A Day at the Auburn house

0

That beautiful Victorian building at the corner of Court and Goff streets in Auburn has been admired by many people through the years.

Fortunately, its present owner, Dr. Thomas Johnson, recognizes that beauty and a lot of important restoration has taken place there. It was featured on the cover of Victorian Homes magazine in the mid-1980s.

There’s also some history connected with this building known as the Holman Day house. That history deserves a bit of restoration, too.

Holman Day is not exactly a household name in L-A, although his contribution to Maine literature and film was significant in the years he lived here. He wrote about Maine people and their daily life and work a hundred years ago. He did it with insight and humor – that special understated tongue-in-cheek charm that epitomizes the character of Maine.

Day was born in Vassalboro in 1865 and he graduated from Colby College. He wrote a column called “Evenings in a Country Store” for the Fairfield Journal in 1887 and he was part owner of the Dexter Gazette for a while.

The next 20 years brought Holman Day to the Twin Cities. He became a special correspondent and columnist for the Lewiston Evening Journal, and later was managing editor of the Lewiston Daily Sun.

It was in that first decade of the last century as a resident of Auburn when Day showed his greatest potential. His writing included 23 novels, three books of poetry (mostly ballads), hundreds of magazine stories and a large number of outlines and scripts for radio and the movies.

Publication of “Up in Maine: Stories of Yankee Life Told in Verse” appeared in 1900. It proved to be his best work, selling more than 80,000 copies in its 14 editions.

His second book of verse in 1902 was “Pine Tree Ballads.” A New York Times reviewer said, “Some of these poems have the vigor and dash of Kipling.”

In the late 1800s, Day married Helen Rowell Gerald, whose father was an electric railroading tycoon from Fairfield. He built the Auburn house for them, but Helen died early in life and Day later married Agnes Bearce Nevens of Lewiston.

Most of Day’s books were written at the Auburn house in the years following his association with the Lewiston newspapers. His writing brought him regional and then national acclaim, and with it a fair share of financial gain.

The new media of motion pictures led Day to form a production company in Augusta which filmed his novel, “Rider of the King Log.” The movie’s premiere was at Lewiston’s Empire Theater. It was well received critically, but not financially. Day and his partners lost a lot on the venture.

It was Day’s talent for capturing the Maine dialect and nuggets of folklore that have earned him a place in history.

Day’s best known novels are “King Spruce,” “Rider of the King Log,” “All-Wool Morrison,” and “Joan of Arc of the North Woods.”

Day moved to California around 1920 and a number of his works were turned into popular silent films. The stars of these films included Dorothy Gish and Leon Errol.

Day didn’t transplant well to the West Coast. He wrote to a friend that he felt “as out of place as a mayflower in the Everglades.”

Holman Day died in California in 1935, but his Auburn house lives on. Dr. Johnson has a collection of Day’s books that he displays there in honor of Holman Day.

David Sargent is a freelance writer and an Auburn native. You can contact him at dasargent@maine.com.

Advertisement