A close-up look of the Joshua Chamberlain statue,
Chamberlain Freedom Park, Brewer, ME.
Photo by "Tigerlily"
Late in 2006, I received an email from a gentleman named Daniel Moellentin, in Brewer, ME. He gave me some very exciting news: in July, he bought the house where Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was born. It had been up for sale for about a year.
It is a joy to know that the house is now in good hands, and is in the process of being lovingly restored.
Mr. Moellentin kindly sent me a number of photos of both the interior and exterior of the house, along with detailed descriptions. This Web page consists of excerpts from his emails, along with a number of the photos. I cannot thank him enough, for giving his permission to create this page.
Since this is a home in private hands, I ask that you NOT copy any of the photos, or the descriptions, without contacting Mr. Moellentin in writing first. I've no intention of invading his privacy, and would ask my site visitors to show him the same courtesy. Thanks.
All photographs are by Dan Moellentin. And a special thanks goes to my dear friend Thomas Fleming, for reducing their size.
(Top photo): A full-size front view of Chamberlain's birthplace.
(Bottom photo): This marker is attached to a boulder, that sits in the house's front yard.
Here's what Mr. Moellentin wrote me:
I now own the house where JLC was born. I appreciate the nice photos and your Web site in general.
I inquired about what research he'd done on the house, as to how long the property had been in Chamberlain's family:
The maps of early Brewer indicate the land and the house was in the Chamberlain family likely from the late 18th Century as a land-grant by the US Government to JLC's ancestor(s) for his involvement in the Revolutionary War. This house has been extremely well cared for, unlike the house JLC owned in Southern Maine (NOTE: I'm guessing he is referring to Chamberlain's house in Brunswick, which was in bad shape, until it was sold to the Pejepscot Historical Society, and is being lovingly restored.).
(Top photo): A side view of the house, showing the chimney described below.
(Bottom photo): This is the brickwork above the fireplace in the downstairs parlor.
Much of it was altered in the Victorian Period, however. Fortunately they altered it leaving the original materials in place. JLC as a boy was here. In this house near this wonderful fireplace with bricks made here in Brewer. The Penobscot River is right behind the carriage house. The river was very active then- lots of tall ships were made here and the British used the river to invade the colonies from the war of 1812 (1819) and before.
Both of these photos were taken in the backyard of the house, which faces the Penobscot River, and the city of Bangor on the opposite shore. This view would have been very familiar to Chamberlain as a young boy.
I lie on the banks of the river on some days under the birch trees and watch the tidal water rise and fall. Atlantic salmon still are caught a mile from here. His childhood must have been idyllic. They owned this whole side of river to the bridge. From this house to the bridge. and then a large parcel bought later for Joshua Jr. to build his house a few blocks from here. Micmac Indians, Penobscot Indians, British soldiers, French traders, ship-owners off to China--all seen from safety high on the banks of the farm side of the river.
Here's a view of the kitchen, as described below:
In the "summer kitchen" in my house there is a pantry. In the pantry are two steps (early ones) and the wall covers up everything. On the other side of the wall a newer (ca. 1890) set of stairs was built that is wooden and spiral-type, very much like those built for servant's quarters. The servants would have lived upstairs, above the kitchen. That room has no plaster and I need to go through it carefully. It is as old as the first set of stairs. Someone added a small wooden fur-closet up there probably in the 1960s; it is lined with cedar and looks like a Swedish sauna,but it is not.
Here's a very nice photo of one of the floors, as described by Dan below.
Whoever owned it before covered the original wide plank wooden floors with very nice maple floors probably in the early 20th Century. They put up tin on the ceilings in all the downstairs rooms, except the kitchen, probably in the 1910s. They are all different patterns and exceptionally nice. They changed a lot to conform with "city people" tastes in the Victorian Period and the Edwardian period. The interior is strangely Edwardian, Victorian, and original Early American. I prefer the original but have no intention of tearing out the maple floors or the tin ceilings. I am in the process of re-papering the papered rooms with period-type wall paper. The oldest paper I can find is in the entry way and it continues in the upstairs foyer and hallway. I think it is from the 1940s. I don't know what I will find underneath it. Hopefully more paper for a history trail.
The carriage house, which sits to the left of the house, as one sees it from the street out front.
Dan writes a nice description of the former carriage house:
The carriage house was converted into a 2 car garage on one side of the downstairs (where the carriage and buggy would have been stored) and the other side where the horses would have been stalled at night or in the winter was simply covered with a wooden plank floor. So in the summer, even after all this time, that side can smell a little like manure. Upstairs is basically original. It was used to store the hay and for various woodworking activities in the winter. There is a trap door to lower the hay into the first floor from the upstairs. The wood on the top floor had a noticeable bow in the center really from holding the weight of the hay year after year.
