FAIRFIELD — A young history enthusiast has spent a lot of time and energy to ensure that a grand old building of the past will be remembered far into the future.
Over the past two years, a Facebook page dedicated to the Gerald Hotel, now undergoing renovation, has accumulated about 500 photographs and more than 120 “likes” because of the work of Kerri Marion, 28, of Fairfield, who started the page.
Local history might seem like an odd passion for Marion, who spends the bulk of her time working at Walmart and caring for her young daughter, but she said the historic hotel captured her imagination when she was still a teenager.
“I guess people describe me as an old head on young shoulders,” Marion said. “I’ve always been that way. I’ve always been old-fashioned.”
The Gerald Hotel was built in 1900 by Amos Gerald, who also built the state’s first electric light plant and first electric train system.
“The way it was constructed, it was very carefully planned and it had to be perfect,” Marion said. “Other Victorian houses are nice, but he had to have it a certain way and he would pay extra to make it happen.”
She said the woodwork is an example of Gerald’s attention to detail.
“Every single thing is hand-carved,” she said. “There are no two designs alike.”
After Gerald’s death in 1914, the hotel operated continuously until 1937. In the years since, it has housed a variety of enterprises, most recently the Northern Mattress and Furniture Gallery, which moved to Waterville in 2006.
In 2007, Maine Preservation identified the hotel as one of the state’s most endangered historic properties. Its placement on the national registry of historic places allowed historic tax credits to be used to help fund a massive, $4 million renovation project that is transforming the empty structure into 28 apartments for low-income seniors.
Every two weeks, crews from Sheridan Construction, the company leading the renovation project, have been giving Marion tours, during which she photographs the ongoing work and the seemingly endless discoveries of the workers.
Some of the discoveries are intriguing mysteries to be solved.
On the building’s third floor, in a suite that used to be occupied by the building’s original owner, Amos Gerald, workers found a skeletal network of badly burned beams in the ceiling.
It was strange, Marion said, because there were no documented reports of what appeared to be a major fire in one of the most striking buildings in the area.
“No one knows anything about it,” she said. “We can’t figure it out.”
Then, a few days later, Marion discovered that the fire was much more recent than she had originally assumed.
Newspaper reports showed that in 1993, a fire broke out in the mattress store after a conventional mattress was accidentally placed on top of a waterbed heater.
The story of the fire has been added to Marion’s growing collection of information on the site, gleaned from a combination of the Fairfield Historical Society, newspaper clippings, discussions with area residents and her own observations.
Various people have contributed photos to the page, which depict, among other things, an original menu from the hotel’s opening, doorknobs embossed with the hotel’s signature G, and the original wallpaper, manufactured in Philadelphia, Pa.
Marion also has posted pictures that allow the viewer to draw comparisons among blueprints, the building as it looks today and historical shots of the same scenes.
The website is also peppered with interesting facts about the hotel.
For example, a 9-by-19-foot piece of granite in the foundation, originally from Norridgewock, is the largest piece of stone ever quarried in the state of Maine, she says in one post.
The webpage includes picture contributions from other fans of the hotel and has become a virtual gathering place for people to post their comments.
Many of the artifacts that are being uncovered by the workers will be displayed on the floor of the hotel when it is completed, Marion said. Among the findings are a work order for the Lawry Brothers Funeral Parlor, which used to occupy the first floor, and license plates that urge people to vote for Herbert Hoover, who was elected president in 1928.
Marion said she’d like to find sponsors and continue to expand the website in the future.
“I don’t want it to be forgotten,” she said. “I want people to realize its history and respect it. She deserves a lot of respect.”
Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287