RAYMOND – The great early American author Nathaniel Hawthorne, creator of such literary classics as “The Scarlet Letter” and “The House of Seven Gables,” lived in Raymond as a boy, and next week the 200th anniversary of his home will be celebrated by those who have helped keep Hawthorne’s local legacy alive.

The Hawthorne Community Association has cared for the colonial post-and-beam home, situated at the corner of Hawthorne and Cape roads, since 1921. The association, made up of about 150 neighbors and Raymond Cape residents who have spent their own time and money on rehabilitation projects ranging from rewiring and replacing rotted beams, is holding a Bicentennial Strawberry Festival next Saturday, June 30, to mark the 200th anniversary of the home.

Although records are few, the group’s historian, John Manoush, said 1812 was likely the year Richard Manning, uncle to Hawthorne, built the two-story home. He moved his sister, Elizabeth, and her three children from Salem, Mass., to Raymond shortly afterward in 1813.

Hawthorne, Manoush said, was 9 when the family moved to Raymond and hunted nearby and fished in Sebago Lake and nearby Thomas Pond. Very little is known of Hawthorne’s Raymond years, since when he was older and becoming more famous, Hawthorne destroyed much of his early writings. Luckily, some diary entries remain, and those shed a little light on Hawthorne’s early years.

“After the Revolutionary War, a lot of the settlement of Raymond was based on land grants to soldiers,” Manoush said. “So Richard Manning, Nathaniel’s uncle, was among those to receive a grant of land in this area. And this house was among the oldest homes in Raymond, but not among the first one or two. It’s probably one of the best preserved, though, because it belonged to someone famous.”

Elizabeth Hawthorne was a grieving widow and the Raymond home was a sanctuary for her, said Paul Tracy, president of the association. Elizabeth’s husband was a ship’s captain from the seaport of Salem who died of yellow fever in South America.

With her husband dead, Elizabeth moved with her two daughters and Nathaniel to Raymond in 1813 and lived here until 1825.

“That’s as near as anyone can construct,” Manoush said. “Hawthorne himself went to Bowdoin College, so he was probably back and forth to some degree during the last few years.”

Manoush wishes he could know more about Hawthorne, and uses his imagination to fill in the blanks.

“He burned all kinds of notes and diaries, so unfortunately for us, even though he wrote constantly, from what I understand, a lot of what he wrote has been lost,” Manoush said. “He probably had a room upstairs here and looked out the window and took notes on what he saw, and we would have loved to have that information. But the bits that we do have, he seemed to greatly enjoy being here. He loved the outdoors. He did have a hunting gun available to him and he loved hunting and fishing on Sebago Lake and Thomas Pond. Other than that we just don’t know.”

One thing that made the Hawthorne period much different from modern times was the lack of trees. Raymond Cape is now covered in 100-year-old trees, Tracy said, marking the transition in time when the beautiful stretch of land jutting into Sebago Lake once known for farming became a summer tourist destination in the early 1900s.

Prior to that time, Tracy said, large farms allowed unperturbed vistas from the location of the Hawthorne house toward Jordan Bay and Big Bay. Barges plying Sebago Lake would have run near the house, made possible by the Cumberland and Oxford Canal, which ran from Portland to the lower bay of Sebago Lake. What enterprise there was on Raymond Cape, then known as South Casco, was located in the little village near the Hawthorne’s residence, which featured a sawmill and grinding mill.

“It is pretty mysterious, except for some small snippets in his own language where he enjoyed walking in the woods, hunting, fishing, and loving the solitude and being out in nature,” Manoush said. “There are a lot of lines from him on that general topic, but I just so wish we had more about day-to-day life. What was it like in the winter? What was it like heating the house? Where did they get their food? All of those kinds of things.”

While the house served as a residence when the Hawthornes lived there, shortly after the family left it served for a brief period as a tavern, since it was located near the stagecoach line that Richard Manning operated. In the mid-1800s, Manoush said, the house was converted by a traveling dance instructor, Francis Radoux, into a meetinghouse for church services and community dancing, and the upper floor where the bedrooms would have been located was removed.

Visitors are sometimes disappointed when they first enter the Hawthorne house, since it is an open hall, not a home, Manoush said.

“It was used as a hall for a longer period of time than the Hawthornes lived here,” Manoush says. “So when people walk in and say they’re disappointed that it doesn’t look like a home, all we can say is that this is also part of the history of the house.”

After Radoux Meetinghouse fizzled in the later 1800s, the house fell into disrepair until 1921, when local residents, mostly summer residents from far-off cities, moved to the area and learned the great American author once lived in the home.

“The house was in jeopardy structurally and they stepped in,” Tracy said.

The Hawthorne Community Association wasn’t a literary society at its founding, but one focused on historic preservation and championing the idea of community on Raymond Cape. Like the founders, the “torchbearers” of today, Manoush said, don’t necessarily consider themselves Hawthorne buffs, but value the historical significance of the home and work to preserve it.

“It was mostly started as a social and community meeting place. That was seen as the value from the very beginning and we carry that on today these many years later,” Manoush said. “By and large we are not a literary group. I’m not saying we aren’t a literate group, but it is really about community and we care about historical preservation. And this was a famous person’s house, and it’s right here in our neighborhood. In that respect we do carry on that tradition of the 1921 founders who thought there was value in a historic home and hated to see it fall apart.”

Through the last 90 years, numerous and expensive issues with the home have arisen, which the members have rallied to fix.

“Every few years some major maintenance issue comes along and if we don’t take care of it, there’s really no one else to do it. People sometimes assume places like this are supported by the town or the state or whatever, but aside from the members of our own group there’s no one. We keep it together and make it happen,” Manoush said.

About 125-150 people are members of the association and pay the $10 annual dues, though not all are active. A sister organization, the Hawthorne Garden Club, takes care of plantings.

“They’re a separate club but we cooperate in taking care of this place and have for many years,” Manoush said.

John Manoush, left, and Paul Tracy are members of the Hawthorne Community Association, which has helped keep Nathaniel Hawthorne’s boyho od home in good shape since the group’s founding in 1921. The home is celebrating its 200th anniversary in 2012. (Staff photo by John Balentine)

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