Bethel's Hall House: The "Artistic Bungalow"


Bethel's Hall House: The "Artistic Bungalow"


Bethel Historical Society






Full Text

Bethel's Hall House: The "Artistic Bungalow"

by Danna Brown Nickerson

The Hall House, circa 1942

Owned by Society members George and Danna Nickerson, the Hall House is Bethel’s most recent addition to the National Register of Historic Places. The Nickersons purchased the house, located on Kilborn Street, from John K. Brown in the summer of 1997, and began renovation and restoration work. Very few changes had been made to the home since its construction for Dana and Alfaretta Hall in 1910, and care was taken to preserve as much of its original character as possible.

Reflecting an interesting combination of styles, the Hall House includes many features of a bungalow. On the exterior, in addition to overhanging eaves and exposed rafter tails, multiple gables and dormers, wood shingle siding, and walls that flare out slightly at the bottom—all typical Craftsman features—several other elements are also present. The cantilevered corner tower on the living room and the spacious, encircling verandah are a Queen Anne touch, and the nearly square, hip-roofed stable, with its wide eaves, reflects the formal balance of the Italianate style. Inside, the house has many decidedly Craftsman-style decorative elements, from the built-in china cupboard in the dining room and the bookcase in the living room, to the window seat in the tower, which creates a kind of inglenook next to the fireplace. The wide opening between the living and dining rooms is softened by portieres, and the hardwood floors, beautiful natural woodwork, and brick fireplace are all characteristic of the style.

The original owners of the house, Dana and Alfaretta Clark Hall, were both born in Solon, Maine, and began their married life there; their first child, William B., was also born there on 25 December 1872. They moved to Albany, Maine, in the late 1870s, where their daughter Winifred was born 19 December 1879. By 1890 the family had moved to Bethel, and was living at Fairview Farm. Dana was a farmer and a teamster. An item in the 16 September 1920 issue of The Oxford County Citizen noted that he was attending the State Fair in Lewiston where he was driving oxen, and that he had visited thirty-one different fairgrounds in that capacity in the past and was considered an expert teamster.

A deed dated 23 June 1910 records the sale of land on what is now Kilborn Street by Eben S. and Joan Stearns Kilborn to “Alforetta” Hall, and shortly thereafter the Halls began construction of their bungalow. It would appear that Dana and Alfaretta built the house as a retirement home since he was 66 and she was 60 at the time of its construction, and both of their children were grown. Theirs was the first house to be erected on the street, which had been laid out in the summer of 1906 to connect Chapman and Vernon Streets on land deeded to the town the previous year by Eben Kilborn and Alberto Copeland. No information has yet been discovered as to who may have designed the house, but it has been suggested that Alfaretta herself drew the plans. Since it is a rather elaborate building with many fascinating details, it may have been inspired by drawings found in one of the popular house plan books or magazines of the day. Nothing is known about who constructed the foundation of large stones below ground and stone-faced concrete blocks above, or who did the framing of the house, but the local paper and older town residents have provided some suggestions. An item in the Bethel news column of The Oxford County Citizen on 25 August 1910 noted “Mr. Frank Taylor has finished working on Mr. Dana Hall’s house...” Taylor advertised in the paper to do bricklaying, plastering, white-washing and general jobbing, so he may well have done a great deal of work on the house. According to Stanley Brown, his grandfather, Seth Mason, did “finish” carpentry for the Halls, including the built-in china cupboard in the dining room, and the bookcase and window seat in the living room. Seth’s daughter, Ruth, who later owned the house, used to tell of bringing her lunch there to eat with her father when she was a student at Gould Academy. Construction progressed quite quickly, and the 6 October issue of the paper stated that Mr. and Mrs. Dana Hall had moved into their new home on Kilborn Street. Written in pencil on the inside of the window seat is the date “September 29, 1910,” indicating that it must have been one of the last projects completed in the house.

