It’s often said that books tell you about history, but being where history was made connects you to it. Thanks to a partnership between the city of Brewer and the Brewer Historical Society, Brewer homeowners can add their properties to a historical database that will inform tourists and educate Brewer students — and give everyone that real-world connection.
The Brewer Register of Historic Places will identify three types of historic properties: houses or buildings over 100 years old, homes of historic figures, or other sites intimately associated with Brewer’s history. Eligible homeowners can submit their homes for verification and, if they’re willing, purchase $70 wooden plaques to identify them.
“We thought this would be a good program to start, with 100-year houses [on the city’s] 200-year anniversary, to kick this off,” said Brewer City Councilor Arthur “Archie” Verow.
The idea started in Verow’s mind when he was the city clerk, and from his office he could see the famed Holyoke House which once sat atop State Street Hill. One of the city’s oldest houses, and a site of the Underground Railroad, it was an important part of Brewer’s history. But in preparation for the building of the new Penobscot Bridge, in December 1995 Verow watched in horror as the house was demolished.
“There was the Holyoke House… and then it was gone,” Verow recalled. “I went into a depression.”
When Verow and David Hanna of the Brewer Historical Society became aware of historic registers in other communities, with plaques on the homes of participants, they visited the town of Norridgewock to see how it was done. In addition to plaques on homes, Norridgewock has a booklet that those homes, with a map so visitors can find them. Brewer will emulate this practice, handing out such booklets that will include not only the homes but other historic points of interest, such as those identified with plaques during the city’s 1989 city-founding centennial.
Ould Colony Artisans of Farmington, which provides plaques for about 80 New England towns doing similar programs, will make the signs. Owner Robert Leonard has been very helpful, Hanna said, in educating the Brewer officials and helping launch the program. Other Maine towns Leonard works with for similar programs are Bangor, Belfast, Bridgton, Falmouth, Hallowell, Milbridge, and Union.
Brewer homeowners on the BRHP won’t face any restrictions to altering their properties, and they won’t endure tax increases because of the BRHP designation. And the BRHP program won’t cost Brewer taxpayers any money, since homeowners pay the $70 sign fee and volunteers do the research.
After a homeowner applies to the BRHP, the Historic Resources Advisory Board interviews him and researches the property’s historical and architectural history. Once a property is certified, it’s added to the register. If a property is less than 100 years old but was once the home of a notable Brewer figure, or was otherwise important to Brewer’s history, it might still be included on the register.
Currently, the fledgling effort has identified eight sites, including the birthplace of Civil War hero Joshua L. Chamberlain on North Main Street (1818; Chamberlain was born in 1828), the homestead of Chamberlain’s father on Chamberlain Street (1835), and the North Brewer Cemetery (acquired by the city in 1840).
There’s no shortage of century-old houses in Brewer. Brewer was first settled by Col. John Brewer in 1770 and incorporated in 1812. It became a city in 1889.
“It’s an old town,” Hanna said. “Much of Brewer [was built] in the late 1800s… most of the houses we’re finding so far have been in the 1800s.”
Most history-seeking tourists visit Brewer to see the Chamberlain houses and to visit Chamberlain Freedom Park, and most think that’s all the history to be found in Brewer. The BRHP aims to change that perception and to help educate Brewer students about local history. A program is in the works at the Brewer Community School to include Brewer in a broad curriculum with history at its center, much in the way that the BCS was architecturally designed to showcase various facets of Brewer’s growth.
“We want to emphasize to the children about their city and the history of their city — with the bricks, the ship building, papermaking, ice manufacturing, all of those things,” said Verow.
“This is going to be dovetailed in with economic development, with the history, for tourism, and for promoting city history,” said Hanna.
To have your Brewer property reviewed for inclusion in the register, contact David Hanna at 989-2245 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Hanna also welcomes contact from other historical societies interested in learning about launching similar programs in their towns.