Friday, March 23, 2007

What is Special About Rumford Falls?

While Rumford was incorporated in 1800, it spent most of its first century as a small agricultural community. But with the coming of the paper mill at the end ofthecentury and the corresponding influx of people and money, Rumford changed dramatically in a very short time. The few farms and buildings that existed around the falls area were filled, seemingly overnight, with many beautiful homes and buildings typical of this era in Maine history.
Congress Street ca. 1892

Congress Street ca. 1920

This initial building boom, however, was followed by a slow but steady decline in population. With ample housing and commercial space already available, there was little incentive throughout the century for any new construction. This resulted in an unusual situation where the original group of turn-of-the-century commercial buildings and homes remained largely intact to the present day, albeit with intermittent and generally superficial cosmetic changes such as enclosed porches, metal porch rails or vinyl siding.

In contrast, other cities and towns, whose economic fortunes remained steady or fluctuated, tended to have older buildings periodically torn down and replaced with architecture of other historic periods and styles before the older buildings had a chance to be valued as architecturally significant. While the most expensive or more interesting buildings may have been preserved, this usually resulted in cities which, at best, have a patchwork of a few quality but non-complementary historic structures. This is definitely not the case in the Rumford Falls area.
Nearly every building in Rumford Falls is not only beautiful because of its individual historic character but also because it is part of a complete historic neighborhood. Walking through Strathglass Park or down Franklin, Knox, Prospect and many of the other streets in the Rumford Falls area, it does not take very much imagination to envision it nearly as it was almost 100 years ago. The potential to experience this complete a level of preservation on a such a large scale is extremely rare and should not be taken for granted by those who grew up here. This is the Architectural Legacy that we believe is worth fighting for. Though the age and beauty of many of the individual buildings will ensure their preservation, many properties that still can be preserved and are worth saving are still at risk.

Rumford Falls is at a critical point. While the loss of a few structures, for various reasons, would not be a tragedy and some should ideally be converted to open space rather than continue their inevitable decay, each worthy and salvageable historic building lost will subtract from the larger architectural legacy that makes Rumford Falls the unique and incalculably valuable Maine treasure it is. Understanding the architecture of the Rumford Falls area within its economic history, it is possible to see how the current situation has come to be and how the existing legacy, having survived intact to the present, ensures that Rumford Falls' future -- as a beautiful, historically important community -- is inevitable. Only the pace at which this transformation happens (and how many at-risk buildings are lost in the meantime) remains to be seen. Our goal is to spread this understanding of Rumford Falls' architectural legacy and provide a forum and resource for those who see the same vision and want to speed the critical transition to Rumford Falls' secure preservation.

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