NORWAY — A tower set to be removed from the Responsible Pet Care thrift store on the Waterford Road during renovations once graced the C.A. Stephens laboratory by Lake Pennesseewassee.

Charles A. Stephens, a noted author of young adult and children’s books and a medical doctor and scientist,  built his large, rambling “laboratory” at Pennesseewassee Lake in Norway. He used it as his home and laboratory, where he studied ways to extend human life.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt,” Norway Historical Society curator Charles Longley said recently after tracking down decades-old hearsay.

The story has long been that the tower, now housing the children’s section of the Pawsibilities Thrift Shoppe on Waterford Road, came from the front roof of the Stephens’ mansion. Until now, it has only been conjecture.

Another rumor that the tower might be the foundation for the Twitchell Observatory in Paris has been dismissed.

The tower from the Stephens’ estate “is the tower that is now at Pawsibilities,” said Longley, who verified the story through written and oral documentation including an interview with Esta Nava, a 92-year-old resident of the Lake Village.

The story of the tower is almost as rambling as the 40-plus-room complex. Stephens lived in this mansion he called “this old shack by the lakeside” from 1888 until his death on Sept. 22, 1931. It reportedly took 18 to 20 cords of wood to heat each room every winter season, had an indoor swimming pool, 12 tiled fireplaces, three furnaces and a cookstove. Almost all his books were written there.

The multi-level mansion laboratory and home was extensively redesigned by Stephens following a trip to the 1893 Chicago World’s Exposition.

George W. Herrick was the builder, working without an architect or blueprint. For 20 years, the carpenter simply built whatever Stephens envisioned at the time.

“The guy got out his hammer and saw and went to work,” Longley said of the carpenter.

If he (Stephens) didn’t like something, he said tear it out,” Longley said. That accounted for the many different levels of the mansion.

The tower, now on the west side of Pawsibilities Thrift Shoppe, was one of at least two on the mansion.

Although Stephens, who died in 1931 at the age of 87, and his second wife, Minnie Plummer, the opera singer known as Madam Scalar,  planned to turn the mansion over to the town for use as a hospital, it never happened. Longley theorized that the construction methodology was so haphazard it resulted in a building that was unusable as a hospital.

Instead an auction took place in 1953, and the house was razed. It is unknown how much of the $2,500 realized from the auction went toward the construction of a new hospital, but Longley believes at least some if not all was given. That hospital on lower Main Street is now known as Stephens Memorial Hospital. It opened in 1957.

Mike Cullinan of Norway said he remembers the locals were given the opportunity to take some of the salvaged lumber from the mansion. His grandparents used some of it in the construction of a building on Fair Street.

Other pieces, such as the piano from the Stephens’ estate, also stayed locally. It was acquired by the Norway Center Church.

The tower was first purchased by Lyndon Philbrook, who put it on top of a filling station on the Waterford Road. When that building was torn down, the tower was moved to the house now occupied by Pawsibilities, said Longley.

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Future of tower uncertain

NORWAY — The next move for the C.A. Stephens laboratory tower is unknown, but Shirley Boyce, president of Responsible Pet Care, said the board will not destroy the tower.

“We would never destroy the tower, but it would cost us a lot of money to incorporate it into the new addition to the building. We would prefer that someone take it that might have a use for it,” she said.

In July, the Planning Board unanimously approved a building permit for Responsible Pet Care to renovate a portion of its Pawsibilities Thrift Shoppe and add a restroom at the Waterford Road store in Norway.

Additionally, some renovations to remove the flat-roof portion of the building and the tower will be completed when the restroom is put in, she said.

Responsible Pet Care is a no-kill, nonprofit shelter and adoption center for cats and dogs. It was established in 1997 by a small group of people to save unwanted cats in the Oxford Hills community.

The founding group pooled their money and purchased the neglected piece of property with two buildings on Route 118 in Norway. The best of the two buildings was cleaned, painted and fitted with cages and equipment to house cats and kittens. The second building with the tower eventually opened up as the thrift shop to help support the needs of the shelter.

Mike Cullinan of Norway said the tower is the “last tangible piece of that (C.A. Stephens) house structure.”

“It would be a shame not to try to re-purpose that (tower) for common use,” he said.

He and others, including Boyce, have suggested the tower be moved to the entrance of Lake Pennesseewassee where the Stephens’ rose quartz well sits and that it be used as a gateway, a kiosk, a display unit or some other community-minded purpose.

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