Shingle style is represented by the William Cole house (123 Elm St., 1891), a cross- gabled cottage believed to be designed by John Calvin Stevens.

More numerous and more conspicuous are Saco's large Queen Anne houses. The house built for mayor Enoch Lowell (402 Main St., 1890, Elmer Thomas, architect) shows some Colonial Revival influences in its bell flower frieze, Venetian window, and delicately turned porch balustrade with ramped railings. The Emma Hall house (342 Main St., 1892) and the John Gregory house (11 North St., 1893) each have high hipped roofs with cross gables, three-story towers, two-story spindlework porches, and poly-chromatic paint schemes. The Gregory house was built for the agent of the Saco River Lumber Company. A smaller but equally ornamental example is the house of mayor Elroy Mitchell (156 North St., 1894, Dimon Mitchell, contractor).

The fourth largest stylistic category in the District is the Colonial Revival, reflecting a long period of general prosperity in Saco from before the turn of the century until the crash of '29. The York Mills and Saco-Lowell Machine Shops expanded greatly during this period and new industries, like shoe manufacturing and power generating plants, opened in Saco. The earliest and best preserved Colonial Revival house is the York Manufacturing Co. Agent's house, designed by Horace Wadlin in 1889 (350 Main St.). This imposing house was built for Franklin Nourse, the first York Agent to live outside the mill-yard. The expansion of the mills required the demolition of the old agent's house on Gooch Street, and subsequent expansions would lead to the demolition of the old workers' tenements.


After the turn of the century, Saco experienced its first period of sustained population growth since before the Civil War, but the majority of the growth was in the out-lying areas, particularly in Camp Ellis and Ferry Beach. In 1900 one third of the population lived in the city's three downtown wards, within a half mile of York Square; by 1950 these three wards only accounted for a fifth of the population. Because the York mills remained the city's largest employer, the downtown commercial district continued to prosper and several new buildings were put up before the Crash of '29.


In 1907 an entire city block of wooden Greek revival structures was razed to make room for the gargantuan Renaissance Revival Masonic Block (252 Main St., Penn Varney, architect ). Built to house a bank, stores, offices, and a large Masonic hall, the Masonic Block is the city's largest non-industrial building and a landmark of the Historic District. The best of the city's modern blocks is the Mutual Theater (268 Main St., 1927), built in the Arts and Crafts style. Another significant modern block is the First National store (244 Main St., 1935), built in a simplified Commercial style at the height of the Depression.

After decades of leasing shop space in Pepperrell Square, the U.S. Postal Service constructed its present Colonial Revival edifice in 1923 (225 Main St., James Wetmore, supervising architect). An unusual Colonial Revival civic structure for the region is the York Institute (375 Main St., 1926, John Calvin Stevens, architect). Designed as fire-proof exhibit galleries for the Institute's eclectic collections, it is one of Stevens' few museum commissions.

Many improvements were made in the Thornton Academy campus in this period. The Wadlin building was given a Colonial revival wing in 1930 by E. Leander Higgins. Also prominent in the group are two Colonial Revival buildings designed by William E. Barry of Kennebunk: the Charles C.G. Thornton Library (1903) and the Headmaster's house (1905). The last building in the group is the George A. Emery Gymnasium (1912, Coolidge & Carson, architects), one of the few Arts & Crafts style public buildings in the district.

While the downtown residential district was not keeping pace with the growth elsewhere in the city, new houses continued to be built. Though the identity of its architect is currently unknown, Mayor Edward Burnham's house built in 1900 (75 North St.) has much of the Georgian gusto associated with the work of William E. Barry. It is only slightly less baroque than the Thornton Academy Headmaster's house designed by Barry in 1905 (440 Main St.). Three more restrained examples on upper Main Street are the Perkins house (435 Main St., 1905), Graves house (378 Main St., 1908), and Minot house (431 Main St., 1910, George Haley, architect). Local architect Joseph Stickney designed several story and a half brick houses with a Dutch Colonial influence. Two examples in the District are the First Parish Congregational Church parsonage (39 North St., 1920) and 187 North Street (c. 1920).

