Step Through the Hourglass

  • Visit North Central

Time stands still in the cozy room where a white nightgown lies across the bed, ready for its owner to retire.

A pair of well-worn socks rest on a chair, along with a darning egg that will be used to repair them once again. And in a nearby basket, balls of fabric strips await conversion into a useful braided rug.

The room at the top of the steep stairway — like the first-floor kitchen, borning room and parlor — offers visitors a peek into the lifestyle of Townsend residents of the 19th century. The Reed Homestead on Main Street (Route 119) occupied by five generations of the Reed family before becoming home to the Townsend Historical Society, provides a delightful look into New England country living.

Surrounded by Art

But amid the artifacts of family life lies a quiet treasure. In an upstairs room, behind drawn shades to keep damaging sunlight at bay, an intriguing mural provides a backdrop to a pair of organs and household furnishings. Behind these mundane bits of New England life flows a quiet waterway, complete with a hilltop lighthouse and puffing steamboat, and punctuated by fanciful flora.

An itinerant painter of the early- to mid-1800s, Porter travelled throughout New England — leaving behind a legacy of murals depicting farms around his childhood home of Bridgton, Maine, and scenes of Portland’s seaport. The images in the Townsend mural, c. 1835, are a combination of painting, stenciling and cork sponging.

During the period when Porter decorated the walls of New England homes, “wallpaper was more expensive than hiring an itinerant painter,” says Jeannie Bartovics, site administrator for the Townsend Historical Society. Eventually, other rooms in the Reed house were finished with wallpaper — including one room that may have been papered right over another mural.

A Little Village

The Reed Homestead, with its center chimney, beehive oven, wide board floors and wooden doors — “grained” to look like more expensive wood, possibly by Porter — is the centerpiece of the Historical Society’s property. But it’s one of five buildings owned by the Society, and together they create a small industrial village in peaceful Townsend Harbor. The Harbor Church, the Cooperage and the Grist Mill are within a stone’s throw, and a small cooper shop “typical of the shops that used to be on local farms in the 19th century,” is nearby.

The Cooperage, once a barrel manufacturing facility, is rented to an antiques dealer, and visitors can see the six-sided fireplace that allowed six coopers to work at stations at the same time. Barrel-making was once a thriving industry in Townsend, Bartovics notes.
The grinding stones of the nearby Grist Mill were driven by power from the Squannacook River; the building is now closed, as the Society works on repairs. The Harbor Church, used only briefly in the mid-1800s as a Unitarian meetinghouse, is now used by the Society for programs, including presentations for local schoolchildren.

Along with the Rufus Porter murals, the Reed house, built around 1809, is also home to an extensive collection of country clothing spanning the generations of the Reed family. After the Society purchased the home, boxes and bags of clothing, bedding and other household fabrics were unpacked, and are still in the process of being preserved.

Take a Tour

The Reed Homestead is open from 9 am to 2 pm Tuesdays through Fridays, or by appointment — and in late September and October, the Historical Society will be open on Sundays for special Open House tours. The dates will be posted

The Society will also join The Preservation Collaborative, Inc., and the Townsend Cultural Council in hosting “A Village Hooped in Steel: A Walking Tour of Fessenden Hill” from 10:30 am to noon on September 7. The tour will explore one of Townsend’s forgotten neighborhoods. Details can be found on the society’s website; space is limited, so plan to arrive early.
Take a step back in time through this little industrial village of long ago.