October 28, 2012

After move, treasured Wells landmark will have a new place in history

The town backs an effort to relocate the 1816 Storer Garrison House a short distance down Route 1.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WELLS - One of the town's most historically significant houses is on the move.

click image to enlarge

The Storer Garrison House, built in 1816 with historic timbers, is scheduled to be moved from its current Route 1 location to a new site on Nov. 7, depending on weather.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

The Storer Garrison House, built with timbers from the garrison that protected residents during a three-day attack in 1692, will be moved next week about two-tenths of a mile down Route 1 to save it from being razed.

The house, built in 1816, is a familiar landmark on Route 1 and is unusual because it contains 9-inch beams with notches and cuts from their original use in the Storer garrison, said Town Historian Hope Shelley. The house is built near the original site of the garrison and is just south of a monument commemorating the garrison's role during the French and Indian Wars. It is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, according to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.

When the owners of the Garrison Suites hotel wanted to remove the house to improve the ocean view for guests, town officials were left scrambling to find a way to save it, said Town Manager Jonathan Carter.

"It is a symbolic structure. If you look at it today you wouldn't know it, but it has beams and other features that are historic," he said. "This is something people feel very strongly we preserve."

Mike McDermott, owner of Mike's Clam Shack, is buying the house from Mark and Deborah Gagnon for $1 and has hired Chase Building Movers Inc. of Wells to move it to land adjacent to the restaurant on Route 1. McDermott did not return calls for comment.

The Board of Selectmen voted to pay for utility companies to lower lines during the move. Carter estimates that will cost up to $15,000, depending on how long the process takes.

The move is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 7, but will depend on weather conditions. Traffic will be detoured off Route 1 during the move, which is expected to take several hours. Electricity will not be cut to the area, but some residents may experience disruptions in cable, Internet and phone service.

While the Storer Garrison House was built in 1816 by John Pope, its history is connected to the garrison erected to protect settlers who came to the area around 1640. At the time, the area was sparsely populated and vulnerable to attacks. The Storer garrison, one of six in Wells, was located on a bluff overlooking the harbor, Shelley said.

In June 1692, soldiers and residents sought refuge in the garrison as 400 American Indian and French troops attacked in "one onslaught after another," Shelley said. Wells was the easternmost town not destroyed by the enemy, she said.

"If Wells had fallen, all of New England would have fallen to the French," she said.

In 1779, John Pope's father, Isaac, bought the garrison from the Storer family. After it was leveled, John Pope used the timber to construct a Federal-style house. It is one of a handful of Federal houses that remain along Post Road, more commonly known as Route 1.

In a letter to town officials, Christi Mitchell, an architectural historian with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, said the Storer Garrison House "has long held the status of a local landmark, with an important role in representing the early history of the town." She said its significance was confirmed in 1936 when it was photographed and recorded for the Historic American Building Survey. It is possible the ground surrounding the home contains historic archaeological resources dating to the garrison period, Mitchell said.

Mark Gagnon, who bought the hotel with his wife several years ago, said his decision to remove the Storer Garrison House is based on business. Customers want to see unobstructed views of the ocean and, because the house is at the front of the property, the view is blocked for prospective guests, he said.

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