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Researching historic homes uncovers sweet story

Historic home plaques made at local forge
By Susan Mustapich | Aug 05, 2020
Photo by: Susan Mustapich The pattern used by glass artist and metal sculptor Richard Remsen, to make Camden Historic Landmark plaques, is larger than the finished metal product, which contracts as it cools from liquid to solid.

CAMDEN — A bit of research involved in obtaining Camden Historic Landmark plaques for two Pearl Street homes uncovered a story about mill workers who bought neighboring lots on the street and later became brothers-in-law.

Obtaining a Historic Landmark plaque from Camden's Historic Resources Committee involves an application that asks for the date a home was constructed, history of ownership based on deeds, early photographs and other information. The committee, which authenticates the information provided, is also a resource for homeowners interested in the process.

A new Historic Home Marker program recognizes homes that are 75 years old, or older. A simple application providing information on the year the home was constructed, along with additional details, is all that is needed.

National Historic Register home plaques are available for houses within Camden's historic districts. No documentation on the age of the house is needed, as this information is already on file with the town.

Pearl Street homes

The current owners of 34 and 36 Pearl Street found, through research into their properties, that the first owners of their homes, Wallace Easton and Frank Thorndike, both worked at the Knox Mill. In those early years, Easton worked as a carder and then a felt finisher and Thorndike worked as a gigger and then a felt finisher. By 1910, both were wool finishers.

Easton bought the lot at 34 Pearl Street in 1885 and Thorndike bought the lot at 36 Pearl in 1886. Within several years, both had homes built. Noted in the Landmark plaque application for 34 Pearl is that mill workers had the financial resources to buy land and build affordable, comfortable houses in downtown Camden. While the builder and exact dates of the two homes are unknown, available information leads to 1888 as the year constructed.

Also in 1888, Thorndike and Easton's sister, Georgia, were married. As a result of the marriage, brother and sister lived side-by-side on Pearl Street, the two mill workers became brothers-in-law, and their wives sisters-in-law.

Plaques forged in Rockport

The plaques are cast-metal with gold leaf displaying the year the home was built, made by glass artist and metal sculptor Richard Remsen, owner of The Foundry in West Rockport. He is well-known for his glass lobster claw sculptures, including a massive piece, exhibited at the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland.

Remsen forges the historic homes plaques using cope and drag casting, a method dating back to ancient times. The work begins with a pattern that is larger than the finished metal product, and which contracts as it cools from liquid to solid. The pattern has to be made with an expert understanding of exactly how the cooling metal will contract. For the plaques, the pattern uses the same designs created by architect Chris Glass in 1980 for Historic Landmark Homes and National Historic District homes on Chestnut and High streets.

The cope and drag are each one-half of the mold, and either half can be imprinted with the pattern of the plaque. The mold, made of sand, created with Remsen's expertise, retains all of the details of the pattern, including letters and numbers, when molten metal is poured into it. Once the pattern is imprinted on one half, and the other half packed with sand, the two sides are separated with a layer of talc, attached, and are ready for metal to be poured.

In an article Remsen wrote for the May/June 1996 issue of WoodenBoat Magazine, he likens molding sand to a baker's bread dough. He describes "the special magic of molding sand" as its ability to conform to a shape, when "properly conditioned with careful mixing and water," and "containing just enough clay to bind its grains together and only enough water to activate the clay."

Preserving Camden's  character

The reprise, in 2018, of the National Historic Register, Camden Historic Landmark and the new Historic Home Markers is the work of enthusiastic members of the Historic Resources Committee.

There are 1,241 houses in Camden 75 years old or older, and 913 of these are 100 years old or older, according to the committee's research.

The plaques are part of a larger effort to preserve the town's character, by identifying and celebrating structures that contribute to the distinctive qualities of the New England coastal village.

To further that effort, the committee developed and put forth an ordinance that creates a review period before a permit can be issued to demolish a structure within the town's National Historic Districts on High and Chestnut streets. At the polls July 14, the new ordinance was overwhelmingly approved by Camden voters.

Historic Home Marker plaques are available for $50. National Historic Register and Camden Historic Landmark plaques are $150.

Brochures and applications for the Historic Home Marker and Camden Historic Landmark plaque are available at the Town Office and the Walsh History Center of the Camden Public Library.

Pictured is a new Camden Historic Landmark plaque on a Pearl Street home, made by Richard Remsen, owner of The Foundry in Rockport. (Photo by: Susan Mustapich)
Glass artist and metal sculptor Richard Remsen, owner of The Forge in Rockport fills one half of a mold with a special sand that retains the imprint of a pattern while molten metal is poured into it and cools. (Photo by: Susan Mustpich)
The reverse mold of a new Camden Historic Landmark plaque for a home built in 1860 is made from a special sand used in cope and drag casting, which dates to ancient times. (Photo by: Susan Mustapich)
Many homes in Camden are recognized for contributing to the character of the coastal village, which the Historic Resources Commission celebrates and seeks to preserve. (Photo by: Susan Mustapich)
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Comments (1)
Posted by: Bill Packard | Aug 05, 2020 19:33

The Knox mill was so important to Camden back in the day.  It's probably hard to believe today, but Camden was a working town and the mill provided a step up for lots of people.  Also, Alton French owned many properties that people rented as affordable housing and later were offered those homes to buy at attractive prices and rates. While the summer traffic was important, most of the residents were gainfully employed year round and the mill employed many of them.


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