In 1978, David Twombly was driving through Thomaston and saw a for sale sign on the Knox Hotel on Main Street.

“The 1915 building was about to be torn down,” said Twombly.

Camden National Bank had signed an agreement to purchase the vacant hotel and was planning to demolish the building and construct a new branch bank on the site, he said. “We were able to negotiate a long-term lease with the bank, in exchange for their rights to purchase the property.”

A former city planner, Twombly’s passion is to preserve historic landmarks by converting them into functional buildings for the 21st-Century. Twombly joined the firm of Gaudreau and Company in Providence, R.I., just when the real estate development company had begun to focus on the construction of affordable housing.

Combining federal historic tax credits with HUD Section 8 financing, Twombly and Gaudreau purchased the old hotel building and funded its conversion into a 29-unit independent living facility for low-income seniors and disabled residents.

Opened in 1980, Knox Hotel Apartments were managed from the beginning by the Methodist Conference Home, a Rockland based nonprofit, known today as MCH Housing. MCH Housing provides property management and support services that enable residents to live independently.

Now 33 years later, Twombly is back leading the current renovations of the Knox Hotel. Work began last October to address water and air infiltration problems and damage to the historic façade. Bob Gaudreau is still the General Partner and is involved under a new ownership entity called Knox Hotel Associates, LP, based in Providence.

Making the building energy efficient was another top priority, said MCH Housing Director Judy Smith. “Tenants have to pay for their own electric heat, with some subsidies,” she said. “The renovations were designed to help reduce tenant’s bills.”

Since the Knox Hotel had been placed on the National Registry of Historic Places during the first renovation, Twombly was faced with the challenge of making improvements to the building while maintaining its integrity. Every step of the renovation had to be approved by the State Historic Preservation office and the National Park Service.

The building’s historic façade and front porch are being restored to their early 1900s features; additional insulation and weather protection have been added to all exterior walls of the original hotel and the 1978 addition; and new energy efficient window have been installed, replicating the traditional style.

“All historic details of the building façade, including window trim and porch details have either been restored or replaced in-kind” Twombly said.

All the one and two-bedroom apartments were improved with new kitchens and efficient hot water heaters and the existing sprinkler system was expanded from the common areas into all the units. Upgrades were also made to the building’s elevator and central fire alarm system.

“We have been able to do many improvements that not only make our residents more comfortable, but also much safer.” Smith said. “We have even added a new wireless Internet system that will service each apartment.”

The last phase of the project, which includes restoring the front porch, is scheduled to be completed in early July.

“We had hoped to be able to have the porch work done in time for the July 4th parade through Thomaston, but weather delays may cause the work to stretch into mid-July,” said Smith.

Financing the project this time around was almost as challenging as the renovations.

“Even affordable housing stopped with this economy,” said Twombly, who was  able to finance the renovations through the sale of 4 percent Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) allocated by MaineHousing and administered by the Northern England Housing Investment Fund of Portland. Additional investor equity was provided through the sale of State and Federal Historic Tax Credits and construction financing came through the Portland branch of TD Bank.

“I am proud that the work we are doing will extend the life of this historic building for another 30 years,” said Twombly. He said the work to preserve the historic structure will help to maintain a key element of Thomaston’s traditional Main Street.

Resident Jim Smith, whose apartment overlooks Main Street,  was able to move back into his renovated apartment in March.

“I haven’t had to turn the heat on at all,” Smith said, adding that the wind used to blow through the old windows.

Smith, who grew up in Thomaston, feels fortunate to live right downtown in the historic building.

“I love it” said Smith. “It’s nice to be able to retire in the same town I grew up in.”