Farnsworth Homestead

an historic site at the Farnsworth Art Museum

 

In the 1840s, William Farnsworth opened a general store in Rockland. He quickly became involved in the limestone industry, a staple of the local economy. By the 1850s, William owned not only the store, but also interest in limestone quarries, kilns to process the lime and numerous schooners to ship it. He had a number of real estate holdings throughout the city and was the founder and president of the Rockland Water Company.

In 1849, William had construction begun for a new home for himself and his family. Now known as the Farnsworth Homestead, the house was built on Elm Street, a side street adjacent to the main business district. In keeping with contemporary taste and the character of surrounding houses, the home was designed in the architectural style known as Greek Revival. However, the scale was somewhat larger than that of most of the neighborhood houses. It was two full stories, with twelve rooms and a spacious attic. A large carriage house was attached to the main house via a breezeway, a common feature in New England architecture.
 

The elegant structure has survived virtually intact. At the front of the house on the first floor are two reception rooms--a parlor and a sitting room or "second parlor." The parlor is the best preserved room in the house because it was reserved for special occasions and was thus infrequently used. The wall paper, carpet, drapes and upholstery are all original. Both the parlor and the sitting room have elaborate fireplaces with faux marble facades that are reverse-painted on glass panels. The dining room and one bedroom are in the rear of the main house on the first floor.

In the ell is the kitchen. This room retains the original stipple-painted floor. The stove is an 1848 Walker's Range #7, a great improvement over the open hearths that were then still widely used. This coal-fired stove has warming and baking ovens and five burners. In the bottom of the stove is a set of coils in which water could be heated and piped directly to two bedrooms, the kitchen sink and the bathroom, a high-tech feature for its time. Both the dining room and the kitchen have hand-grained woodwork.

Four bedrooms are upstairs in the main house. One of them, as well as the downstairs bedroom, has a marble sink with hot and cold water taps. All five bedrooms have sizable closets. There is also a generous linen cupboard in the upstairs hall.
Two servants' bedrooms are upstairs in the ell. One has a closet. Adjacent to the servants' rooms, although it was for family use, is a bathroom. It would have been a real luxury and was probably the first indoor bath in the city. It has a flush toilet, large bathtub and sink. The room was heated by a hot water radiator manufactured about 1868 and fed directly from the kitchen stove.

William (1815-1876) and Mary (1816-1910) had six children: Josephine (1837-1907), Lucy (1838-1935), James (1841-1905), Willie (1849-1856), Fannie (1852-1877) and Joseph (1858-1863). Of the three youngest, only Fannie lived to adulthood. Of the eldest three children, Josephine and James married but neither had children. Lucy never married. She outlived her siblings by 28 years and her mother by 25. After their deaths, Lucy continued to live in the family home, where she died in 1935 at age 97.

Thanks to a generous inheritance from her father and brother James, and to her own business acumen, Lucy left a sizable estate. She directed that the bulk of it be used to establish the William A. Farnsworth Library and Art Museum (now known simply as the Farnsworth Art Museum) as a memorial to her father. Lucy also recognized the educational value of the family's house. She left instructions that it be maintained with the original furnishings and be kept open to the public. Because of Ms. Farnsworth's generosity and foresight, we are fortunate to have an authentic example of an upperclass family home from mid-nineteenth century Rockland.

The Farnsworth Homestead was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

 

Photo by Brian Vanden Brink

Farnsworth Homestead
21 Elm Street,
Rockland, ME 04841
207-596-6457 x 126

The Homestead will be open May 29 through October 12, 2014. Three tours daily, Thursdays through Sundays. Tour start times are 12 p.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.; limited to 10 persons per tour.

Cost per tour is $5 for all nonmmembers.
Same day reservations must be made in person at the Museum Street lobby desk

All visitors to the Homestead will be provided a pair of booties (shoe covers). No high heels or bare feet are permitted on the tours. Please wear comfortable shoes. Please note that the Homestead is not wheelchair accessible.

The Farnsworth Art Museum gratefully acknowledges Windsor Chairmakers of Lincolnville for generously providing Shaker benches for use in the William A. Farnsworth Homestead, on the occasion of its 2013 reopening.