YARMOUTH – Leslie Hyde says she wanted an old home, not a museum.
Her home — the house she’s owned with her partner, Richard Sanford, for eight years — is a little of both.
Because it was built before the American Revolution, possibly 30 or so years prior, it’s one of the oldest houses in the area and a rare glimpse into the history of Greater Portland.
But because Hyde has stocked the place with old, well-loved furniture from her parents’ house, left old plaster bumps in the ceiling and other imperfections of age intact, and painted the rooms bright, vibrant colors, it really feels like a home.
“That was very important to us. I love old houses but never wanted to live in a museum,” said Hyde.
From the outside, the house has a clean, simple look. It appears to be a saltbox from the side, but the front roofline clearly defines it as a cape with dormers.
The exact construction date of the house is not known, but earlier this month, restoration expert Les Fossel was examining the house in preparation for its inclusion on a Yarmouth Historical Society Historic Homes tour, scheduled for Sept. 25.
Fossel said the house’s combination of very low ceilings — about 7 feet — and high-quality woodwork in the living room and around fireplaces was unusual for a house of that age. So while he can date the construction styles and materials to probably the 1760s, he thinks the ceilings and woodwork might be clues to the fact that the house is even older.
“A house with low ceilings wouldn’t usually have that kind of woodwork, so my best guess is that the house was built, and a generation or so later the kids got some money and added the woodwork,” said Fossel, who owns Restoration Resources in Alna. “I can look at stuff here and tell you the oldest piece I find, but that may be a remodel.”
When touring a house this old, terms of age become relative. While touring the house together in early September, both Hyde and Fossel were referring to parts of the house added or remodeled in the mid-1800s as “the more modern” and “new” parts of the house.
While the walls and beams of the main rooms are original, the floors are not, and were probably added in the last 100 years. When asked which floors were oldest, Fossel pointed to boards in the “modern” kitchen, which was added in the 1870s.
What is now the dining room was originally the kitchen, Fossel says. One clue is that the fireplace in the dining room has a baking oven built into the bricks, and there are notches on the walls that indicate shelves were once in place. And the dining room has doors leading to every other main room on the first floor, which Fossel said was common in Colonial-era houses.
When Hyde and Sanford bought the house, the dining room and living room were dark. So they painted the living room a bright yellow and the dining room a two-layered color that looks sort of like an orange creamsicle, with two slightly different shades blended to give the walls texture.
Throughout the house, one can see beams and pegs, part of the post and beam construction. In the dining room, some vertical beams are very rough, almost as if they were still trees.
In other rooms, the beams are cut more evenly, but tapered to be wider at the top than at the bottom. That’s because there were more pieces — rafters and things — to be attached at the top than at the bottom, so more surface area was needed, Fossel said.
Another unusual feature consists of pocket shutters inside on the living room windows. These are like pocket doors, sliding into the wall, but they are shutters for the windows.
And while the pieces of the house are historic, the house itself is part of town history. Local lore says it might have been a stop on the Underground Railroad. It was owned in the 1820s by tavern owner Jeremiah Buxton, whose tavern was also a reputed railroad stop, and in the 1830s it was owned by John Woodworth, a charter member of Yarmouth’s Anti-Slavery Society.
“Soon after we bought the house a young man stopped and jumped out of his car and said he’d been studying our house for four years, and that it was part of the Underground Railroad,” said Hyde. “We were told that at one time there was a tunnel from the basement down to the river, and when we bought it, there was still a big bump in the yard that looked like it might have been part of a tunnel.”
The house was owned by the Gurney family from about 1837 to the early 1900s. At some point, they rented out part of the house as an apartment.
The house was part of an auto court called Cram’s Lodge in the 1930s and ’40s, where people could also camp. It’s not far from Route 1, and a short walk to the Royal River.
While the downstairs rooms look very original, the upstairs rooms have been redone recently. But solid-colored walls and lots of quirky dormer rooms give it charm and character. In one upstairs bedroom, there’s an original fireplace that is about half the size of a normal fireplace, or smaller. It almost looks as if it was made specifically for a child’s room.
The overall house measures about 3,200 square feet, with four bedrooms.
“We wanted an old house in Yarmouth, but when we saw this one, we just fell in love,” said Hyde. “It just felt like a home.”
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: