AUGUSTA — The impending closing of St. Mark’s Home came as little surprise, but with much sadness to three women in their 90s who have enjoyed the last several years of living at the home.
They are independent, coming and going as they please, but enjoy the friendship and camaraderie of their fellow boarders, visiting in the parlor in the morning, rocking on the porch in the afternoon and taking their meals together.
They had seen the occupancy dwindle from a high of 17 to the five who live there now.
“I’m going to look at a place tomorrow, but I feel very sad,” said Eva Sherwood, who has spent almost six years as a resident of St. Mark’s Home. “It’s going to be hard, no matter where we go.”
Sherwood and two other women spoke Thursday about the Winthrop Street residence, which has been a boarding and lodging home for women since 1870.
Originally opened as a residence for homeless women and growing into a home that attracted women of means, St. Mark’s Home will close Dec. 31 after 144 years of operation because it is too financially strapped to continue.
HOPING FOR A REPRIEVE
The women who live in the two-story building, formerly known as St. Mark’s Home for Women, will move elsewhere.
They learned about the closing this week in a news story.
On Thursday afternoon, Sherwood, Nona Treworgy and Margaret Jamison talked about their lives at the home and a little about where they might move.
The three sat on a shaded porch on the Pleasant Street side of the home, rocking in chairs with padded seats, watching traffic and pedestrians. They all hope the home gets a last-minute reprieve and can remain open.
“It’s a very homey atmosphere. It’s home,” said Treworgy, 90, who moved from Hallowell eight years ago. “We have our own rooms, no cooking, no shopping for food.”
“It’s a beautiful place,” said Sherwood, 95, formerly of Chelsea. “It’s two steps to the bank, two steps to the library, two steps to the hairdresser.” Sherwood enjoys walking, taking her walker along for stability.
Sherwood viewed several housing options before choosing St. Mark’s Home.
“When I came almost six years ago, I filled the last room,” she said.
The home can accommodate 17 people.
No one occupies the second-floor bedrooms now.
COMFORTABLE IN THEIR HOME
The building was donated to the church by Allan Lambard, a grandson of Augusta resident Martha Ballard, whose 1785-1812 diary inspired Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s “A Midwife’s Tale,” according to a history of the home published on the home’s website.
Parts of the home, including the two stairwells, were remodeled in the 1960s, according to the home’s history.
They do things differently at the home. For instance, to greet the millenium, they celebrated at noon rather than midnight, with sparkling soda and party hats.
In 2009, the residents banded together to raise money to restore a rose-shaped stained glass window featuring an angel cherub. The window, which is above the Winthrop Street entrance to the building, was originally in St. Mark Church when it was on State Street. The women held a series of silver teas and wrote a book of their memoirs, “What Day Is This Any How?”
Jamison, 93, lived in Gardiner before moving to the home two years ago. She said she would much prefer to stay in her comfortable surroundings.
“I don’t want to look anywhere,” she said.
Jamison is particularly disappointed to have to leave before winter and before the construction starts to enlarge Lithgow Public Library, which is across Pleasant Street from the home.
“We waited all summer for it,” she said. “We’ve been sitting out here rocking and waiting for it.”
She is worried about where she will go.
“Lots of places have no openings,” Jamison said.
The women said the home administrator is checking into places for them.
“At our advanced years, we have to find another place,” Treworgy said.
They receive three meals a day in the large dining room at St. Mark’s, and there’s also tea at 3 each afternoon, with crackers and cheese or cookies and fruit. Two full-time employees and a number of per-diem employees work at the home. Each resident must be independent enough to take care of her own needs; no nursing care is provided.
The women were all homemakers and part of the workforce.
“Even when we didn’t have a job, we worked,” Sherwood said, getting nods of agreement from the other women. Treworgy worked for years for New England Telephone & Telegraph when the office was in a brick building on lower Winthrop Street. “I’m used to this place,” she said.
Only Sherwood is a member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Augusta, and the home is governed by the Corporation of St. Mark’s Home, which includes the rector, wardens and vestry of St. Mark’s Church. The home is open to women of all faiths. The officials set the closing date on Tuesday.
Treworgy is a member of Old South Church in Hallowell, and Jamison of the Methodist church in Gardiner and Randolph.
Sherwood recalled attending Old South Church in Hallowell many years ago when a friend invited her.
“We crossed the river in a ferry boat,” she said. “It was 10 cents. It ran between Hallowell and Chelsea. There was a little house, and you could go in and ring the bell if the ferryman was on the other side of the river.”
While electricity, heat, cable, meals and other amenities are included in the room-and-board fee, each woman has her own telephone and is responsible for doing her own laundry.
Treworgy said she prefers her independence and does not want to move in with her family.
“I feel it’s not fair to them or me to go there,” she said, again getting nods from the other two women.
Susan Smith, chairwoman of the board of St. Mark’s Home, stopped to greet the trio as she arrived for a meeting with the staff. She’s been on the board for 39 years.
“It’s sad to close the place,” Smith said. “It’s in wonderful condition. I would like to see this home continue as a home. Perhaps hospice or some group could run it.”
Smith recalled Wilda Wathen, who lived in the home for several years before her death in March 2003 at 95. She was famous for her annual motorcycle ride, taking off from the home on the back of the Harley-Davidson driven by her son, former Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Daniel Wathen. It earned her the nickname “Wild Wilda.”
On Thursday, Wathen said his mother, who was from Aroostook County, enjoyed her years at the home.
“It was a beautiful home, and the women there were her type of women,” he said. “None of them drank and none of them smoked. They didn’t backbite. She couldn’t believe there was such a nice place. She was just as happy as she could be. She knit mittens for everybody who walked through the door.”