Bucksport council seeks bids to raze building in school that taught nearly 300 Civil War servicemen

The town of Bucksport will seek proposals to demolish Wilson Hall, a 1851 building that was once a part of a preparatory school. Town officials say the roof is unstable and they are worried about the building's safety.
The town of Bucksport will seek proposals to demolish Wilson Hall, a 1851 building that was once a part of a preparatory school. Town officials say the roof is unstable and they are worried about the building's safety. Buy Photo
Posted Dec. 11, 2013, at 3:45 p.m.
Wilson Hall, a building in Bucksport, was once part of a preporatory school. Many of its students fought in the Civil War.
Courtesy of Bucks Memorial Library
Wilson Hall, a building in Bucksport, was once part of a preporatory school. Many of its students fought in the Civil War.

BUCKSPORT, Maine — The town council here is soliciting proposals for the demolition of Wilson Hall, a building that was built in 1851 as part of a preparatory school that saw almost 300 of its students serve in the Civil War.

The Bucksport town manager’s report for November 2013, which will be presented to the town council on Thursday, Dec. 12, states that the town is in the process of soliciting proposals for demolition of Wilson Hall and that those proposals will be presented to the council in January.

“The town would like to save the building … but the cost associated with that is extremely high,” said town manager Michael Brennan.

The building is in a state of disrepair, with a cupola on the roof that is leaning to one side and cracked support beams in the interior, according to Dave Milan, the town’s economic development director.

The town put out a bid for redevelopment proposals earlier this year, and though one individual and one nonprofit submitted proposals, neither had sufficient funds to renovate the building.

“I believe just to stabilize it we’re talking over $100,000,” said Brennan. “I think to restore it we’re talking probably $600,000 to $1 million.”

“The cost of rehabilitating would far outweigh the value of the building once it’s done,” Milan said.

Town officials said they did not want to see the building demolished, but they are worried a big snowstorm could cause the roof to cave in.

“Going out to bid doesn’t mean we’re actually going to [demolish it],” said Mike Ormsby, chair of the town’s finance committee. “Just to be prudent we went out to ask for the bids to tear it down so that we would be ready to do it.”

In 2001, Jeff Hammond, the town code enforcement officer, raised concerns about the safety of the building. The town council ordered the building’s owner to secure it by boarding up windows, doors and a hole in the ceiling.

Now Hammond thinks that despite the building’s state, there may be a way to save it.

“I have ironically suggested to the town council that some efforts could be made to stabilize the structure to buy the structure some time,” he said. But he added that that option had not yet been seriously considered by the town council.

Wilson Hall was the first of several buildings constructed as part of the East Maine Conference Seminary, a college preparatory high school. The building held the first class of 13 males and 14 females and later became a girls dormitory, according to a pamphlet created for Bucksport’s 150th anniversary in 1942.

Sometime after 1937, the Oblate Fathers purchased the buildings that made up the school and used them to train young priests to become missionaries. The Oblate Seminary was in operation at least until 1942, but it is unclear from records at the Bucks Memorial Library when the building went out of use.

The East Maine Conference Seminary saw 288 of its alumni leave Maine to fight in the Civil War, according to the East Maine Conference Seminary War Record, a book by Nathan B. Webb that was printed in 1877 and can be found at the Bucks Memorial Library.

Among those students was Albert Ames, who went on to become a senator of Mississippi in 1870 and then the governor of that state in 1873, according to the War Record. After going to school in Bucksport, Ames attended the United States Military Academy from 1856 to 1861 and served in the Civil War, where he was wounded at the battle of Bull Run.

Another former student, William Baker, was wounded in a battle referred to as Goodall’s Tavern in 1864. According to the War Record, he was left by a fellow soldier at the home of a man identified only as Dr. Canthorn, who had a son fighting on the confederate side.

Despite Baker and Canthorn’s naturally adversarial positions during the war, Canthorn and his family cared for Baker for six weeks.

“The neighbors for miles around came to converse with the Yankee soldier at Dr. Canthorn’s, and went away with a different impression of that species of the human race,” the War Record says.

This treatment of Baker went on until a neighbor reported it to the authorities of Libby Prison, a prison for Union soldiers in Richmond, Va., who took Baker to a hospital where he died of gangrene soon after.

Wilson Hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, though that designation does not make it immune to demolition.

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