STANDISH – The leaders of the Standish Historical Society have their hearts set on purchasing the Luce House, a foreclosed residence across the street from the Old Red Church, the society’s current location on Oak Hill Road.
The historic 50 Oak Hill Road home, which is owned by Wells Fargo Bank, is handicapped-accessible and has year-round heating – two desirable features, in the eyes of the society’s officials. The town-owned Old Red Church, which is neither handicapped-accessible nor heated, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and, as a result, cannot be renovated to include an elevator. The society operates on the second floor of the two-century-old building, which has steep, shallow staircases that are difficult for members to climb.
The problem facing the nonprofit historical society, which has been seeking a new home for years, is a significant funding shortfall. Furthermore, the Luce property could go on the market soon.
Members of the society were the only potential bidders on the home in attendance at a Sept. 18 public auction in South Portland. But bidding for the property, which was formerly owned by Therese Beaulieu, began at $150,000. The society only had $25,000 on hand and was unable to acquire the property.
According to Chris Closs, field service adviser for the nonprofit group Maine Preservation, Wells Fargo has 15 days after the auction to decide whether to put the property on the market. Under the terms of the 1977 federal Community Reinvestment Act, the bank may be obligated to offer the property to a local nonprofit before it lists the property with a real estate agent, Closs said.
That’s why the historical society is desperate to raise $50,000 as soon as possible. When asked at what point the society needs the money, President Glenna Jamison replied, “Last month.”
“It could go anytime,” Jamison said. “If we had $80,000, the bank would at least look at us.”
The society recently approached Norway Savings Bank in search of a loan, but was turned away due to low collateral, Jamison said.
“It’s like the chicken and the egg,” she said. “We can’t get the house because we don’t have enough collateral. If we could purchase the house, then we could get grants to help us – to fix it up and everything.”
According to Vice President Pam Slattery-Thomas, the Luce House, which is about 115 years old and is located next to an old graveyard where many Standish town founders were buried, has great “historical interest.” The home was moved from its original location on Dolloff Road by a team of oxen, Slattery-Thomas said. Workers from a long-defunct Standish Corner coat factory were let out of work early to watch the move, Slattery-Thomas said.
If the historical society were able to purchase the Luce House, Slattery-Thomas said, it could still maintain the historic classroom exhibit on the second floor of the Old Red Church.
“By having this home it would make it almost an historic campus, you could call it,” she said. “We could still keep what’s left of the historic area intact.”
The historical society holds a large volume of town records on the second floor of the Old Red Church. According to Jamison, the goal is to move the records to the Luce House, and establish a year-round handicapped-accessible research center there.
“If we got that building, we would do tours, like a three-point tour, because the most important part of the history of the town is the Marrett House and the Old Red Church (and the cemetery next to the Luce House),” Jamison said. “We would just have a research center across the street, but we would still have the schoolroom and maybe some of the exhibits that we still have here.”
According to Secretary Eleanor Sawyer, the majority of the society’s members are elderly and are unable to access the records and exhibits on the second floor of the church.
“A lot of the people that are most interested in this are elderly, and they have no access at all,” Sawyer said. “They can’t get up the stairs.”
The Luce House is the fifth building that the society has tried to acquire in recent years. According to Jamison, the society’s leadership is becoming fed up with the lack of progress to date.
“We’re frustrated because we’ve been trying so long to get a place where everyone could come in the winter,” Jamison said.
Pam Slattery-Thomas, left, and Glenna Jamison of the Standish Historical Society stand in front of the Luce House, the foreclosed 50 Oak Hill Road home that they hope to acquire as a research center for the society.