AUGUSTA — Visiting the Newseum in Washington, D.C., Genie Gannett, granddaughter of Maine publishing magnate Guy Gannett, got chills as she saw the text of the First Amendment etched into a massive stone tablet at the entrance to the museum that champions the five freedoms of the First Amendment.

She and other Gannett family members want to bring to Augusta those same chills and reverence for the Constitutional amendment that guarantees Americans’ freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and rights to peaceably assemble and petition the government.

They hope to do so at the Gannett House, a now-vacant historic Mediterranean Revival building next to the Blaine House which previously served as offices for the State Planning Office. The home was built in 1911 by William H. Gannett as a wedding gift to his son, Guy.

William Gannett was born in Augusta and was a successful entrepreneur who founded “Comfort” magazine which reached a circulation of more than 1 million copies. William and his son Guy founded The Gannett Publishing Co., which grew to include the Morning Sentinel, Portland Press Herald, The Portland (Maine) Sunday Telegram, The Portland Evening Express and The Daily Kennebec Journal newspapers and broadcast media including WGME television and WGAN radio. The family sold the company in 1998.

Guy Gannett and his family lived in the home at 184 State St. for some 10 years before moving to Portland. The home was acquired by the state in 1973 and turned into office space but currently sits unused since the State Planning Office moved out in 2010.

Now family members and other members of the board of directors of The Gannett House Project want to turn the Gannett House into an interactive museum dedicated to understanding and appreciating the First Amendment.


Genie Gannett, who lives in Readfield and Florida, said part of what drives the family’s interest in the project are the wishes to see it restored to its original state her late mother, Patricia, expressed a few years ago while driving by the old home. To do that, however, the building would need a use, such as a museum.

“We thought we could tell the story of our family and the publishing business, but then thought nobody would care about that but us,” Genie Gannett said recently. “Then we got talking about the First Amendment and a museum as more of an interactive center where kids and adults could have an experience with the First Amendment and its role as the guardian of democracy.”

But first, the family has to reacquire the former family homestead from the state.

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, and approved by the state Legislature and by Gov. Paul LePage in June 2013 authorized the commissioner of the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services to sell the building, restricting its use as a museum.

In part due to difficulty updating a land survey showing the boundary between the Gannett House and Blaine House, the sale of the property has been delayed, but could proceed soon.

Jennifer Smith, spokeswoman for the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services, said an appraisal of the property was completed in August and a request for proposals seeking bidders for the house is expected to go out this fall.


“We’re hoping to have bids back and have a winning bidder and transfer the property by the end of the year,” Smith said.

Smith declined to reveal the newly appraised value of the home because she said the appraisal was being used to develop the request for proposals and is not considered public information.

She said the legislation indicated the building should be sold for fair market value.

Initial legislation specified the building would be sold to The Gannett House Project, but it was amended to allow the sale of the building to anyone, with the restriction it be used as a museum.

Katz said the proposed use as a museum for the First Amendment seems like the most logical use of the property, and he is confident the Gannett House Project group will acquire the building and convert it into the proposed museum.

“The wheels of government have been moving painfully slowly, but 15 years from now, hopefully no one will remember how long it took, and we’ll be blessed with another real attraction in the capital city,” Katz said. “Anyone who has been to the Newseum in D.C. understands the attraction of a museum dedicated to freedom of the press, to freedom of speech. It will be a great resource for the people who live here and a tourist attraction for Augusta.”


Gannett said organizers have looked at other museums and spoken with leaders of the Newseum as they plan the interactive exhibits they’d like to create at the Gannett House building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Gannett said exhibits would include looks at the past, present and future of journalism and free speech, including the digital age of today. She said the group also envisions the building hosting speakers, educational events and visits from school children from across the state. Exhibits and presentations would likely include discussions of banned books. She said educational exhibits and presentations could also include Maine connections such as those about Elijah Parish Lovejoy, a Colby College graduate, Albion native and journalist who condemned slavery before he was killed by a pro-slavery mob during an attack on his press in 1837.

Another is Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote her famous “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in a cottage in Brunswick.

Gannett said the group hopes people who visit the site leave feeling excited about the First Amendment and empowered to be good stewards of democracy.

The yellow, stucco-walled, 5,000 square-foot building and a garage on the site show signs of wear, including water stains on some exterior walls, collapsing gutters and peeling paint.

Gannett said an architect has been through the building and provided cost estimates to renovate the space, which Katz said reach around $1 million.


Gannett said the project would be funded by the family and foundations.

She said the group is looking forward to submitting a bid for the property when the state issues the request for proposals.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.