Anyone driving along Court Street in Auburn will likely pass and perhaps remark upon the stately Queen Anne-style residence that stands at the base of Goff hill. If you pass it while heading west at sunset, giant, east-facing bay windows in the three-story tower will, no doubt, make the residence particularly hard to miss.
The house is the former residence of renowned Maine poet, newspaperman, novelist and filmmaker, Holman Francis Day. It was built in 1895 for Day and his wife, Helen Rowell Gerald and designed by prominent Maine architect George M. Coombs.
An ornately decorated porch spans the front of the house and wraps around the base of the tower, extending to the attached carriage house in the back, and features a balustrade and trellised valance, and eight intricately carved posts.
The cornice features denticulation and a frieze of carved floral motifs in miniature square panels. The main entrance off Goff Street consists of double-paneled doors, one wider than the other, in a frame of plain molding below a blind transom panel.
When the structure was nominated on August 4, 1977 to be included in the National Register of Historic Places, filers noted that the interior is as “richly decorated in high quality materials as the exterior.” The residence features two brick chimneys, one in the center of the house and one in the back El. The interior features carved oak woodwork typical of the period and style. The newel post at the bottom of the front hall stairway is singled out as particularly representative of Queen Anne architecture.
The filers also noted that when Day was living at 2 Goff Street, he was working primarily as a journalist for newspapers in Auburn and Lewiston. “It was here that he wrote much of his poetry and fiction, building a reputation for his colorful depictions of life in Maine,” the nomination form states. From the house’s premier position at the bottom of Court Street, Day would have had an exemplary view of Auburn and Lewiston at the turn of the 20th Century.
In addition to its value as a well-preserved example of Queen Anne architecture, the residence is historically significant for being the home of prolific and beloved Maine author, Holman Francis Day.
Day was born in Vassalboro in 1865 and began his career in print media while still in high school with the Weekly Vassalboro News. He attended Oak Grove, a Quaker seminary (what has since been renovated and re-born as the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro) and graduated from Colby College in 1887 where it was said he earned a reputation as a “wit, writer, and drinker.”
After college, Day got a job at the Fairfield Journal writing his first column, “Evenings in a Country Store.” He then became managing editor of the Union Publishing Company of Bangor overseeing 15 different Maine weeklies. Industrious and ambitious, Day borrowed money from his father-in-law and merged two competing publications to establish the Dexter Gazette, a journal still,published today in Dexter as the Eastern Gazette. He moved to Auburn when the Lewiston Journal hired him to cover Maine Legislature and in1898, while reporting for the Journal, he was also filing special articles for the Boston Herald and Globe, and the New York Tribune.
Somehow, during this time, he also managed to serve as military secretary to Govenor John F. Hill from 1901 to 1904.
While in Auburn he began to stretch his literary legs and started a daily poetry column called “Up In Maine.”
For six years the column was carried by newspapers across the country and Day’s poems were collected into his first book by the same name.
“The stubborn strength of Plymouth Rock is nowhere better exemplified than on the Maine farm, in the Maine woods, on the Maine coast, or in the Maine workshop. From them the author of Up In Maine has drawn his inspiration. Rugged independence, singleness purpose, unswerving integrity, philosophy adequate for all occasions, the great realities of life, and a cheerful disregard of conventionalities are here found in all their native strength and vigor.” C.E. Littlefield, Washington, D.C. March 17, 1900. Boston. Small, Maynard & Company 1901 from the Introduction of “Up In Maine.”
While residing at 2 Goff Street, Day wrote 18 (known) novels. King Spruce, arguably his most famous, is a seminal story about the Maine lumber industry and firmly established Day’s reputation as a novelist. It is said that the book delighted President Theodore Roosevelt so much that it earned Day an invitation to the White House.
Nine of his books, including “King Spruce”, are available online through Project Gutenberg. His prose is lyrical and dynamic, and Day had a talent for breathing life into unique Maine characters. One can hear that singular Maine accent when reading the lines growled out by Barrett to Withee, spruce-tree harvesters in “King Spruce”:
“Damme, Withee, I tell you again that you’ve robbed me right and left! You left tops in the woods to rot that had a pulp log scale in ’em. You devilled the township without sense or system. You cut out the stands near the waterways without leaving a tree for new seed. You left strips standing that will go down like a row of bricks in the first big gale we have. But what’s the use in going over all that again? You know you haven’t used me right. The sum and substance is, you pay me a lump sum and square me for damages to that township or I’ll cancel this season’s stumpage contract. I’m using you just as I propose to use the rest of the thieves up here.” King Spruce, 1908.
Day’s talent for careful observation and ear for lively dialogue directed him to the burgeoning motion-picture industry, and he founded the Holman Day Film Company in 1918 in Augusta. His films include several black-and-white, 2-reel North Woods stories, including Brother of the Bear, My Lady O’ the Pines (1921 starring Mary Astor.), and The Knight of the Pines. All But Forgotten (1978), a documentary by Everett Foster on the Holman Day film company, is available at the Lewiston Public Library and many of his other titles are available at the Northeast Historic Film archive in Bucksport. They showcase his skill at dramatizing Maine life with a comedic and hypersensitive documentary-like writing style.
Day’s success in the Maine film industry eventually led him to the west coast of the United States where he became a screenwriter in Hollywood. While in Los Angeles, he also dabbled in radio and famously characterized “The Old Salt”, a portrayal of a Maine deep-sea fisherman. Holman Francis Day died in Mill Valley, California in 1935.
Incidentally, this well preserved piece of Maine history is for sale and can be yours for $269,000!
Davis, Milton. “Holman Francis Day.” Dictionary of American Biography, Supplements 1-2: To 1940. American Council of Learned Societies, 1944-1958. Reproduced in History Resource Center. Farmington Hills, MI. Gale Group.
Day, H. F. (1901). Up in Maine; stories of Yankee life told in verse. Boston: Small, Maynard & Co.
Day, Holman. (2011). Retrieved June 18, 2016, from http://maineanencyclopedia.com/day-holman
The Life and ‘Wptk. of Holjgan Francis Pay, unpublished Master T-s thesis by Ivan C Sherman, University of Maine, 1942.
United States, United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service. (n.d.). National Register of Historic Places Registration Form. http://focus.nps.gov/nrhp/GetAsset?assetID=f1d9e5a3-5419-4783-bac0-d3cd61d89f4e