HALLOWELL — A Saturday walking tour of what was once known as “the Hook” — and is now the city of Hallowell — highlighted the city’s historic buildings that have survived notorious floods, the ravages of time and misguided attempts at urban renewal.

The “Hoofing the Hook” walking and talking tour was one of 20 “Jane’s Walks” organized across the state by Maine Preservation, so named for Jane Jacobs. An American Canadian journalist and activist who wrote “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” Jacobs is credited with organizing grassroots efforts to save traditional neighborhoods including New York’s Greenwich Village, and fighting against urban renewal efforts to replace historic and traditional architecture with modern but boring mass-produced structures.

Jacobs likely would have found friends among Hallowell’s Row House members who, to this day, are still working to protect the city’s historical structures. The group formed in 1969 to save from demolition what was known as the Gage Block, Federal-style housing built in 1846 by Isaac Gage for local textile workers.

“It was about to be torn down when urban renewal was running rampant across the country,” according to Larry Davis, president of the historic preservation group Row House, which bought the row of homes, renovated them, and resold them. Now they’re apartment units, including one rented by local attorney Susan Farnsworth who took part in Saturday’s walking tour.

‘”I’m embarrassed, I didn’t know you were coming by, I would have fixed it up more,” Farnsworth quipped as one of two groups of about 15 people each chatted with Davis outside the Row House on Second Street.

Davis said the group of preservationists created Maine’s second-ever historic district, which established rules and regulations to help preserve the small city’s architecture.


Gathered between the Kennebec River and a restored old wooden crane rescued from a local granite quarrying operation, Sam Webber, city historian, told tour participants the Hook, which later became Hallowell, was named for a bend in the Kennebec where ships would dock.

Hallowell had three major shipyards on the river, with 50 ships launched from Hallowell wharves between 1783 and 1901; the largest at 181 feet long. Many of them carried famous Hallowell granite which Ron Kley, recounting some of Hallowell’s granite-industry past, said was sought after for its color and used in buildings as far away as Los Angeles and in prominent structures including the state capitol of New York. Twice.

In 1890, 1 million cubic feet of Hallowell granite was mined and sent to New York where it was used to build the grand New York State Capitol in Albany. In 1990 that same quarry, long-since shut down, was reopened to provide the same color granite for an expansion of the building.

Hallowell granite was also used to build the local Hubbard Free Library — also a stop on the tour — which Kley said is the oldest public library in the state.

Jane Radcliffe greeted tour walkers at the city’s old fire station, built in 1828. Over the years it has served the city in many roles, including as town hall before Hallowell City Hall was built in 1899, and as host to prominent speakers including, according to one tour participant, Susan B. Anthony. Radcliffe, who introduced herself as “Jane, but not that Jane” (referring to the tour’s namesake Jane Jacobs), encouraged tour participants who live in Hallowell to vote in favor of an upcoming, nonbinding referendum to renovate the building to become the city’s police station, while continuing to allow it to host a food pantry in the basement.

The tour included a stop at the corner of the appropriately named Water and Wharf streets, where lines etched into a granite column on the large building depicted how high the water reached in 1870, 1896, 1936, and 1987. Lines for the two most recent floods reached well over the heads of passers-by.

Tour volunteer John Bastey recalled helping clean mud out of some of downtown Hallowell’s buildings after the big flood in 1987, a time when Webber was photographed paddling a canoe in the floodwaters on Water Street.

Richard Bostwick, one of the tour guides, pointed out two historic buildings that are still around but have had formerly grand spaces on their upper floors converted into office space. The former bank building at the corner of Water and Winthrop streets once had an elaborate ballroom on its upper floor, and the Water Street building now home to The Liberal Cup restaurant once had an auditorium and stage on its upper floor.

Jane’s Walk, according to organizers, is a global festival of free, volunteer-led walking conversations which combine the simple acts of exploring an area with personal observations, local history and civic engagement.

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