Spite House in Rockport Maine: Garden Papers and Correspondence

By Steven Deschenes, MHS Volunteer

Garden lilies: L. testaceum, L. washingtonianum, L. humboldtii, and more – they came by the dozens from across North America, and they came to a small corner of mid-coast Maine.

Their destination? The gardens of the Spite House in Rockport, Maine.

Despite some plants having come thousands of miles their travels are not nearly as impressive as that of the Spite House itself. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974, the Spite House owes its existence to a family dispute from the early 19th century.

When Captain Thomas McCobb returned from a long voyage at sea, he discovered that his relatives had broken his father’s will and moved into the fine house his father had built in Phippsburg. In retaliation, or “spite,” he had an even more ornate home built strikingly close to his father’s usurped house.

The house was completed in 1806. By the early 20th century the house had seen better times and, in 1925, it was bought by Mr. and Mrs. Donald D. Dodge.

Shortly after purchasing the home, Mr. Dodge arranged for it to be moved (completely intact) from Phippsburg to Deadman’s Point in Rockport. The house was braced, lifted onto a barge, and shipped 85 miles to its present location. Once safely back on dry land, two more wings were built.

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The following year, Mr. Dodge had gardens installed according to a design by the landscape architect Robert Wheelwright. Now, thanks to a recent donation to the Maine Historical Society, we know just what bloomed!

Relatives of Mr. Dodge donated his documents pertaining to the gardens of the Spite House to the Maine Historical Society. Among the papers are purchase orders, receipts, plant lists, notes on plant care and propagation, catalogs, and letters.

Looking through the correspondence with over half a dozen plant nurseries (most of which appear to no longer exist), you discover the wide variety of lilies, roses, and alpine plants ordered and planted by Mr. Dodge and his gardener, Henry B. Williams, during the 1950’s. Mr. Dodge kept carbon copies of his letters detailing their successes and failures. It’s clear that he was an avid gardener with a keen interest in learning all he could about lily propagation.

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Reviewing the papers, you’re regaled with their struggles to control a common plant disease, Botrytis, that plagued particular species, especially during wet and damp periods of weather. Controlling the local woodcock population also took precedence, as it’s assumed the gamebirds – primarily an insect eating species – rooted around in the flower beds, disturbing young seedlings and causing general havoc to the flower beds.

Here’s a passage from a letter addressed to A.D. Rothman of Strawberry Hill Nurseries, dated October 15th, 1954:

I am having a wonderful time in my garden now preparing the planting arrangements for these lilies and planning where to put them. You can be assured they will have every care possible. They are planted amongst shrubs – Azaleas, Kalmia, Rhododendron, Mahonia, Bayberry – but I have learned to give them plenty of room and I have also learned to restrict the roots of the Mahonias and Bayberries by putting in sheets of zinc to give the lilies a head start. The Kalmias and Rhododendron are no problem and the same applies to most Azaleas but some of the Azaleas do have runners. However, I am having a hard time keeping up with my woodcock shooting and getting the lilies planted too!

By all appearances, the time period covered in the collection marked one of the high points in the history of the Spite House Gardens. While under the care of Mr. Williams, the gardens underwent an extensive expansion with a lily and wildflower garden planted in the woods south of the house, installations of a rock garden, an enclosed rose garden, island gardens in the lawns surrounding the property, and the construction of a greenhouse.

All in all, the collection provides a glimpse into what it took to plan, execute, and nurture flower gardens on the coast of Maine nearly 70 years ago!

 

City Hall in Portland: A Hub for Events & Excitement in the 1920s and 1930s

By Shannon Schooley, Project Cataloguer

In the 1920s and 1930s City Hall was the place to enjoy special events in Portland, Maine!

Parades and processions marched to City Hall, presidents and politicians spoke from its front steps to crowds gathered in the street, and honorees received awards and recognition outside of City Hall.  Essentially, when something exciting happened in Portland, at least a part of it took place at City Hall.

Below are event images at City Hall in the 1920s and 1930s from the Gannett Glass Plate Negative Collection (Coll. 1949) given to the Society by the Portland Press Herald. These images are being digitized and made available on Maine Memory Network thanks to a grant in 2016 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.


At the Maine Centennial celebration in 1920, several high-ranking Naval officers visited City Hall during the celebration. City Hall was decorated in patriotic colors, and a large crowd was gathered around the officers. naval officers

From left to right: Commander Joss Manoel de Carvalho of the Portuguese battle cruiser, San Gabriel; Rear Admiral E.W. Erbele, U.S.N. commanding Battleship Division 5, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, and U.S.S. Utah, Flagship; Rear Admiral Allan F. Everett, R.N. of M.M.S. Calcutta; Captain Henry H. Hough, U.S. commanding the U.S.S. Utah; Captain P.N. Olmstead U.S.N. commanding the U.S.S. Florida.  This image appeared on page six of the Tuesday, June 29, 1920, issue of the Portland Evening Express.


In the summer of 1921, President Warren Harding visited New Hampshire and Maine. In Maine, Harding addressed a crowd from the steps of City Hall in Portland and concluded his visit with a game of golf at the Poland Spring House. People congregated on Congress Street during the President’s speech. He was joined by the First Lady and other politicians during his address.   crowdharding


In 1925, the annual convention of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs (NFBPWC) was held in Portland. Delegates from all over the country came to Portland for the event. Many arrived by train at Union Station and traveled by special train cars for delegates. Two women (below) from Wyoming posed for a photograph beside their car and outside of City Hall.   womenneedswatermark


Franklin D. Roosevelt also made a trip to Portland and City Hall on October 31, 1932.  Governor-Elect Louis Brann (right), introduced him to the crowd.  Presidential candidate Roosevelt gave a campaign address to the people of Maine at this event. In his address, he explained his plans to work with Democrats and Republicans and to work in harmony with the other branches of government. Roosevelt went on to win the 1932 presidential election; although Maine was one of the six states he lost. rooseveltbrannRoosevelt speech


Memorial Day parades and celebration in often concluded at City Hall in the 1920s and 1930s. Many military officers and their spouses were honored for their service or honored those who died in service. Families often attended these events and gathered on Congress Street outside of City Hall.   city hall group photo from ppo
Large-scale celebrations usually happened at City Hall, but smaller events often happened here as well. Many group photographs were taken on the front steps throughout the years: Boy Scout troops, Portland High School clubs, winners of Miss Portland Beauty Pageants, etc. often posed on the steps.

We hope you have enjoyed this brief walk down memory lane to Portland’s City Hall almost a century ago!

All photographs in this post are Collections of Maine Historical Society/Maine Today Media

 

Stipend supported Teacher Workshops coming in August!

LOCTPSlogoMaine Historical Society recently received a Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources grant to create robust lesson plans pairing historical items on Maine Memory Network with related items from the Library of Congress’s American Memory. Curriculum is being created on three pilot topics (immigration, World War I, and Maine statehood) and two teacher workshops will be held in August (one in Portland on August 4, one in Bangor on August 6) to share the plans and provide hands on sessions using the databases.

Stipends of $50 are available to attend the workshop. Teachers are encouraged to share what they learn back in their district with members of their teaching teams and other colleagues. Five teachers who attend the workshops will be invited to serve as case studies during the 2015-2016 academic year for an additional, larger stipend. Case studies involve having 4-6 classroom visits by MHS education staff throughout the year.

If would you like to learn more about the workshops and get a registration form, please email Kathleen Neumann, Manager of School Programs, at kneumann@mainehistory.org. If you know a teacher who might be interested, please pass this along.