By Jim Hughes
As usual, I come late to the party ("The Toughest Question of All"). A couple of months back, I heard that a wonderful old example of Maine vernacular architecture was about to be demolished, and in its place something akin to a McMansion erected. The home was known locally as The Frye House, situated at the intersection of Chestnut and Frye Streets in Camden (the street was named for the original owner). Much more than a century ago, it had been a blacksmith shop, and was unquestionably part of the Village Historic District. Problem was, when the Select Board (our version of a governing body) a couple of years earlier considered the issue of housing preservation, regulating such matters for the historic business district was voted up while regulating the equally historic residential district was voted down. Yankee independence, perhaps—another New England tradition. In other words, "don't tell me what to do with my own property."
The Frye House and its small but ideally located plot of land, complete with harbor view, was sold for something like $650,000, I was told. The realtor who sold it told me that he had no clue that the new owners planned to knock down a house that most agreed was still beautiful, and that had recently been respectfully restored. If the sellers had learned of their home's sad fate, he believed they would never have sold to these particular people. Anyway, the deal went through, applications were made, and a demolition permit granted. By the time I got there with a camera, the house had been flattened. All that remained was a brick hearth and few architectural treasures rescued by a woman who lived in another historic Maine house across the street (her companion is, in fact, a Frye descendent). She draped her door with a black mourning ribbon. The day was overcast, the light was fading fast, but I photographed the funeral anyway. To my everlasting regret, I never photographed the Frye House while it was still standing in all its humble glory.
©2013 by Jim Hughes, all rights reserved
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Featured Comments from:
Marty: "As a native of historic New York towns like Saratoga and Amsterdam, and now a New Englander in rural New Hampshire...a few words of advice: If you find it beautiful, photograph it. It's happened to me before and I always say it won't happen again. Recently, an older ('40s-ish) filling station/garage that I always thought would make a beautiful backdrop for 'something' was demolished for new construction. I passed that damned gas station hundreds of times and always said something like 'wait til there's nice evening light' or just plain 'next time.' Whoops, no more next time.
"...And that old architecture like the Frye home ain't comin' back, FYI."
Kent Phelan: "Oh my Jim, that's just awful. I just Googled the address and was surprised to see that is is literally 20 yards down the street from Francine Bistro, in my opinion the best restaurant in Maine. Camden is one of my favorite destinations in Maine, and we try to get there a couple of times a summer (from Boothbay Harbor). A great loss, and from my outsider's view of Camden government, a shocker. That town looks buttoned down and locked down, in terms of development. Hard to imagine they would let this happen.
"On another note, I seriously enjoyed your columns in Camera 35. They were something I looked forward to every month and had an effect on me as a photo student. Belated thanks."