BATH, Maine — The century-old Paint and Treenail Building at Maine Maritime Museum has been through a lot since it was built 104 years ago.
It survived a fire in 1913, a move across the former Percy and Small Shipyard and being sold on a real estate market hungry for property on the shore of the Kennebec River. If something isn’t done soon, though, it might succumb to the most basic and constant of forces: gravity.
To keep the first floor free of vertical columns that would have interrupted the work performed there, much of the weight of the building hangs from the third-floor rafters. The force on the outer walls has bowed them out with time, which is evident in rather alarming inch-wide gaps between the floor and wall studs.
The building is sound for now, but might not be if the settling continues, said Nathan Lipfert, Maine Maritime Museum’s senior curator. With the help of a $10,000 grant announced last week from a group called Tourism Cares along with matching funds from the Charles R. Niehaus Fund, the estimated $40,000 structural spruce-up and paint job on the museum campus’s oldest building will be done by Spring.
“It’s been straightened out and fluffed up before,” said Lipfert.
“Maintaining these historic buildings is a never-ending job. I’ve often fantasized about putting a big bubble over the whole Percy & Small Shipyard.”
Maine Maritime Museum is one of only six organizations worldwide selected to receive the grant in 2011. Tourism Cares is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve the travel experience for future generations, according to a press release from the museum.
The Paint and Treenail Building is one of five original buildings from the original Percy & Small Shipyard, a site which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the first two sites in New England to be named a Preserve America Steward site.
The 30-by-40-foot building was used in the early part of last century to mix paint and produced treenails (pronounced TRU’nels), which are a sort of wooden nail or peg. Percy & Small holds a place in history for building seven of the only nine six-masted schooners ever constructed on the east coast. Remnants of years past exist on the second and third floors of the building — which because of access issues are not open to museum visitors — in the form of caked-on paint and graffiti from workers of days gone by. The graffiti includes various scrawled notes (the first snow in the year 1911 fell on November 1, according to one notation) and other curiosities such as tabs from antique chewing tobacco cans driven into the wood.
Much of the Percy & Small Shipyard was donated to the museum in 1975, about four years after it was founded. According to Lipfert, it is the only intact shipyard in the country that built wooden sailing vessels.
“The reason for that is that they have all burned down,” he said. “The problems we’re facing today are inherent in the ways these buildings were originally built.”