Restoring a grand old building

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

Bridgton native Richard G. Stevens Jr. can still remember the pain he felt, lying in his hospital bed, after suffering burns just before his senior prom. Standing out on the front lawn of the old Bridgton Hospital on Main Hill, then known as Northern Cumberland Memorial Hospital, he pointed to one of the front rooms.

“I spent many painful hours here in this building,” he said,

Later in life, as a young salesman in the medical field in the late 1970s, he returned to the ornate 1876 building to rent an upstairs office after the hospital had relocated to new quarters on South High Street. The hospital operated in the building from 1941 to 1964.

Now, he’s back again, as the buyer. Stevens, along with his consultant and investor, John P. Smith of Sweden, have taken the plunge toward restoring the

BRINGING IT BACK TO ITS GLORY — Standing in front of the ornate Victorian-Italianate architecture of the 1876 William Perry House on Main Hill in Bridgton are John P. Smith, left, of Sweden and Richard G. “Steve” Stevens of Bridgton. With Stevens as the buyer and Smith as an investor/consultant, the two men are committed to restoring and finding a commercially-viable use for the building, which served as the home of Northern Cumberland Memorial Hospital from 1941 to 1964, when a new hospital opened on South High Street.

grand old building back to its former glory. They plan to find suitable tenants and have a grand opening set for next June 1.

“We wanted to do this as much for the town,” as for a business investment, Stevens said. “You see, I’m from here. I grew up here.”

Smith is equally enthusiastic. “You can’t come up this hill without this building hitting you right in the eye,” he said, referring to its prominence on Main Street. It is much more visible since the men have begun work clearing the lawn of overgrown landscaping.

Smith strolled past a large cherub-dancing fountain to a side porch off the main entrance.

“Imagine putting a couple of tables and sitting out here with a glass of wine. It would be fabulous. Absolutely fabulous,” Smith said.

They are wide open in terms of what uses could be made of the building — from a restaurant/pub to a training center to some type of wellness or health facility, or even a museum.

“I would really, really like the people in the town of Bridgton to think about what might be the best use of this property from their point of view,” said Smith, who has 40 years experience in the restaurant business and is currently a Sweden selectman. “A thousand heads are better than one.”

In the past three weeks, Stevens, founder and president of Stevens Wellspring Group LLC, a successful company providing employee assistance, wellness and work-life programs nationally, has spent a great deal of cash already, clearing out tons and tons of junk that had accumulated in recent years in each of the former hospital rooms, upstairs and down, as well as in the kitchen and barn.

“We took out eight tons in two weeks. You couldn’t walk through this place,” Stevens said. There was so much trash, it turned off many a prospective buyer looking at the property; it was just overwhelming, the men said.

But they decided that if they put their heads together and worked as a team, they could make a go of it. Stevens plans to close soon on a purchase and sales agreement he has with current owner Josiah Pierce, who acquired the property through foreclosure.

“We got a good price,” said Stevens, when asked what he is paying. But don’t forget, he added, that it is going to take a lot of money to do the work needed to get it ready for a prospective tenant.

The town’s Office of Economic and Community Development is stepping up to the plate, pledging $25,000 in Community Development Block Grant matching funds for restoration of the exterior façade, with its many elaborate eaves, corbels and dentil work characteristic of Italianate architecture.

Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz said the once-proud building is one of Bridgton’s greatest assets, “And it is to everyone’s advantage to turn that around.” Berkowitz helped Stevens with the deal by providing information on back taxes when Stevens was out of town on business. The men have to move quickly, he said, in order to make use of the CDBG funds before they expire.

“I think that it’s a win-win for everybody,” Berkowitz said.

The building took its current grand shape under the ownership of William Perry, a prominent Bridgton industrialist who married the daughter of Rufus Gibbs and ran successful mill operations in town. Perry was a member of the Maine Legislature in 1872 and 1873, and was president of the Bridgton & Saco River Railroad.

He bought the house and lot from William Webb Cross and renovated and enlarged it “to make it one of the most attractive homes in the Center Village,” according to the town’s Bicentennial History Bridgton, Maine 1768-1994. He lived there until his death on March 21, 1906.

After its incarnation as a hospital, the house was purchased by Alan Ordway, owner of Camp Winona, who arranged to have it listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

Smith and Stevens see the registry listing as a huge plus to a prospective tenant, along with its history as the town’s hospital.

If it is rented for use as a restaurant/pub in the two-story post and beam barn, with formal dining in the main house, Smith said he’d love to see the owner of that business create a “Heritage Club,” whereby every person born in the hospital would be given a 10% discount on meals for life.

But the restaurant/pub idea is only one option.

A room upstairs in the ell, with its own outside entry, could be converted to some type of museum for school children tied to the Bridgton Narrow Gauge Railroad, with Narrow Gauge trains included as part of the program.

The possibilities are wide open, said Smith.

“Anyone who pulls in here (to the property), I ask them what would you do with it,” he said. “It’s been absolutely unbelievable, the response of people. There’s a lot of enthusiasm to do something with this property. We are wide open. We’ll think about anything.”

Because of the need to cover debt service, Smith and Stevens have ruled out some uses, such as renting the rooms out piecemeal for small shop use, or as office space.

“There’s a glut of office space in Bridgton already — that’s not feasible,” Smith said.

Smith is founder and president of Menotomy Consulting and Development, Inc., a hospitality management/operations consulting company. He developed townhouse condominiums in Fryeburg and left a 21-year career working for Friendly Ice Cream Corp. in 1984 to own and operate Spurwink Country Kitchen, a 110-seat restaurant in Scarborough.

The Perry House has four rooms upstairs, four downstairs, with all of its arched doorways, ornate moldings, trim and even chandeliers intact. The post and beam barn measures 42’-x-32’and its second story could be opened to the floor below. The upstairs ell room could also be used for restaurant offices or even private living quarters.

An adjacent sugar shack building will be taken down to make way for up to 20 parking spaces, the men said.

“It’s going to be brought back to what it was before,” Stevens said with conviction. “The goal next year is to have Christmas lights on the trees.”

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