Originally, the first floor of the house consisted of a kitchen and pantry, a dining room, a living room and adjacent entry hall, and two bedrooms, with a hallway connecting the kitchen to the attached stable where the outhouse was located. The second floor was all open attic, and it was possible to go from the attic area over the main part of the house right into the barn chamber. There is still a trapdoor in the floor of the hall off the kitchen where the coal (used as fuel for the hot air furnace) was dumped into the coal bin in the dirt-floored cellar. As is common with Craftsman-style architecture, the house features several porches. A narrow entry porch near the kitchen, a more formal front porch which is recessed under the main roof of the house adjacent to the living room, and a large wrap-around verandah, which is notable for its lack of steps to the ground, all provided access to the outdoors. The stable initially had a wooden ramp leading to the door—a detail now restored—and three small windows indicate where the stalls for the horses were located. A steep stairway led up to the barn chamber, or loft, with its cupola for ventilation, and another, directly below it, to the barn cellar.

Dana Hall remained active and in good health until February of 1924 when, according to his obituary, he “became an invalid.” He died 3 October 1925 at the age of 78. Following his father’s death, William Hall moved back to Bethel to live with Alfaretta; a profile of him in the 1931 "Special Edition" of The Oxford County Citizen stated that he lived with his mother in her “artistic bungalow on Hall Street.” Shortly after William's return to Bethel, he added a shed to the side of the stable, presumably to house his car. Alfaretta died at the age of 85 on 18 June 1935, at which time William and Winifred inherited the property, and the house was sold to Sherman and Agnes Flu of Haverhill, Massachusetts.

Sherman Flu was an uncle of Sherman S. Greenleaf, who lived just down the hill from the Hall House and operated an animal hospital and undertaking business in the house on the corner of Vernon and Kilborn streets. Flu was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and worked as a leather buyer in the shoe shops in Haverhill; he, his wife and son lived in Bradford, Massachusetts. The Flus often visited their Bethel relatives, and Sherman Flu was retired when he and his wife, Agnes, purchased the house from the Hall heirs. They used it as a summer home, renting it to various local families during the winter months. Tenants included Leslie Poor, whose wedding to Elsie Potter took place in the living room, the Hedley Wheeler family, and Carl and Ruth Brown. During the Flus’ ownership, the house was known as “Lipstick Cottage” because of the bright red accents painted on the window trim. (He also lined the drive with white-painted rocks, a common landscape feature seen throughout rural Maine at the time.)

In December of 1942, Carl and Ruth Brown and their youngest son, John, moved into the house as tenants. They rented it through the winter, and on 12 August 1943 purchased the property from the Flus. The Browns had previously lived on the family farm a short distance south of town, and their move into the village was, at least in part, a response to the gas rationing of World War II, making it possible for Carl to more easily walk to the office of the Bethel Citizen, where he was editor.

The Browns made several changes to the home in the first few years they owned it. In 1944, they put a bathroom in part of the pantry off the kitchen, and later finished off two rooms in the attic, adding a shed dormer at the rear. They also installed a new hot air oil furnace, and made alterations to the kitchen. John moved out in the 1950s when he married, but returned to live with his mother after his father’s death in 1963. On the death of his mother in 1977, he inherited the house, and remained there until selling to the Nickersons on 3 July 1997.

Since few changes had been made to the house, the Nickersons took care in their renovations to retain as many original features as possible. On the recommendation of their painter, all of the ceilings, which were coated with muresco and couldn't be repainted, were covered with sheetrock. All of the plaster walls were stripped of several layers of wallpaper, then patched, sealed and painted; the Norway pine woodwork was cleaned and refurbished, and the hardwood floors were sanded and re-sealed. The only change made to the layout of the house was to divide one first floor bedroom to create a master bath/dressing room area. Work continues on small, but interesting details.

The Bethel Historical Society recognized the Nickersons for their restoration work by presenting them with a Historic Preservation Award in May of 2000. They submitted an application to the Maine Historic Preservation Commission in the spring of 2002 to have the house considered for addition to the National Register of Historic Places, and at their 19 July meeting the Commissioners approved the nomination. A few months later, the Nickersons received word that the Hall House had been entered in the National Register on 31 October 2002.