Talk of the town house

By joan h. smith,
Posted Sept. 14, 2008, at 6:46 p.m.

Growing up in the ’60s on Bowden Street in Bangor, Judy Patterson often walked down West Broadway to visit playmates. She would admire the Victorian mansions lining the wide avenue and dreamed little-girl dreams. At the same time, her father, the assistant director of urban renewal, was busy supervising the razing of Union Station. Dinner table talk may have been full of doing away with the old to usher in the new, but Judy was then and is now always filled with thoughts of history.

At the same time, in a family of history buffs living a stone’s throw from Plymouth Rock, it’s not surprising that another young girl named Judy, Judy Cook, would be fascinated with things old.

Today both history-loving Judys are members of the Dixmont Historical Society trying to save the only old building the town owns, the 1836 Town House.

“It’s all that’s left, the rest are gone,” laments Patterson, who compiled a 450-page history of Dixmont in celebration of the town’s bicentennial last year.

“Dixmont Maine 1807-2007” describes the beauty of the workmanship of the Town House, constructed of mortise-and-tenon king-post supports with wooden pegs, “as a historic testament to the abilities and ingenuity of Dixmont’s founding fathers, especially since the Town House was built only 30 years after Dixmont itself was established …”

It is the massive king-post trussing system that made Les Fossel, then vice chairman of Maine Preservation, catch his breath.

“The size and layout is amazing to behold,” he wrote in a letter to Judy Cook, in which he outlined how to save the deteriorating community landmark.

First on his list is a new roof. Cook, who is spearheading the drive to save the building, has enlisted the help of many community members. Everything from glazing windows and replacing rotted roof fascia to rehabbing a wooden veterans honor sign to list volunteers to the Town House project has been done by joiners to the cause.

A full battalion of volunteers is needed to shingle the roof Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 20-21. Phil Dolan, Dixmont resident and

owner of Winterport Roofing, will supervise the shingling project. Funds have been raised and materials purchased (although donations are still being sought). Sonja Erskine, noted local cook, is providing lunch and many of the town’s more senior citizens are eager to help. Who is needed most, however, are those who can put their backs into the project.

“One woman has already volunteered her son,” Cook said with a laugh.

Maine Preservation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Maine’s heritage, has listed the 10 most-endangered historic buildings in the state. The Dixmont Town House is not on that list.

“The Town House is not endangered because it is obvious the community knows who they are and what they have,” said Fossel last week.

Fossel is impassioned about buildings that will outlive you.

“They are the visual evidence of the beauty of a society, a society,” he insists that “is a world heritage.”

It is the little towns of New England where the first real democracy was born, where a collection of equals ran their own affairs and built with their own hands the visual reminders that have outlived them.

The Town House and all it says about and means to Dixmont may not have been acknowledged for decades, but in the words of Fossel, “They forgot, but now they have remembered.”

Volunteers to the Dixmont Town House roofing project Sept. 20-21, may contact Judy Cook at 234-4035.

The roof is not the beginning or the end of this project. Next year: the foundation. Sometime in the distant future: a detached archival building to store the large collection of records now stored in a damp basement.

The Route 9 traffic whizzing by may be too distracted by the picturesque rolling farmland, the foliage and views of the Sugarloaf and Katahdin to notice the tired red Town House today.

But one day, the Dixmont Historic Society hopes the building may be used again, perhaps for a Fourth of July celebration or a summertime meeting or a fiddler’s dance.

“Who knows? Maybe a bride who loves history and Dixmont will want to be married there,” offers Patterson.

Maybe a bride named Judy.

http://bangordailynews.com/2008/09/14/living/talk-of-the-town-house/ printed on April 19, 2014