A mystery started weeks ago with an anonymous gift of a framed photo to Lincoln County Historical Association. And on Thursday, Nov. 21, it ended when LCHA’s Perry Palmer handed the photo to William Dykes in the yard of his 1700s home at 4 Hodge St., Wiscasset.
The photo of what turned out to be Dykes’ house sparked a mystery that brought together people who love very old houses and showed the power of nonprofits and Facebook.
LCHA wanted to give the photo to whoever owns the home, Palmer said. So the nonprofit had to figure out which home it was. Palmer only knew it was in Wiscasset, and the photo was around latter 20th century.
Palmer serves on LCHA’s collections committee. She said the photo bore the stamp of the late, well-known Wiscasset photographer George Flanders.
To solve the question, one nonprofit turned to another. LCHA asked Wiscasset Public Library to get word out. Director Pam Dunning agreed. The photo went on display at 21 High St., in the library with the nation’s oldest continuous circulation, and on WPL’s Facebook page.
“We loved doing it ... it’s always good for one nonprofit to help another nonprofit,” Director Pam Dunning said. It also showed one of the purposes of a library, she said. “To get answers.”
The answer to the house question came faster than Dunning or Palmer expected. A Facebook user up the Midcoast solved it.
Warren artist and paintings conservator Elizabeth “Bette” Pardoe said she is an enthusiast of old homes. She and late husband Peter lived in Alna for years in a 1791 cape.
Pardoe said she has clients in the Wiscssset area but didn’t recognize the Wiscasset house when she saw the Facebook post. “And I thought it would be an amusing quest, never expecting I’d be the first to identify it!”
In email responses to Wiscasset Newspaper, Pardoe described her quest. “It was fun to do the work to identify this property. I did not immediately recognize the property, yet the lines seemed very familiar to me. I had a bit of a head-start as I have been giving tours for Historic New England for over a decade (in Wiscasset) at Castle Tucker and Nickels-Sortwell House,” she wrote.
“I first tried to see where the property was situated, and of course the road sign indicated it must be close to Route 1, but where? Then, in examining the architecture, it seemed familiar to me. As I began examining the properties closest to Route 1, it became obvious. In the early photo ... the lines of the home were exactly the same as it stands today. She figured the home’s darker color today could have thrown people off from recognizing the home in the photo. It showed the house still painted white. It’s stained a grayish-green sage now, Dykes said.
Since Dykes and late wife Mary Ann bought the home in 1983, it has had a lot of work, from the color change, to a slate roof, and metallic conduit, in hopes the house will last another 250 years, he said.
In the home’s keeping room after Palmer gave him the photo outside, Dykes praised the effort to locate the home. “I think the whole thing was like detective work,” and he hopes it will encourage others to dig through old photographs for the history they hold, he said.
“I have had the most fun doing this,” Palmer declared.
“Well, everybody else has, too,” Dykes said. The antiques dealer was not surprised people did not instantly know his home, the Groves-Hodge House, from the picture. People drive by every day without knowing the home is about two and a half centuries old and that the nearly one acre it sits on was part of a 100-acre plot in 1734, he said. But he was surprised to find out about the decades-old photo. “My hair stood up on my head, because ... I have not been able to find anything new to the property in years now.”
And the photograph? Dykes plans to add it to the archives for the home’s next owner. He has it on the market. The photo from LCHA will join other, much older finds from the home’s history, like a 1700s coin found at a past doorstep and – discovered between the walls when a fireplace was being worked on – pieces of a past staircase. “(The photo) is a great piece to go in the archives, absolutely.”
Palmer said LCHA was giving Pardoe a free membership. And Pardoe said she was looking forward to joining LCHA’s line of “many dedicated devotees of local history.”