I asked him what he found, during his exploration of inside the carriage house:
Just some wrought iron things that were down in the dirt. The carriage house had cement pillars put in within the last 25 years to hold it up, probably rocks held it up until then. You can go all the way under it is kind of tight but not bad. I have a small metal detector. A few latches and pieces of metal. A couple of early coins and a broken tea cup fragment. A piece of glass. That kind of stuff. Haven't really searched back there yet. Normally people would have a trash dump area at the back of their land where old bottles and such would go. Haven't found it and it may not exist.
Here's a good look at the original tin ceiling in the living room--what would have been the front parlor in Chamberlain's day.
The downstairs plaster in the principal rooms are smooth and they were skimmed somewhat recently. The living room (parlor, actually, that completely closes off with double folding doors on one side and double pocket doors on the other side), formal dining room and kitchen are all recently skimmed. There was a single sheet of wall paper on one wall in the living room and one in the dining room and it dated from the 1960s. I peeled it off easily and found a perfectly smooth plaster underneath. Skim coated. The other rooms have not been replastered or reskimmed. None need replastering, they will need work if the wall paper pulls plaster off and I expect it will. A room downstairs in the original 1825 section of house has not been replastered or skimmed and it is rough to the touch. Horsehair and all that, really throughout the whole house except the servants quarters upstairs.
I want a mural painted in the hallway at the entrance and I want an artist to do that. The foyer is large so that should be a project. I may ask Ken Hendricksen to make a drawing....(NOTE: Ken Hendricksen is a Maine artist, based in Kennebunkport. He allowed me to use many of his original Chamberlain artworks on my Web site.)
The servants' quarters are at least ample for 3 or 4 persons in the area above the summer kitchen. There is an adjacent room that could have held many people but I just don't know what that space was used for. The walls in the servants quarters are wood covered as are the floors. They used wide pine. Nails are all square. Window is large old bubble panes, I think 8 over 8. Looks like they slept in wooden bunk beds along the walls--probably 4 beds, two on each side.
To run the household they would have had to have men to tend the horses, the carriages, the farm, and women to help with cooking, storing food in the cellar, taking care of the children and such. The Chamberlains were not rich, but help was pretty cheap also. I would think household help would be no more than 2 women and maybe one man. They probably had children of their own. I think any farm help would have lived in the barn, not in the house, or maybe in small frame houses now gone. There are some old metal pieces we found under the carriage house and up in the the top that are likely from the original house and I may shoot one photo of some kinda rough looking artifacts we found. Maybe laid on a table or something.
This Christmas tree was situated in what was probably the upstairs master bedroom of the original house. The unusual window in the middle faces the main street.
I asked Dan if he knew how Mainers in Chamberlain's childhood might have celebrated Christmas:
New England in 1828 would not have included a tree. Probably they went to Church, then maybe decorated the windows with sprigs of holly, had a nice dinner around the fireplace with lots of conversation, stories, and tales. The interior walls are plaster with milk paint or in a few rooms there is of the period reproduction wall paper. Overall, the kitchen has an early American sense, the other rooms are really period Edwardian.
The 1960s paper is that green and white paper in the photo of the Christmas tree upstairs. It has a silky finish. I don't think it is newer. No-one wanted to change it because I suspect the plaster underneath is going to need repair. Should be interesting. I will look in several areas before I start removing a section. It is tough work. You can't use a heat gun because the square nails in the lathes holding the plaster up will burn. The wall upstairs curves and I love it when you see a curved plaster wall, can't see that with dryway. So if I get it down to the plaster I will have it painted. The downstairs and upstairs entryway and upper hallway at the top of the stairs has the same green paper. I thought a halfway up the wall mural in the downstairs would be really nice. I had only hoped to have Ken draw the scene and then get some local artists to complete it. Painting on plaster is like painting a fresco; doubt Ken does much work with that media.
Here's a nice overview of the downstairs living room-front parlor.
I have a very good idea of what the house dimensions were when Josh was born. It was basically 3 rooms downstairs and maybe two upstairs. It would have been a cape house and quite frankly not really a small house by Maine standards. There are small houses along the coast where fishermen and their families lived--this would not have been a small house. I would guess that family helped Mrs. Chamberlain out a lot early on. Likely the Chamberlain side, as I think her family lived more on the coast. But after a few kids, I would expect they would have a nanny or niece or someone that lived in. There is no record of them having slaves, and I don't think they had any real opinion on the matter. Nonetheless help was quite cheap. many would work for food and lodging. If you look at the house they built after this one you know they had money. Believe it or not, there was a land "boom" in Bangor during that period and people speculated on land and did quite well.
(Top photo): A nice overall view of the house, along with the carriage house.
(Bottom photo): A view out the living room window, onto Brewer's main street.
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