Tate House tour

On Tuesday, Sept. 26, the Women’s Literary Union Antiques Study Group met at 1 p.m. at the Tate House Museum in Stroudwater for a tour of the historic Tate House. Anne Dox is the study group leader, assisted by Bettie Leonard and Barbara Washburn. WLU member Colleen Reed assisted at this meeting. Members present were Jan Jaworski, Bettie Leonard, Shirley Lowell, Virginia Wintle, Colleen Reed, Charlotte Sullivan, Nancy Wynne, Jean Siulinski, Joan Newcomb, Joan Muller, Barbara Washburn, Ruth Hathaway and Anne B. Foote.

There were many books of interest and many items for sale in the former Means House, opposite the Tate House, on Westbrook Street. The museum director, Andrea Constantine Hawkes, Ph. D., was very helpful when I revisited the museum store on Wednesday. I was able to consult several publications, including a pamphlet, “Tate House and the Mast Trade”; a magazine, The Tate House Gazette, Summer 2006; books, “New England Masts and the King’s Broad Arrow,” by Samuel F. Manning and “Tate House, Crown of the Maine Mast Trade,” 1982, by William David Barry and Frances W. Peabody, an excellent paperback of 117 pages; and “This Was Stroudwater (1727-1860),” by Myrtle Kittredge Lovejoy.

The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in Maine acquired the Tate House in 1931 and, after restoration, opened it to the public in 1935. A second restoration was undertaken in 1951. An ell, which had been razed between 1770 and 1995, was discovered and reconstructed in 1956.

Capt. George Tate (1700-1794) of Rotherhithe, a suburb of London, had worked in the Baltic since early manhood, in the British mast monopoly, before coming to Stroudwater, then a part of Falmouth, to direct the overall masting operations there. He was 51 years old when he moved his wife and four sons to the Province of Maine. As senior mast agent to the Royal Navy, he was responsible for securing the mast trees and shipping them to England. He first built a warehouse on the riverfront of Stroudwater, where his family lived until 1755, when he built his house overlooking the mast yard. It was the first great house in the area – Colonial in style outside and elegant as a London townhouse inside. The Tates lived there until 1893, and it was occupied through the decades by several families until the last owner died in 1927.

Before the American Revolution, England’s supremacy on the seas was due in part to her unlimited supply of masts, the tall, straight white pines from the forests of New Hampshire and the Province of Maine.

These masts were so important to England that special “mast ships” were built, designed for the sole purpose of transporting cargoes of masts.

We read, in the pamphlet about the mast trade, that England’s need for masts became the major cause of the Revolution in the Province of Maine. The King’s Surveyor marked all white pines of mast size (over 24 inches in diameter) with three slashes of his ax. All trees bearing this sign – a broad arrow – were off limits to the colonists for lumbering. Owners and woodcutters of Maine resented Parliament’s restrictions of their rights to lumber their own land, and led to the woodland rebellion.

A paragraph in Lovejoy’s book describes George Tate’s home. “George Tate could only have viewed his new home with considerable pride, especially in its remoteness from structures of similar importance. Its third floor was topped by a gambled roof and huge center chimney. The handsome front door was tipped by fan-shaped lights of glass. At the time of building, there was probably no area home that rivaled it in style. Today, it is the prime extant example of its kind in Maine. The location was equally well-chosen. The lot, though only 20 feet wide, extended to the Stroudwater River in the rear. From his front door, Capt. Tate had an uninterrupted view of the mast yard, the Great Bridge and the tidal, ever-changing Fore River. One finds a parallel in the lines of Alexander Pope: ‘A handsome house to lodge a friend. A river at my garden’s end.'”

As our WLU group entered the Tate House, we were shown a video, with information about the Tate family and the mast business. Narrating the video were several people involved with the Tate House. I was pleased to see and hear our friend, MaryLou Sprague, was among the narrators. It was an excellent video. Around the room were framed pictures of the area, and the mast trade. Our docent, Cresca Galluccio-Steele, was excellent, too.

She told us that the furnishings in the house are not from the Tate family, but are from the early period when the house was built. Our docent pointed out some features, such as a fireplace in every room (and only that one huge chimney on the roof) and the trundle bed under the large bed in the children’s room(a trundle, according to Webster, is a bed with very low frame resting upon casters, so that it may be rolled under a high bed).

In the guest room, the four-poster bed, a few inches from the cold outside wall, was surrounded with bed hangings, pretty curtains with a floral print. Handsome china and glassware graced the tables in two separate dining areas. Cresca told us that a tablecloth is removed before the dessert course. In the huge kitchen, with a very wide fireplace opening, was an impressive array of cast iron pans, pots and tools, some hanging from hooks at the side of the fireplace. One fry pan, hanging from a hook, was enormous, making even my large fry pans at home look tiny.

Some of us walked out in the garden, behind the house, extending to the river. Georgiana Chase, a master gardener, is pictured in an article Andrea copied for me. She is shown working in the herb garden. I would like to visit that garden next year, starting in late spring. I was especially pleased, as I walked down hill close to the river, to see tall purple flowers growing in a border, and as I got nearer, there were my favorite asters, the deep purple or lighter rose-colored New England asters. That made my pleasant tour complete.

WLU book discussion

On Oct. 11, from 10:30-11:30 a.m., the Book Discussion Group of the Woman’s Literary Union will meet at Park-Danforth, on Stevens Avenue, Portland. It is open to all WLU members, with coffee and dessert at 10:45, to be followed by the group leader, Bobby Gray, discussing “Mr. Emerson’s Wife,” by Amy Belding Brown. In the novel, Ms. Brown creates a fascinating view of one of America’s greatest minds, the brilliant Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, and, more specifically, his wife Lydia (Lydian) Emerson.

Co-leaders of the group are Martha Saunders and Virginia Wintle.

Slice up this recipe

This recipe is from “Maine-ly Good Eatin’,” printed for the benefit of American Cancer Society, Maine Division Inc. The recipe was submitted by Karen McPhail, Cumberland Unit (South Windham).


2 cups mashed ripe bananas

2 cups uncooked quick-cooking oats

1 cup milk

1 cup margarine, softened

2 cups light brown sugar, lightly packed

4 eggs

4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons soda

1 teaspoom cinnamon

1/2 cup raisins, optional

In a medium bowl, combine bananas, oats and milk; set aside. In a large bowl, cream margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine dry ingredients and add to the creamed mixture, alternately with banana mixture. Stir into it the raisins. Spoon into 2 greased 9x5x3-inch loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on wire racks. Makes 2 loaves. May be wrapped and frozen up to 3 months.

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