Deb Shangraw of the Westbrook Historical Society views a Bunker Hill Monument mural at the Nathan Harris House. The mural, and other murals throughout the 195-year-old house, will be restored. Robert Lowell / American Journal

Thousands of people every day drive unaware past a silent piece of Americana tucked alongside the rotary in Westbrook, but history buffs are on a mission to breathe new life into the 195-year-old Nathan Harris House.

The Westbrook Historical Society plans to restore the the unassuming Cape-style house in the triangle between Main and Cumberland streets as a museum and learning center for the community. The oil-painted murals on its interior walls will be restored as well.

The historic Nathan Harris House in Westbrook. Robert Lowell / American Journal

“It’ll be set up as a museum like the Tate House,” said Deborah Shangraw, historical society project manager, referencing the landmark historical site in the Stroudwater area of Portland.

Exhibits and tours will be offered, and educational programs for students will be a priority.

“It’s very important that our youth learn the history of their city, her buildings and her people,” Shangraw said.

Harris, a prosperous merchant, built the house in 1828, Shangraw said. At that time, John Quincy Adams was president and Maine was 8 years old. Timbers for the house were raised the year Civil War hero Gen. Joshua Chamberlain of Maine was born.


Historical society President Mike Sanphy said the society is researching to learn more about Nathan Harris, who is buried along with his wife and child in Saccarappa Cemetery in Westbrook.

A mural depicting the early look of the Nathan Harris House. Robert Lowell / American Journal

The house was placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.

In recent years, it housed the law office of Ray Pallas. His widow, Pamela Pallas of Windham, recently gifted the property to the Westbrook Historical Society.

Pallas, a retired history teacher in Portland, said it was her husband’s wish that the property be preserved.

After buying the house at auction in 1991, she and her husband stripped the wallpaper and unveiled several murals.

“We realized what a prize we had,” she said. “We were surprised.”


She is uncertain who painted the murals but speculates they could be the work of Portland brothers-in-law William Prior and Sturtevant Hamblin.

Wayne Chick of the Westbrook Historical Society at the Nathan Harris House. Robert Lowell / American Journal

One of the murals depicts the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston, which Harris raised money for in Westbrook, Pallas said. Others show the USS Constitution, a sea battle and the house itself.

“These murals are rare,” Shangraw said.

The historical society will oversee a professional preservation of the murals as part of the authentic restoration of the house, which is in “solid” shape physically, she said.

Period furniture and paintings will be added to the house. Plans also call for a gift shop and the addition of an outdoor deck for tea parties.

Although it is too early in the process to pinpoint costs, Shangraw said, the initial phase of the project is expected to run about $540,000, which the historical society hopes to fund through grants.


“There is a lot of work needed to bring the building to a state of only needing routine and preventative maintenance,” she said.

The historical society will then apply for grants for the mural restoration, and will raise funds for furnishings and operational expenses, she said.

Shangraw so far raised $23,500 from donors, including the Warren Memorial Foundation, the Born family, Discover Downtown Westbrook, the city via Mayor Michael Foley, Phil Spiller Jr., Saco Biddeford Savings and Jeffrey Joyce.

Westbrook Historical Society officers and members, front from left, Rebecca Boaz, Roberta Morrill, Diane Dyer and Mike Sanphy; back row, Mark Swett, Wayne Chick, Deb Shangraw, Martha Brackett and Tom Clarke. Robert Lowell / American Journal

“It is hard to express the gratitude we have to Pam and Ray as well as every single donor that said yes to my call,” Shangraw said.

Those wishing to donate can email Shangraw at [email protected], contact the historical society at 854-5588 or mail to the Nathan Harris House, 425 Main St., Westbrook.

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