Hawthorne House still stands 200 years later
By Bill Cleary
Raymond's most famous citizen will return to his boyhood home on June 30 to speak at a celebration of the 200th anniversary of its construction. The fact that famed writer Nathaniel Hawthorne passed away in 1864 would seem to be quite an obstacle to this, but his earthly friends in the Hawthorne Community Association have made special plans for this year's Bicentennial Strawberry Festival.
''Most years, it's just based on eating strawberry shortcake, to be honest. Once in a while, we'll have a speaker -- sometimes historical, sometimes literary,'' said John Manoush, the Association's vice president and secretary. ''But this year, we're going all-out by having two speakers, one of whom will be Nathaniel Hawthorne himself.''
Manoush contacted the University of Southern Maine's drama department a few months ago in search of a student interested in playing the role of Hawthorne and speaking at the event and found a very interested junior.
''I have supplied him with quite a bit of background material about the history of the area and the history of the house, and he is studying the role,'' Manoush said. ''He's taking it pretty seriously -- he's reading a biography of Hawthorne and trying to get into the character. His job is to come in here and be Nathaniel Hawthorne.''
Although the Association made similar plans for its celebration of the 200th anniversary of Hawthorne's birth in 2004, Manoush isn't sure exactly what to expect this year.
''It'll be a little bit of a surprise to all of us,'' Manoush said. ''I've encouraged him to use his imagination and talk about what it was like living here and what it was like growing up in this area. But he might dabble around and talk about other parts of his life. For all I know, he may portray him at age 50, not as a young man. We wanted to give him some license to have fun with it. Everybody realizes it's kind of a silly thing to have a long-dead person walk in and talk to everyone, so it's all done tongue-in-cheek.''
Hawthorne, author of the 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter, was born in 1804 in Salem, Mass. In 1812, four years after Hawthorne's father died at sea, his maternal uncle Richard Manning built the house that still sits at the corner of Cape and Hawthorne Roads for Hawthorne, his mother and his two aunts. According to the Association's records, Hawthorne spent summers at the home from 1813, when he was nine years old, until at least 1821, when he began studying at Bowdoin College in Brunswick.
''Our sign out front says 1813-1825. To the best of my knowledge, that is the period of the Hawthornes' actual residence,'' Manoush said.
Manoush said Hawthorne may have occasionally lived at the house until he graduated in 1825.
''We're still counting that period because he and his family were associated with this house, even though he wasn't living here,'' Manoush said. ''Here to Bowdoin would have been a good day's trip back in those days, so it wasn't like he could come home weekends or anything.''
After Hawthorne's graduation, the family left the house and moved back to Salem.
''Hawthorne's mother was starting to get ill and kind of worn-down from this difficult frontier life up here, so she really wanted to move back to Salem,'' Manoush said. ''It was pretty clear that his life was not going to be up here hunting and fishing and so forth now that he was an educated man and had the desire to be a writer. So moving back to Salem seemed to be the logical thing to do for all of them. To the best of our knowledge, the house was never occupied by a family again.''
Details of what befell the house are sketchy over the following decades. The Association has found at least one mention of the house being used as a tavern.
In 1891, the house was converted into the Radoux Meeting House, the home of the Radoux Union Meeting Parish. In the process, the interior rooms were removed, along with all of the second floor except for a narrow, balcony-like strip. In 1921, the parish dissolved.
That same year, the Hawthorne Community Association was formed to protect and preserve the house. In 1922, the house was deeded to the Association, who has held it tax-free since.
''If Nathaniel Hawthorne had not become a famous writer, I'm sure this place would be dust now,'' Manoush said. ''It's only because we and other people before have recognized that and done some work at taking up collections and made the necessary repairs to keep it going.''
The second speaker scheduled for the Bicentennial Strawberry Festival is David Johnston, a Gorham builder who repaired a rotten corner of the house in 2008.
''He did that work for us very nicely and actually contributed part of the labor,'' said Frank Chambers, a member of the Association's Board of Trustees. ''He's done some other really important historical preservations. He uses the techniques that they used at the date the building was built.''
Manoush said Johnston will speak about home-building techniques used when the house was built.
Because of the transitions the house went through since Hawthorne lived in it, the Association is in an unusual situation for a historical preservation society: Although the exterior of the house is almost completely original, nothing inside except a few windowpanes is.
''It's almost impossible to imagine because it was so completely transformed,'' Manoush said. ''One of the things we most run into with visitors who have been to Old Sturbridge Village or something is that they expect this to look like Nathaniel Hawthorne lived here. So there's initially that disappointment -- where's his bedroom, and where's the fireplace? Unfortunately, we can't help the fact that the house went through this other transition and was used as a meeting house for more years than it was used as a home. So it's part of the house's history, and it is what is.''
The Bicentennial Strawberry Festival will be held at 5:30 p.m. June 30 at the house on Cape Road. A social and dessert hour will follow the speakers. Admission is $10 per adult and $5 per child eight and under, with all proceeds to go to maintaining the house. Reservations are recommended -- to make one, contact John Manoush at 655-7660 or firstname.lastname@example.org.