Loss of historic house a ‘tragedy’ for downtown

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NORWAY — The destruction by fire of one of the oldest houses on Main Street has left another hole in one of the state’s most complete downtown National Historic Districts.

“For Norway Downtown whose rehabilitation efforts hinge on significant historic buildings, this is a tragedy,” Andrea Burns, president of Norway Downtown, said.

The 1806 building, known historically as the Luther Farrar House, was destroyed early Monday morning when fire ripped through the structure at 467 Main St., displacing a dozen tenants and damaging an adjacent 1899 building.

“It’s another hole on Main Street that will be a disconnect for the street. Every time you have a vacant lot between buildings you lose continuity whether it’s a parking lot or vacant lot or a building that doesn’t relate to the surrounding buildings in an historic district,” Burns said.

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“It is one of the oldest. It was architecturally significant (to the district),” she said.

The Maine Historic Preservation Commission has referred to the area, which was designated a National Historic District in 1988, as one of the best examples of period architecture in the state. The district is roughly bounded by Pearl Street and Greenleaf Avenue on the eastern end, Main Street through the business district and on the western end just past Whitman Street.

Many of the buildings were constructed after the great fire of 1894. That fire occurred 117 years ago on May 9, 1894, and destroyed some 80 homes and businesses in the downtown area. Most were quickly rebuilt.

The latest fire-ravaged building sits on the western end of the National Historic District, surrounded by other important buildings including the 1899 Henry Bangs Store, now know as Ari’s Pizza, that received some fire and water damage Monday.

The home is owned by Vira P. Michlon, who was deeded the house by her mother, Madeline Pratt, who owns 13 houses in Norway including at least three on Main Street, two of which have now been destroyed by fire.

Burns said the tragedy comes not only from the loss of the single structure but the increasing losses of other buildings within the Main Street historic district. The National Register program defines a historic district as “possessing a significant concentration, linkage, or continuity of sites, buildings, structures, or objects united historically or aesthetically by plan or physical development.”

Burns said with the 2007 destruction of Pratt’s house at 256 Main St., which went up in flames when a first-floor fuse panel overheated, the previous destruction of the Color Center adjacent to that house and the most recent destruction by fire of another of Pratt’s historic homes, the gaps become larger and larger in the district. Additionally the impending move of the historic Gingerbread House, located diagonally across the street from the latest fire loss, will leave another hole in the district.

“It’s just sad,” Burns said of the losses that now leave empty lots or parking lots in place of the historic homes.

Monday’s fire destroyed a house owned by Norway’s first lawyer, Luther Farrar, which was a Federal style with a hip roof. According to a walking guide, after Farrar died in 1812, his partner Levi Whitman, who served in the state Legislature, married Farrar’s widow and inherited the property. Farrar and Whitman also owned another Main Street property — the former Barjo’s Restaurant

The Farrar house’s distinctive porch and bay windows along with a rear extension were added in 1907 by well known architect John B. Hazen, who also designed and remodeled the Gingerbread House.

“These wood-frame buildings, for which Norway is known, are the building blocks for the future. When they are cared for and rehabilitated they add to the value to community,” she said.

Pratt, who began acquiring properties in Norway just out of high school in the 1940s when there was a large demand for rooms and apartments by mill workers, said Monday she may sell the land. There have been several inquiries prior to the fire about purchasing the property. There was no insurance on the house, she said.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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