by Ardeana Hamlin
of The Weekly Staff
AURORA — The farmhouse sitting on a rise of ground on the corner of Routes 9 and 179 in Aurora looks across Route 9 toward Silsby Hill, named for one of Aurora’s early settlers. The farm consists of the main house, built circa 1865 in the Greek Revival style, with a later addition porch across its front, and a long, two-story ell, at right angles to the main house, stretching toward an Old English-style barn that stands on its own.
Behind and beside the house stretch blueberry barrens, the foliage reddish gold as the summer light fades into fall. Local residents refer to the property as the Annie Mills farm, though the property is now owned by Merrill Blueberry Farms in Ellsworth.
Each year, Portland-based Maine Preservation releases its annual List of Maine’s Most Endangered Historic Properties. This year, when the list was made public on Aug. 29, the Annie Mills farm was included. The house and barn still nestle into the landscape, sitting squarely on their stone foundations.
According to the Maine Preservation website, “The architecturally significant [Annie Mills] farmstead has sat vacant for several years, falling into disrepair as a result of deferred maintenance. Many citizens have expressed concern over the state of the property and worry that it may fall into irreparable disrepair or become the victim of vandalism.”
Members of the Upper Union River Historical Society and Aurora residents learned this summer, during a talk given on July 27 by architect Mike Pullen of Hampden, that their town has many examples of high-style architecture of historic significance, such as the Annie Mills farm.
The illustrated talk, Pullen said, was attended by more than 40 people. “I think people came away with a fresh look at what the town has architecturally,” he said. “They were amazed that Aurora had buildings of high-style architecture. They came away with a sense that their houses are special.”
In addition to the Greek Revival Annie Mills house, Pullen, a member of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission in Augusta and an advisory trustee of Maine Preservation, talked about:
• The Aurora Brick Schoolhouse, in service from 1827-1918, home of the historical society and just up the hill on Route 179 from the Annie Mills farm, and an example of Colonial-Federal architecture;
• The Silsby house, Greek Revival;
• The Honey house; Colonial-Federal;
• The Alice Silsby house, Italianate;
• The Varney house, Italianate;
• The Charlotte Mace Whitman house, Italianate.
Pullen cited these houses as examples of high-style architecture constructed from the early 1800s to the early 1870s and perhaps a bit beyond.
“It wasn’t just cities such as Bangor that had high-style architecture,” said lawyer Margaret Shalhoob of Bangor and historical society member, whose family has roots in the area. “This was a wealthy area — from timber, the tannery, brick making, sawmills and blueberries, and with both private and paper company owned woodlands.” Such industry served as the underpinnings of the fortunes of many of the town’s founding families.
Now that the Annie Mills house has been listed as an endangered historic property, there is local interest in finding a way to preserve the house, Pullen said, though no formal effort toward preservation of the property has been formulated.
Emily Brittelli, newly elected president of the historical society, replacing her grandmother, Sylvia Jordan Sawyer, now 86, and a moving force in the establishment of the historical society and the museum housed in the Aurora Brick Schoolhouse, is one of those interested in preserving the Annie Mills farm.
Brittelli’s interest got a boost this spring when a World War I uniform was donated to the historical society. The uniform belonged to Fay Mills, the son of Ora and Annie Mills. The donation consisted of the uniform; metal helmet; fedora; canvas and leather gun case; metal ID bracelet; U.S. Army issue utility knife; a diary (in which he makes an entry on Armistice Day 1918) that he kept while fighting in the trenches in France; and a little canvas pocket with a snap-closure flap, containing a photo of his mother, Annie Mills, standing on the hill looking back at the farm. Mills served in the U.S. Army, Battery E, 303rd Field Artillery, 76th Division.
According to “The History of Aurora, Maine” by Herbert T. Silsby II, “Ora Mills and William Crosby built a blueberry canning factory in Aurora in 1914, the first in Hancock County. Power was supplied by steam engine. Crosby and Mills put up the Union River Brand of canned blueberries which were shipped to Bangor, Boston and other large cities. They operated the factory until 1922.”
“When people drive through here,” Brittelli said, “the [Annie Mills] house is the marker that tells them, ‘you are here’ [Aurora].”
“What makes that even more important is because the road [Route 9] has been changed, and a whole set of high-style architecture houses have been by-passed,” Shalhoob said.
“People even use the house as a landmark when giving directions around here,” Brittelli said.
“The house is on the list,” Pullen said, “because there is the potential that is could be lost.”
For information about Maine Preservation and its work, go to mainepreservation.org. For information about the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, go to state.me.us.