SKOWHEGAN — A scheduled public auction Wednesday of one of Skowhegan’s grand old mansions marks the end of a long, painful journey for a Skowhegan attorney.

That journey started with a November 2011 automobile accident in which he suffered traumatic brain injury and ended with a notice of bank foreclosure on the home filed in court last month.

The 13-room Greek Revival home at 400 Water St. was the home of lawyer Dale F. Thistle, who with his then-wife Sylvia, purchased the house in 1999. The mansion was built around 1840 across from land that would become Coburn Park, near the Great Eddy of the Kennebec River. The 4,414-square foot home on 1.41 acres is listed with the Skowhegan assessors’ office as having a value for taxation of $252,800.

Thistle was forced to surrender his license to practice law in Maine and was unable to work because of the injuries he suffered in the accident. Bank foreclosure on the mortgage soon followed.

Thistle’s son, Eric Thistle, of York, a lawyer in southern Maine, said the two events are inextricably linked; but Wednesday’s auction of the home he grew up in might represent a positive turn of events for his father.

“I think that the foreclosure probably has a lot to do with being unable to practice law,” Eric Thistle said. “It’s incredibly difficult to run a law practice exclusively on your own, and I think it was impossible for him to do after that accident happened. One led to the other, unfortunately.”

As for the house falling to the auctioneer’s gavel, Thistle said: “It’s a good thing.”

“For someone his age to try to maintain a house of that size on their own, I don’t think that’s a good idea, so I’m happy.”

The home is being auctioned on site at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. It was once the home of renowned violinist Mary Elise Fellows White, who lived there in the early 1900s, according to Somerset County real estate records. Research on the book “A Maine Prodigy: The Life and Adventures of Elise Fellows White” was collected in 2010 by her grandson, Dr. Houghton M. White, of Brunswick, based on his discovery of boxes of diaries, photographs and a 1938 autobiography.

Earlier published accounts noting that the home was built for Philander Coburn, brother of Abner Coburn, Maine’s governor during the Civil War, could not be verified Tuesday. Abner Coburn’s mansion, another Skowhegan home built in the Greek Revival style about the same time across the Kennebec River on Main Street in Skowhegan, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. It was listed as threatened and among Maine’s most endangered historic resources by Maine Preservation in 1998.

The home to be auctioned off Wednesday features several chandeliers and four brick-and-tile fireplaces. There is herringbone-pattern maple flooring and a dining room with a built-in buffet, according to a published auction notice. Both the parlor and the dining room have leaded-glass built-ins. The vestibule has leaded-glass lights, sidelights and transom.

It has “breakfast stairs” in the back of the house and a “handsome main staircase” with hand-turned balusters and a stained-glass window on the landing leading to the four-bedroom, two-bath second floor.

The two-level carriage house, access to which is available via the laundry room behind the kitchen, has a garage bay and several rooms, including an office and a large recreation room, according to the auction notice.

Eric Thistle said he lived in the house with his parents until he moved out to go to college in 2008. He said the house was a good home for the family and their many friends.

“It was great. There was always a lot going on. There was always friends coming in and out. It was a great house to grow up in,” he said. “It was not unlike other houses; it was large, but it was very homey.”

Dale Thistle, 69, who had handled several high-visibility criminal cases in the 1990s from his law offices in Newport, suffered traumatic brain injury Nov. 17, 2011, in a traffic accident on Main Street in Palmyra, he said in a June 2014 interview at his home. He said a woman drove past a stop sign without stopping on Raymond Road and hit him as he drove west toward Skowhegan.

The injury got so bad that Thistle reported himself to the state Board of Overseers of the Bar. That report and other complaints about his work led to Thistle’s indefinite suspension from practice by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in June 2014. Complaints to the bar included Thistle’s alleged mishandling of a divorce case, real estate litigation that took too long and, on a couple of occasions, misspeaking to the judge in the courtroom.

Thistle said he agreed with the suspension. He said persistent seizures, mini-blackouts and a lack of direction painted a picture of what he could do and what he could no longer do following damage to the nerves in his right frontal lobe.

“They are right. I did not disagree with the action of the board of overseers,” he said in the interview in the kitchen of his home.

In September 2015, Thistle sought treatment based on research to improve his brain plasticity, or the ability to alter pathways and junctions of the brain and nervous system to form new ones and eliminate or modify the old ones.

That research, along with mental exercises and the use of a special set of prism glasses, corrective lenses called “brain glasses,” and treatment by Chicago doctors Donalee Markus, a cognitive specialist, and Deborah Zelinsky, an optometrist who focuses on neuro-optometric rehabilitation, brought Thistle and his family new hope.

Thistle’s son Eric said his father continues to show signs of improvement, but he has not sought to get his certification to practice law in Maine reinstated. He said Dale Thistle recently moved to Quebec City. The elder Thistle could not be reached by phone Tuesday.

“He seems to be in better spirits,” Eric Thistle said. “I think that he’s getting better. It’s a slow process, but I think that he’s happier now.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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