HALLOWELL — In 1969, 11 area residents took the reins to save the dilapidated Row House.

Originally called the Gage Block, the multi-unit house at 106-114 Second St. was built for Boston-based landowner Isaac Gage in 1846 as a rental property for workers in Hallowell’s cotton mill. It is believed to be the only row house in Maine built of wood.

The group of residents — including Don and Lynne Huff, Linda L. Bean, James Clark, Roger and Michelle Truman, William and Margaret Vaughan, Richard and Suzanne Cohen, and Grace Maxwell — gave seed money to save the Gage Block. They also became the initial officers and trustees of Row House Inc., a nonprofit organization that spearheaded historic preservation in Hallowell.

Now, 50 years later, it is celebrating its own history with a series of events planned to take place throughout the year.

Former Row House President Carolyn Manson said the initial officers birthed the city’s historic preservation movement when they incorporated.

“We are preserving Hallowell’s history,” she said, “but we also have been the stewards of historic preservation in Hallowell.”

The group sold its namesake building in June 1971 and it was turned into apartments.

Along with the Row House, the organization also purchased and salvaged two other damaged downtown buildings, returning them to salable condition. Those projects slowed down, according to Row House trustee Earle Shettleworth, because private investors began rehabilitating old buildings for profit.

Shettleworth, who said he was a part of Portland’s historic preservation movement in the 1960s while he was in college, was involved as a consultant at the start of the Row House organization. He said one of its most significant achievements is a catalog of the town’s historic buildings.

Available at the Hubbard Free Library, the catalog helped Row House in its campaign to register a 206-acre downtown historic district with National Register of Historic Places. The district was incorporated in 1971. Also that year, the organization became the first in the nation to receive a grant — in the amount of $9,315 — through the National Preservation Act of 1966.

“The (historical district) defined Hallowell,” Manson said. “Some other communities, during urban renewal, they lost a lot of historic buildings.

“The citizens of Hallowell realized they had value and wanted to protect them,” she added. “Hallowell is a very desirable community, in part, as a result of that.”

The Kennebec Journal reported in 1971 that the formation of the historic district effectively shielded buildings in the historic district from being demolished or otherwise changed by the federal government. Locally, Row House also guided legislation to preserve historic buildings within the district. Changes to buildings in the historic district are subject to authorization by Hallowell’s Planning Board, which takes a number of factors into account when issuing permits.

The organization’s next large project, Shettleworth said, is to update the catalog. He said the group has committed funding to a consultant to do the job.

“We really should be working with an up-to-date picture of what these buildings are,” Shettleworth said. “The survey is still the framework for the city making judgments about the future treatment of these buildings.”

Having laid the necessary framework for preservation, Row House has stopped funding large rebuilds and now is transitioning into a new role as a fundraising entity and a historical resource. In the last three decades, the group has raised thousands of dollars to help renovate City Hall and Hubbard Free Library.

While Hallowell does not have a formal historical society, Hubbard houses a number of important artifacts and documents for the city. Shettleworth, who also serves as a trustee of the library, said the library’s money problems hampered its role as a de facto historical society and Row House has stepped in to supplement that effort recent years.

Shettleworth said the organization is picking up the slack by hosting programs as a “means of greater public education,” rather than curating historical artifacts.

The group also has made donations to help fund and maintain a flagpole and the decorative crane at Granite City Park. A lesser-seen point of interest Row House restored is the Old Hallowell Cannon, which sits at the crest of High Street near the Powder House. The group funded a rebuild of the 200-year-old cannon’s wooden chassis. The group also published a book in 2012 titled “Dwellings,” which showcased Hallowell’s unique buildings.

Mayor Mark Walker said the organization has been a valuable asset to the city, not only through its fundraising for important buildings, but as advocates. He said the group worked hard to preserve the character of downtown Hallowell through the reconstruction of Water Street, and he hopes representatives from Row House will participate in crafting the city’s new comprehensive plan in 2020.

“It’s very valuable that they are able to engage on various issues,” Walker said. “I think their vision for preserving the historical buildings here is terrific and a big asset.”

The celebration of the organization’s half-centennial will feature a number of events, the first being a showing of a recorded lecture about Hallowell’s geology from former Mayor Barry Timson, who died in 2007, that will be presented Saturday. The program, titled “Reading the Landscape: The Geology of Hallowell,” originally was given on Aug. 22, 2004. This is the first public presentation of that recording, and it is being shown in cooperation with Vaughan Woods and Historic Homestead.

Acting President Larry Davis said other programs marking the Row House’s 50th anniversary will include discussions of Hallowell’s history before European colonization and before, during and after the American Revolution.

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666

[email protected]

Twitter: @SamShepME

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