FARMINGTON— The Farmington Historical Society (FHS) will begin insulating and weatherizing the historic Ramsdell House on Perham and High Streets after receiving the Belvedere Historic Preservation and Energy Efficiency Grant distributed by the Maine Community Foundation.

“It was the first time I had written a grant, I had a lot of help,” FHS President Marion Scharoun said while standing in the Ramsdell House’s 1950s style kitchen.

The decor in each room reflects the different inhabitants of the house over the course of 154 years before FHS purchased the building in 2012.

Western Maine Community Action (WMCA) assisted FHS by conducting an energy audit to test air exchange throughout the house and estimated savings with efficient energy upgrades. The report provided FHS with a foundation to write the grant which WMCA also provided guidance on.

Farmington’s historic Ramsdell House was built in 1858 by local mason Cyrus Ramsdell who constructed the octagon house from his own fired bricks. The Farmington Historical Society purchased the building from the Mallett family in 2012. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

Work to the house will include insulating the attic, repointing windows and addressing the poor drainage in the basement. FHS also hopes to invest in a hot water heater so that the house is more accommodating for winter events and rentals. The Maine School of Masonry in Avon is also scheduled to work on the brick foundation next June.

“All of that considered, the house is in really good shape,” Scharoun said.

The Ramsdell House was built by local mason Cyrus Ramsdell who was inspired by the octagon house design and philosophy developed by phrenologist and publisher Orson Squire Fowler. The first octagon house in the United States was constructed by Fowler in Fishkill, New York in 1853 which very quickly led to a fad for eight-sided houses.

The idea behind an octagon house is that it would encourage communication and socialization in the household since everyone had to revolve around a central area. The absence of corners provides more usable space, and the design includes a cupola to circulate air throughout the house.

The Ramsdell House’s cupola is FHS Vice President Jane Woodman’s favorite aspect of the octagon house. A narrow staircase ascends from the second floor to a glass-sided overlook of downtown through the tops of towering oak trees.

“It’s just a wonderful view of the village of Farmington,” Woodman said.

Farmington Historical Society President Marion Scharoun looks out over downtown Farmington from the glass-sided cupola of the Ramsdell House. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

While Fowler’s own octagon house was condemned and demolished within the 19th century, Farmington’s octagon house continues to function and serve the community. The goal of the FHS is to expand opportunities for people to experience the eight-sided house whether it be through tours, private rentals or hosting more year round events.

Scharoun stood in front of a string of homemade Christmas decorations in the kitchen window as she spoke about future plans. The last event FHS hosted in the Ramsdell House before the coronavirus pandemic was Christmas Through the Ages during which over 100 people streamed through Farmington’s historic buildings embellished with different time periods of holiday tinsle, lights and ornaments.

The pandemic has prevented the FHS from offering its usual tours and events such as the North Church concert series, but the group is still planning for the future. The Belvedere grant must be spent within a year and FHS has to provide a report to the foundation of progress within six months.

“If we invest more money, we’ll have more use for the community,” Scharoun said as she admired her favorite aspect of the house, the kitchen pantry.

“It’s just so useful, I like that you can put all your stuff in a little room and close the door,” she said.

Each room in the house is grandly furnished by the belongings inherited from the Mallett family, the last owners of the Ramsdell House. The dining room cupboards overflow with china and holiday themed plateware, and the sitting rooms throughout the first floor beckon with cozy armchairs in front of wood stoves.

The first floor of the historic Ramsdell House in Farmington is full of furnished seating spaces. The Farmington Historical Society offers sponsorships of the building’s rooms as a way of raising money. The Franklin Savings Bank sponsored the room pictured above. Andrea Swiedom/Franklin Journal

After renovations, FHS is considering renting the Ramsdell House on Airbnb and hosting more winter time festivities. There are also plans to develop the building into a historic house museum like the Titcomb House on Academy Street which is currently open to the public on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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