YARMOUTH – For years, the historic Capt. Reuben Merrill House was shrouded from view, its facade obscured by an overgrown cedar hedge and other trees planted more than a century ago.

In recent days, the trees have been cut down, the original cast iron fence has been repaired and the perennial gardens have been restored, with help from local businesses and volunteers.

On Saturday, the majestic Italianate mansion, built in 1858 by an ill-fated sea captain, will make its debut as the headquarters of Maine Preservation. A free open house is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., followed by a fundraising gala from 5:30 to 8 p.m. About 150 people are expected to attend.

The transformation of the house from hidden gem to noteworthy landmark was made possible by dozens of people who came forward to do the work at little or no cost.

“People have been so generous,” said Greg Paxton, executive director of Maine Preservation. “We had high hopes coming in here, but we didn’t know how it would work.”

Founded in 1972, the nonprofit preservation group moved in April from a cramped back office in downtown Portland to the mansion at 233 West Main St. It’s an ideal location for the group, which has more than 1,000 members statewide, Paxton said.

Paxton learned that the house had been vacant for a while when its owner, Merry Chapin of Phippsburg, contacted him to ask about tax incentives for preserving historic buildings. Chapin grew up in the house and is one of Merrill’s great-granddaughters.

When the house was built, Merrill was at the peak of his seafaring career. The three-story, 15-room house was considered the grandest in town, with Italian marble fireplaces in most rooms and trendy wall-to-wall carpet from England.

Merrill died 17 years later, on a voyage that he hoped would enable him to finish and pay off the house. He went down with his ship after it hit rocks near San Francisco.

The house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, still contains many family furnishings, including large gold-framed portraits of the captain and his wife, Hannah Blanchard Merrill.

Chapin said she’s glad to host Maine Preservation in the family home where 125 kids danced in the living room after her graduation from North Yarmouth Academy. She’s also happy about the improvements made to the property.

“The garden work looks really great, as does the fence and the lack of trees,” Chapin wrote in a recent email to Paxton. “I really appreciate all of the care that you have taken of the property (and) the gifts that the businesses have given.”

Lucas Tree Experts in Portland removed the trees for a reduced fee, Paxton said. Plainview Farm Fine Perennials in North Yarmouth planted flower beds at no cost. StandFast Works Forge in Parsonsfield repaired the cast iron fence and plans to continue the restoration later, also at no cost.

Bangor and Norway savings banks and Consigli Construction sponsored the fundraising gala. Preservation Timber Framing in Berwick donated the use of a generator and paid for the band, Joe Walsh & Friends. Pine Tree Waste Systems will provide portable toilets at no cost because the single bathroom in the house cannot serve hundreds of guests in one day.

Maine Limousine Service donated valet services for the night. And many Maine businesses donated food, beverages and supplies, including Azure Cafe in Freeport, Royal River Grillhouse of Yarmouth, Leavitt & Sons in Falmouth, Gritty McDuff’s in Portland and CVC Catering Group in South Portland.

Susan Burns of Falmouth, who led the gala committee, hired Kathy Shaw and her crew from Valley View Farm in Auburn to put finishing touches on the landscaping Thursday morning. Shaw used to live in North Yarmouth and regularly drove by the house.

“It’s nice to see improvements being made to this property, even if they are very simple and basic,” Shaw said. “The house has such beautiful, classic lines, but you couldn’t really see it before because it was so overgrown. It’s like having a secret revealed — like an old aunt you knew was there but you weren’t quite sure what she was up to.”

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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