John Calvin Stevens left an indelible mark on Maine by designing more than a thousand buildings in the state over his six-decade career. 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 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. 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, and in Portland’s West End and suburbs. He designed the Winslow Homer house and studio, transforming the latter from a carriage house. Like many of his buildings, the Homer studio is connected organically with the Maine landscape and incorporates historical motifs. Stevens’ style was described as having a ‘primitive simplicity and wholesome vigor.’
Stevens was an avid art collector and donated Homer’s painting Afternoon Fog to the L.D.M. Sweat Memorial Galleries, which he designed. The galleries are now part of the Portland Museum of Art).
He designed nine buildings for Hebron Academy and the Psi Upsilon Fraternity House on the Bowdoin College campus. His own home, the John Calvin Stevens House in Portland, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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.
John Calvin Stevens designed buildings like the Biddeford City Hall (above) in the Colonial Revival style.
Sadly, some of his grand Shingle style hotels like the Belgrade Hotel in Belgrade Lakes or the Bay of Naples Inn in Naples are no longer with us.
John Calvin Stevens died on Jan. 25, 1940. The City of Portland declared Oct. 8, 2009 ‘John Calvin Stevens Day’ in his honor.