AUGUSTA — A new book by Maine State Historian Earle G. Shettleworth Jr. uses 185 vintage and recent photos and detailed descriptions of them to present the rich history of Maine’s governor’s mansion, the Blaine House.
Shettleworth, 65, of Hallowell, said South Carolina-based Arcadia Publishing approached him a year-and-a-half ago asking him to do a book that would serve as a prototype for the publisher’s new series of pictorial books on governor’s mansions. They picked Maine for the first book in the series because the Blaine House is so historic and so close to the Maine State House.
“All of the states have official governor’s residences,” said Shettleworth. “But it’s unusual to have a beautiful governor’s mansion directly adjacent to the State House … They’ve been on those two corners (on State and Capitol streets) literally for the duration of state government in Augusta.”
The history of the two state buildings is intertwined. The State House was finished and opened in 1832 while the Blaine House was opened for occupancy by its first owner, Capt. James Hall, in 1833. The house was conveyed to prominent Republican politician James G. Blaine in 1862 for $5,000.
Blaine, who ran for president three times, used the Blaine House as his residence until his death in 1893.
After Blaine’s death, his wife Harriet continued to live there. Harriet died in 1903, leaving shares of the property to several members of the family. Harriet Blaine Beale donated the house and grounds to the state to serve as the governor’s mansion in 1919, when it was renovated for that purpose. It has served as home to 20 sitting governors since 1920.
Noted Portland architect John Calvin Stevens was retained to make several major architectural changes before the house was turned over to Gov. Carl E. Milliken and first lady Emma Milliken and their seven children.
This is Shettleworth’s ninth book for Arcadia Publishing. He said it took him about six months to assemble the photographs and other kinds of illustrations for the book and to research the information for captions, though he was very familiar with the subject matter having conducted research over the years on the property.
“They (Arcadia) have a very good, logical system to see that everything is in alignment,” Shettleworth said. “A number for every picture corresponds to a number for every caption. They provide very good editorial assistance.”
Previously, the only other major book on the building was H. Draper Hunt’s 1974 book, “The Blaine House: Home of Maine’s governors.” Hunt was a retired history professor from the University of Southern Maine. The book was updated in 1994 through the administration of John McKernan.
“There hasn’t been any book since that time, so literally 20 years has passed,” Shettleworth said. “We have had the governorships of (Angus) King, (John) Baldacci and now Paul LePage. The other difference is the book that has just been published is really a pictorial history, whereas Draper Hunt’s is more orientated toward a documentary nature; it’s much more text inclusive than picture.”
Shettleworth’s book also has chapters on first ladies, first families and Christmas cards that were sent out by Maine governors and their families. Most Maine governors were married with children, but Gov. Percival Baxter, who gave the state the land for Baxter State Park and preserved Mount Katahdin, enjoyed the company of his Irish setters — especially Garry, whom he brought every day to his office in the State House. The dog’s scratch marks still show up on the door of what used to be the governor’s office and now is the Senate president’s office at the State House.
Gov. Paul LePage and first lady Ann LePage now live at the Blaine House. Thousands of Mainers and residents of other states and countries have toured the Blaine House when it is open to the public, especially around Christmas time.
Shettleworth has been executive director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission since 1976. The commission has an office facing Capitol Park only a stone’s throw from both the Blaine House and the State House.
“I’ve always enjoyed research and writing and translating what I’ve learned into a printed format,” said Shettleworth. “I like this because it’s a way of getting old photos out to the public. I never go to a bookstore that I don’t see someone looking at these books (by Arcadia). It’s an accessible format.”
Two governors, independent James Longley and independent Angus King, chose not to live full-time at the Blaine House with their families, but instead used the mansion for entertaining and business meetings.
Proceeds from the book, which will be distributed statewide, go to the Friends of the Blaine House, a group that maintains the building and property.