Shortly after the York Mill agent moved out of the mill yard, so did all of the workers. In its expansions at the turn of the century, the York demolished all of its boarding houses. The last of the company boarding houses came down in 1925. The demand for low-income housing was met by building handsome new triple-deckers, most in the Colonial Revival style, such as 44 Middle Street (1890), the Colonial Shoe Store (249 Main St., 1900), and a two-story tenement at 11 School Street (1890). The electric street railway established in the 1880's allowed the upper middle class to move out of the city, while the expanding lower middle class bought or built small detached houses in the ever-subdivided in-town neighborhoods, which because of new modern electrical, water, and sewer services were becoming more desirable than ever.

Some of the small infill houses built in the early twentieth century are in the Colonial Revival style, such as the Katherine Goodwin house (38 Beach St., 1925), but many were built in the Craftsman style. The best documented of these is the California bungalow built by jeweler James Fenderson in 1914 (384 Main St.), a year before he was elected mayor. It is a pre-cut house, Sears "Modern Home #124." Fenderson decided not to buy the optional Craftsman interior: his interior is simple carpenter-built Colonial Revival. The most artistic of the Craftsman bungalows is the William Gilman house (106 North St., 1915), with its asymmetrical porch and false-timbered roof gable dormer. Bungalows continued to be built during the depression, as is demonstrated by the Philip Woodworth house, built in 1939 (22-24 North St.).

From 1929 to the end of the period of significance most of the houses built in Saco were the small "American Dream" houses made possible in part by the National Housing Act and F.H.A. loans. 161 North Street (, c.1933) and the Paul Sicard house (26 Vernon St., 1947) are excellent examples of small Colonial Revival homes built in this period. Another small but very handsome house is the Charles Anthony house (399 Main St.), a 1939 Tudor designed by an architect named Towne.

1946 - the present

Since 1946 the defining event in Saco's history has been the closing of the York Division of Bates Manufacturing in 1958. Another economic change has been the decline of the lumber milling industry: the last Saco river log drive was in 1943. While the specific industries have changed, manufacturing and wood products are both still play vital roles in the local economy. Since 1946 tourism, especially auto tourism, has been an increasingly important part of the economy and accommodations for the automobile are evident throughout the district.

Some good houses continued to be built after the period of significance, including a number of good western Ranches. The best of these is the Currier house (387 Main St., 1957), which retains its original picture windows and three types of wall cladding. Since the establishment of the Saco Historic Preservation Commission in 1990 there has been heightened awareness of the architectural importance of construction and maintenance of structures within the Historic District. Holy Trinity Church (255 Main St., David Lloyd, architect, 1993) is an excellent example of a contemporary building which compliments the existing streetscape.

The Saco Historic District demonstrates a wide variety of architectural styles and levels of uses in domestic, commercial, civic, and institutional buildings. Many of the structures are outstanding examples of their style or type, and four are already individually listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In domestic buildings, Saco's Historic District excels in its variety of styles and broad levels of social representation. The district encompasses buildings of twenty different styles, which range from grand mansions to humble tenement flats. More important than each mansion, commercial block, public building, or worker's house is the manner in which each relates to the other and to the group as a whole to demonstrate the economic and social changes which have shaped the community into distinct neighborhoods. Saco's developers have managed these neighborhoods as resources, exploited at different times and different levels to meet the changing needs of the community. Together they have much to tell us about the urban development of the city.

The district is also significant as a source of information about regional building trends and about the development of professional architectural practice in Maine. More than a quarter of the structures built within the period of significance can be documented or reasonably attributed to a specific architect or builder. These include some of the most talented architects to work in Maine: Bradbury Johnson, John Stevens, Francis Fassett, John Calvin Stevens, Elmer Thomas, Horace Wadlin, William Barry, and E. Leander Higgins. The District also contains a large number of works by local builder/designers: William Pepperrell Moody, John Johnson, Thomas Hill, John and David Ricker, Augustus Scamman, and Abraham Cutter, as well as works by local architects Charles Jordan, George Haley, and Joseph Stickney.

Another important aspect of the District is the integrity of many of its streetscapes. Upper Main Street, lower North Street, Vernon Street, and School Street provide narrow vistas that have changed little in the past 50 or 100 years. These streetscapes provide important links to the community's past that are often more significant than the buildings individually. The high quality of the architecture and level of documentary information make Saco's Historic District an exceptional resource for the region.