Arts and Leisure

John Calvin Stevens, Designer of Maine (Especially Those Shingle Style Houses)

John Calvin Stevens left an indelible mark on Maine by designing more than a thousand buildings in the state over his six-decade career.

The Brown-Donahue House in Cape Elizabeth, designed by John Calvin Stevens. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

The Brown-Donahue House in Cape Elizabeth. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

He made major innovations to the Shingle style of architecture so characteristic of coastal summer cottages like the Bush compound in Kennebunkport.

John Calvin Stevens

John Calvin Stevens

He was born in Boston on Oct. 8, 1855, the son of a cabinetmaker. His family moved to Portland when he was two.

He wanted to go to MIT, but couldn’t afford it. So he apprenticed to Francis H. Fassett, an influential Portland architect. Stevens began designing buildings when he was 18 and didn’t stop until he was in his 80s.

His houses still stand along the Maine coast, especially Cape Elizabeth and the Casco Bay islands. You can also find them n Portland’s West End and suburbs.

Winslow Homer studio

He designed the Winslow Homer house and studio, transforming the latter from a carriage house. Like many of his buildings, the Homer studio connects organically with the Maine landscape and incorporates historical motifs. Stevens’ style was described as having a ‘primitive simplicity and wholesome vigor.’

L.D.M. Sweat Memorial Galleries, Portland Museum of Art

L.D.M. Sweat Memorial Galleries (at the rear of the building), Portland Museum of Art

Stevens also painted landscapes and collected art. He donated Homer’s painting Afternoon Fog to the L.D.M. Sweat Memorial Galleries, which he designed. The galleries now belong to the Portland Museum of Art.

His own painting, Delano Park, Cape Elizabeth, hangs in the Blaine House, which he did not design, in Augusta.

John Calvin Stevens House

John Calvin Stevens House. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

So Many Buildings

He designed nine buildings for Hebron Academy and the Psi Upsilon Fraternity House on the Bowdoin College campus. The National Park Service lists his own home, the John Calvin Stevens House,  on the National Register of Historic Places.

Charles M. Bailey Library in Winthrop, Maine

He also designed many public libraries, municipal buildings, hotels, and churches. John Calvin Stevens’ libraries can be found in in Buckfield, Clinton, Rumford, Houlton, Waterford, Limington, Winthrop, South Paris and Bethel.

Biddeford City Hall

Biddeford City Hall

Stevens designed buildings like the Biddeford City Hall (above) in the Colonial Revival style.

Bay of Naples Inn

Bay of Naples Inn

Sadly, some of his grand Shingle style hotels like the Belgrade Hotel in Belgrade Lakes and the Bay of Naples Inn in Naples are no longer with us.

He had a son, John Howard Stevens, also an architect. John Howard joined his firm in 1898 and when he made partner in 1904 they renamed the firm Stevens Architects.

Stevens died on Jan. 25, 1940. The City of Portland declared Oct. 8, 2009 ‘John Calvin Stevens Day’ in his honor.

Image: Winslow Homer studio by By User:Magicpiano – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28901158. This story was updated in 2021. 

 

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