2017-09-14 / News

Area historic entities to collaborate on series

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

Twelve new signs will be placed around Saco to designate its historic district, which was established in 1998. Saco business owner Johanna Hoffman helped in the design and purchase of the signs as she ended 11 years on the Saco Historic Preservation Commission. The first sign was placed at the intersection of Main and Elm Streets. (Courtesy photo) Twelve new signs will be placed around Saco to designate its historic district, which was established in 1998. Saco business owner Johanna Hoffman helped in the design and purchase of the signs as she ended 11 years on the Saco Historic Preservation Commission. The first sign was placed at the intersection of Main and Elm Streets. (Courtesy photo) BIDDEFORD/SACO – Historic preservation commissions of both cities will collaborate on a lecture series during the next eight months beginning in October. The first lecture will take place 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12 at Engine in Biddeford and discuss renovations to Wood Island Lighthouse, highlighted in the July 13 issue of the Courier. The lectures series will continue on the second Tuesday of every month except for December.

A municipality’s historic preservation commission is generally responsible for approving proposed work to historic buildings and infrastructure. For example, the Biddeford committee will look over plans next week for the new location of Bangor Savings Bank at 208 Main St. Bangor Savings traded its current building, 163 Main St. for 208 Main St. with Biddeford resident Richard Levy, who purchased it from Caleb Johnson. Bangor Savings officials expect to open its new location sometime in 2018.

The bank must submit a certificate of appropriateness before the six member commission’s next meeting for its approval. The bank will outline any expected alterations to the building, new construction, demolitions, repairs or signs it might change. Biddeford Historic Preservation Commission Chairman Aurelie Wallach expected the group to make a decision at a Wednesday, Sept. 13 meeting. Historic preservation commission meetings are not televised but open to the public.

“Anything we approve also has to go to codes for approval to deal with safety issues and things like that,” Wallach said.

The goal of the commission is to keep historically relevant buildings resembling their original architectural design as closely as possible. Wallach and the commission refer to the city’s own ordinance as well federal guidelines as laid out by the secretary of the interior’s standards. Wallach has found once one person puts money into restoring a building, owners around them tend to follow suit.

“I think since the historic commission has existed the downtown has improved greatly,” she said.

Aside from monitoring restorations to historic structures, the commission’s other goal is to educate the public on how the process works. Wallach and fellow commissioners have considered holding a lecture series for some time but were constrained due to the commission’s budget. The series will be possible thanks to collaboration with the Saco Historic Preservation Commission, which applied for a federal grant to hold the lectures. Costs of the series include paying the speakers, venue rentals, refreshments and advertising.

“Part of our mission of historic preservation is education and we have a wonderful lineup of experts on restoration,” Wallach said.

The grant money came from the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, which receives federal funds from the Department of Interior every year. The Maine commission provided $3,248 to add to the Saco Historic Preservation Commission’s $2,166 contribution for the lecture series. The Saco Historic Preservation Commission receives an annual budget from the city of $5,000. Saco is able to apply for state grants because it is a certified local government, unlike Biddeford. Municipalities must work with the federal government to become recognized as a certified local government and only 10 communities in Maine are recognized as such. Saco City Planner Bob Hamblen, who serves on the historic preservation commission, said he was more concerned with making sure the communities work together to produce the lecture series rather than who pays for it.

“The greatest importance to us was to collaborate with Biddeford,” Hamblen said. “I think the historic preservation commission agrees we’d rather be promoting jointly rather than just Saco or just Biddeford.”

The lectures will be held at the libraries, city halls and historic buildings in both Biddeford and Saco. For a list, see page 2. Hamblen hopes the lectures will generate a wider interest in local history.

“We’re always interested in ways to increase public awareness,” he said. “Oftentimes people come and drive through downtown, stop at the bank, do day-to-day stuff. They’re used to it and the back ground becomes wallpaper. They don’t pay a lot of attention to the beautiful old buildings downtown.”

One person who pays a great deal of attention to the history of downtown Saco is the new chairman of the Saco Historic Preservation Commission, Kelley Archer. The Saco native grew up listening to her great-grandmother tell stories of their family that date back to England 700 years ago. Her family members were some of the first settlers of Saco, originally called Pepperrellborough, when it was first founded.

“My family landed in this area in 1639,” Archer said. “I started to think about how and where they lived and learned a lot about Saco and Biddeford.”

Archer was elected chairman of the commission at the end of July. Her predecessor, Johanna Hoffman, served for 11 years on the commission and was honored with a plaque at the Tuesday, Sept. 5 city council meeting. Hoffman initiated the grant application with the state and began the work on the educational lecture series.

“It was the last hurrah of hers. I’m picking up on getting the educational series out there to the people,” Archer said.

Hoffman also helped order 12 signs that will be placed around Saco and mark the historic district – established in 1998 – and its inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. The historic preservation commission used $975.52 from its budget last year to pay for the signs.

As the new chairman, Archer looks forward to updating Saco’s historic preservation ordinance, which was last updated in 2007 and does not include provisions for new technologies such as solar panels. She said many people who buy properties in historic districts are often unaware of what they’re buying and don’t know the strict guidelines for renovating the building. Archer wants investors to understand what they’re purchasing and appreciate why people want to live in Saco.

“America has a lot of value, but people don’t know,” she said.


All lectures run from 6 to 8 p.m. the second Thursday of the month. Oct. 12 at Engine, 128 Main St. Biddeford, Brad Coupe and Kylie Noble on Preserving the Wood Island Lighthouse. Nov. 9 at Dyer Library 321 Main St. Saco, Les Fossel and Anne Stephenson on Energy Efficiency in Historic Buildings. Jan. 11 at MacArthur Library 270 Main St. Biddeford, Julie Lary on Examples of Successful Historic Preservation. Feb. 8 at Pepperell Mill 2 Main St. Biddeford, Seth Harkness, Doug Sanford and Scott Hansen on Historic Cityscapes and Mills of Saco and Biddeford. March 8 at Biddeford City Hall 205 Main St. Biddeford, Amy Cole Ives and John Leeke on Analyzing and Repairing Historic Paint and Siding. April 12 at Grange Hall #3 168 North St. Saco, Betsy Iglehart on Historic Landscapes and Walking Tour. May 10 at Saco City Hall 300 Main St. Saco, Caleb Johnson on Local and State Impacts of Historic Preservation.

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