Historic former tavern on Sabattus-Lisbon line considered for demolition

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SABATTUS — A former tavern listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its 1820s frescoes featuring oversized trees, ships and old New England charm is being considered Tuesday night for demolition.

Town officials say after a period of neglect, its roof is caving in and there is no obvious solution to saving the paintings.

The former Cushman Tavern sits at either 921 Middle Road in Sabattus or 430 Ridge Road in Lisbon, depending on the direction you approach it.

“It’s one of the oldest buildings, I’d say, in Lisbon, but at the time it was Webster, Sabattus and Lisbon combined; hence while it’s over a line,” said Dennis Douglass, the code enforcement officer for both Sabattus and Lisbon.

“It’s a shame nobody’s rescued this place. It’s one of the last historic buildings we have.”

Shortly after the Federal-style building was built about 1825, Auburn artist Orison Wood knocked on the door and said he “could paint the walls with marvelous decorations which would help to advertise the Cushman House far and wide and make its name notable on the lips of the traveling public,” according to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission’s 1979 application to the National Register of Historic Places. 

The commission pulled that detail from Jean Lipman’s book, “Rufus Porter, Yankee Pioneer.”

Lipman wrote that Wood had also painted frescoes in homes in West Auburn and Lewiston, “with landscapes clearly planned after Porter designs. Wood was, however, no mere assistant; his animated murals have, within the Porter formula, a distinctive, gracile style of their own.”

The large frescoes are in the first and second floor hallways as well as in the stairwell.

Historian Frank A. Beard from the Maine Historic Preservation Commission called them “outstanding examples of highly stylized primitive painting.”

Capt. Samuel Cushman ran the property as a tavern and it later became a private home.

Douglass said he initially flagged the house as an issue to the town of Lisbon after watching it sit vacant and start to “structurally fail.” It is now slated for a dangerous-house hearing at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Lisbon with the Lisbon Town Council and Sabattus Board of Selectmen.

“From the front, it looks not that bad, but you look from the backside, you see where the roof is collapsing in,” Sabattus Town Manager Tony Ward said.

“We had some dialogue and realized we are equal or even more responsible for the demolition of the building, based on where the building actually is.”

In 2007, Sabattus assessed its share of the house and land at $172,900, according to an online tax map. Lisbon has its section assessed at $32,000, according to Town Manager Diane Barnes.

The property is owned by Pamela McGuire and the heirs of Robert McGuire. Taxes are current in both towns.

Ward said Douglass will present evidence that both towns should declare it dangerous, “at which point they order the property owner to demolish that building within 30 days. And if they don’t demolish it within 30 days, it gives each of us the authority to demo the building for public safety.”

Should the towns choose do it, the project would be put out to bid.

“But Lisbon’s experience is these demolitions cost approximately $10,000,” Ward said.

Douglass said the towns have talked with the owner about saving the property, but it was too late.

“I’ve had a lot of people look (at the murals) and been told that (removing them) is possible, but no one has stepped forward with the means to do it — that’s beyond my expertise,” he said.

“It’s old plaster. How you do that, I would have no idea. It’s a piece of history for the town. Be nice if somebody tried to preserve that versus watching it fall into the ground.”

Barnes said she expects the council and board to take some kind of vote Tuesday.

“It’s unfortunate” to lose a building on the historic register, she said.

“I never like to do that, but the condition of the house now is so bad that I don’t think we have any other alternatives at this point.” 

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The farmhouse at 430 Ridge Road in Lisbon straddles the line with Sabattus. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)The farmhouse at 430 Ridge Road in Lisbon has been deemed inhabitable. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

A fresco painted by Auburn artist Orison Wood in the 1820s inside the former Cushman Tavern on the Sabattus-Lisbon line is shown in 1979, when Maine historian Frank Beard applied for the property to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. On Tuesday, town officials in Lisbon and Sabattus will meet to consider declaring the building dangerous and ordering it be razed. (Photo from the National Park Service gallery)

One of the frescoes painted by Auburn artist Orison Wood in the 1820s inside the former Cushman Tavern. The photo shows how they looked in 1979, when Maine historian Frank Beard applied for the property to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was approved that year. (Photo from the National Park Service gallery)

The former Cushman Tavern on the Sabattus-Lisbon town line, as seen in 1979, when Maine historian Frank Beard applied for the property to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was approved that year. (Photo from the National Park Service gallery)

One of the frescoes painted by Auburn artist Orison Wood in the 1820s inside the former Cushman Tavern. The photo shows how they looked in 1979, when Maine historian Frank Beard applied for the property to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was approved that year. (Photo from the National Park Service gallery)

One of the frescoes painted by Auburn artist Orison Wood in the 1820s inside the former Cushman Tavern. The photo shows how they looked in 1979, when Maine historian Frank Beard applied for the property to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was approved that year. (Photo from the National Park Service gallery)

One of the frescoes painted by Auburn artist Orison Wood in the 1820s inside the former Cushman Tavern. The photo shows how they looked in 1979 when Maine historian Frank Beard applied for the property to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was approved that year. (Photo from the National Park Service gallery)

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