BREWER, Maine — Before local developer Charlie Milan IV got his hands on the 2-century-old Col. John Brewer House, it sat on South Main Street empty and deteriorating for a decade.
Milan purchased the historic home at 609 S. Main St. last fall and has spent the last nine months changing it into a home for his family.
“We didn’t restore it, we renovated it,” he said Tuesday while standing in the building’s entrance.
History buffs and some locals believe the house was built by Col. John Brewer, the city’s founder, and coins found during the renovation seem to support those claims, Milan said.
“I found a 1770 British coin in the wall, a George III coin,” he said. “We found an 1817 coin in one wall of the addition, and an 1847 coin” in another addition wall.
The later two coins were “1-cent American coins,” Milan said, explaining that early builders placed coins inside walls for good luck.
All three coins, and another from 1812 found in the backyard, will be put on display in the home, he said.
Few documents remain from the time when John Brewer sailed up the Penobscot River in 1770 with his brother Josiah and sister Mary to settle the area around the Sedgeunkedunk Stream, but property maps of the time show John Brewer owned the land where the house sits.
An architectural historian with the Maine Historic Preservation Commission toured the house in November 2007 and estimates the house was built in the late 1700s or early 1800s, based on features within. Those include a brick oven, Federal-style moldings and a massive center chimney with two fireplaces on each floor.
The historic elements of the house are gone. They have been replaced by energy-efficient doors and windows, and new drywall, insulation and paint to create an airtight modern home.
“We built a whole new house inside of the old one,” Milan said. “It was a very solid structure but nothing was straight or plumb.”
History records indicate that Brewer set up a sawmill powered by the Sedgeunkedunk Stream next to the house. The home’s rough-sawn planks probably were cut at that mill, and craftsmen of the time made their own nails and bricks, but didn’t have modern tools such as levels, he said.
Two of the ceilings in the house have inverted tray-style ceilings that mask the lack of levelness of the home, Milan said.
“It’s a 2-inch difference in here from one side to the other,” he said of the kitchen ceiling.
In the original house, “there wasn’t a kitchen, there wasn’t a bathroom,” but it did have a crumbling fireplace with three kettle-pot swing arms and two Dutch ovens that were unsalvageable, Milan said.
The entire right side of the building Milan originally purchased was actually 14 different add-ons that were put into place in the late 1800s and early 1900s, parts that were basically falling off.
“We took 66 feet of the house off,” the developer said. “Anything that wasn’t original, we took off.”
Where the additions were removed, a foundation has been poured for a new garage or small business, Milan said. His wife, Julie Milan, operates Flexible Flow Yoga and would like to open a yoga studio and wellness center at the site. What will be built is dependent on city approval, he said.
In the last nine months, more than 50 people have stopped by to talk with Milan about the project to renovate the historic building into a three-bedroom home for his wife and two children.
“People just stop out of the blue and say thank you,” he said, for his creating a new home from the former eyesore.
Family photos already adorn the walls in the dining room of the house that will be finished by the middle of next week, Milan said. When he bought the house, he knew he was purchasing a project but didn’t realize it had so much history.
“It’s fascinating, all the things I have learned,” he said.
Eventually, a rock and plaque near the driveway entrance will let people know the home once housed the city’s namesake, Milan said.