Friday, June 5, 2009

Vanishing History

By Chip Schrader
Book Reviewer Editor

Author Steven Burr’s Lost York County features photographs of old homes that bring back names from long ago, and a time in Maine’s history that is quietly fading into modernity. Covering every town in the county, these select buildings represent architectural trends that range from the mid seventeenth century to the twentieth century. While the book provides memories to long time residents, it also gives the newcomer a sense of the origins of this historic vacationland.
The Lady Pepperell House, the Sarah Orne Jewett house and historical landmarks such as Kittery’s Rice Public Library and the Kennebunk Free Library are not to be found in this book. Lost York County is more of an obituary for buildings that have vanished due to urban renewal and tragic fires. It is also a tribute to remaining structures that have little resemblance to their original form after falling into the hands of renovators who had their own ideas.
For anybody familiar with local lore, Lost York County is just as much of a who’s who as it is about what was here. Names like Booth Tarkington, Horace Mitchell, the surnames of Wentworth and Cutts are as old as the incorporations of these towns (or older) and are present throughout. Burr provides the reader with brief histories of these families to round out the significance of the building.
While the Lady Pepperell House is not included, the book has a vintage photo of the Sparhawk House that was built by the same Pepperells. Presently, the house exists with handpicked pieces preservationists reconstructed at the Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, N.H. Burr doesn’t miss a beat to point out the fact that very little of the original structure remains, and that its complete preservation was never intended.
The Hotel section and summer business chapters follow with the Mousam House in Coastal Kennebunk where ex-President James Monroe dined in1817, but was destroyed in 1979. Burr even indicates the responsible party.
It was also mentioned that Kennebunk once featured over eight hotels along its beaches. The Narragansett has survived after being converted into condominiums, the Eagle Rock Hotel was torn down to the first floor and converted to a house, and others were demolished completely.
While there are some biting side notes, they are subtle and factual. Like a skilled pool player using English to sink a shot, Burr uses his spin sparingly and with a matter of fact tone that is unnoticeable to those not looking for it. His writing is clear, and does not devolve into digressions that beat his points into the readers’ minds, they are just there for the taking.
Photo caption: Cover of Lost York County by Steven Burr. (Courtesy photo)