Fencing for Goddard Mansion approved, decision on long-term disposition deferred
The Town Council has approved the Fort Williams Advisory Commission's request for funding to fence off what remains of the Goddard Mansion at Fort Williams Park, but stopped short of acting on the commission's vision for the long-term future of the Cape Elizabeth landmark.
By unanimous vote, the council approved $6,000 from the Fort Williams Capital Fund to fence the most dangerous areas around the walls of the former carriage house and connecting walls of the mansion. The short-term goal is to protect the public while the building is allowed to continue its deterioration.
The council vote deferred to a later date any action on the commission's long-term plan, which is to discontinue maintenance of the building as a ruin and to keep a remnant of the walls, the front entrance if possible, with signage to mark the existence of the former Civil War officer's home.
The disposition of the Goddard Mansion is on the council's list of goals for the current year. Following a public hearing Sept. 14, 2009, councilors voted to appropriate funding for the commission's short-term recommendation, but deferred action on a long-term plan to a later date.
Dan Chase, chairman of the Fort Williams Advisory Commission, told councilors that the long-term plans for the mansion have been on the group's docket for a long time. After considerable review, including two reports from professional consultants, the commission feels the town should discontinue efforts to maintain the site as a ruin. "Although many people have a fondness for the ruins, it has no real use we could identify," Chase said.
He said the commission did not find the history of the structure compelling, but the dozen speakers who attended the hearing thought otherwise.
Beth Wexler, Surf Road, read to the council parts of a letter from Maine Historic Preservation Commission director Earle Shettleworth, who, Wexler said, was asked to comment on the significance of the mansion by the Town Council chairman. The mansion, the letter says, was one of the earliest summer homes in Maine, "and as such is the only preserved ruin of an historic house in Maine," Wexler quoted. "Architecturally, even in its present state it has significance as one of Maine's first summer cottages, and is a distinguished example of the Italian Villa style popular in the state prior to the Civil War," the letter says.
Nancy Ricker, another resident of Surf Road, said she was co-chair of a citizen "Save the Goddard Committee", supported by more than 100 residents. "We are hopeful that a long-term financial solution can be found to stabilize and preserve this ruin," she said.
"In many ways, the Goddard is Cape Elizabeth's Union Station," said Cottage Lane resident Dan Rabata, referring to the historic train station in Portland that was replaced with a strip mall. Stirrup Road resident Carol Fritz said the she travels to other countries to see ruins. "It doesn't make sense to tear one down in our own town," she said.
Although the Shettleworth letter indicates an historical and architectural significance, Town Manager Michael McGovern said the Goddard Mansion is not listed among the Maine Historic Preservation Commission's list of historic sites. The town would need to ask the state commission for that designation, McGovern said.
The Goddard Mansion was constructed in 1853 by John Goddard, later colonel of the First Maine Cavalry, with 2-feet thick stone masonry walls, and a roof and interior walls made of wood.
The mansion later became part of Fort Williams and was used to house non-commissioned officers. It became the property of the Town of Cape Elizabeth with the purchase of Fort Williams in 1964. In 1981, deterioration and vandalism led the town's Fire Department to conduct a controlled burn of the structure, and the basement was filled to allow visitors to access what remained of the building.
The commission's long-term plan for disposition of the mansion is estimated to cost $100,000, and includes reducing the walls to window height, retaining the front entrance if possible, loaming and seeding the inside for visitors to walk on, and installing interpretive signage that would explain the history and former appearance of the mansion.