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June 17, 2024

$3.4M project will redevelop 19th-century Bethel home into apartments

The old Gehring house with an unmowed lawn still needs exterior work. Photo / Courtesy, Northern Forest Center A project is underway in Bethel to redevelop the Gehring House, a home that dates to 1896, into nine middle-income apartments for the local workforce.

Work is underway in Bethel to redevelop the Gehring House, a home dating back to 1896, into nine middle-income apartments for the local workforce.

The property, at 77 Broad St., is owned by the Northern Forest Center.

The project came about after the center, the Maine Office Tourism and the Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce in 2019 convened local businesses, nonprofits and municipal leaders to discuss tourism trends in the area and changes the community would like to see based on those trends.

“One of the things that was identified was housing for people who work there,” said Amy Scott, a program manager with the Northern Forest Center, told Mainebiz. 

Preservation demonstration

Woodhull, a Portland architecture, construction and millwork firm, is the project’s architect and construction manager. Work is being subcontracted to local contractors and suppliers, including Clean Cut Painting, Community Energy, Cross Excavation, Hancock Lumber, Wentworth Woodworking and Western Maine Roofing. Haley Ward has provided engineering services.

Woodhull has scheduled a demonstration — on June 26, from 9:30-11 a.m. — of what’s involved in restoring the structure’s deteriorated sill to provide a stable foundation. Derek McConologue from On The Level is the contractor replacing the sills and Woodhull project manager Mark Sturgeon will lead the demonstration.

Demolition work is shown at the Gehring House in Bethel.
Photo / Courtesy, Woodhull Commercial Construction
Demolition is underway on the third floor of the Gehring House.

The demonstration will be followed by an overview of the major historic preservation work happening at Gehring House, including windows, exterior features and interior woodwork. The event will finish with a walk around the outside of the building and through the foyer and grand living room and will include time for questions and answers.

The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required

“There is so much skill and intricacy involved in restoring an old building,” said Scott. “It’s important to hire crafts people who have the skills to do this precise work.”

Underused property

The Northern Forest Center is an innovation and investment partner serving the Northern Forest of northern Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. The center has a business office in Concord, N.H., and Maine field staff in Millinocket, Bethel and South Portland.

Since its founding in 1997, the center claims to have secured or leveraged $240 million in investment and helped sustain or preserve 7,720 jobs. In 2023, it had assets of $23.7 million and net income of $1.2 million, according to its website. 

In 2017, the center expanded its programming to include redeveloping underused properties to enable young professionals and families to find homes and contribute to rural communities.

The center bought the Gehring House in December 2022 to create “high-quality” apartments with rents geared toward Bethel’s median-income earners, according to a news release.

Plans call for six one-bedroom and two two-bedroom apartments, and one studio unit. The redevelopment is expected to cost $3.4 million.

An old staircase and paneling are seen at the Gehring House.
Photo / Courtesy, Woodhull Commercial Construction
The project includes new systems, interior and exterior finish work, all while preserving the historical fabric of building.

The goal of the project is to restore the historic character of the building, considered one of the most architecturally and historically significant buildings in Bethel, according to William Chapman, executive director of Museums of the Bethel Historical Society.

The center applied for historic tax credits to help restore the building and reposition it as housing. 

The 10,000-square-foot, three-story Gehring House, on 10 acres, was built for Dr. John Gehring, who had his clinic there. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the renovation will comply with federal standards for historic rehabilitation. 

The parcel abuts the Bethel Inn, just outside of downtown, and is also next to mountain bike and cross-country skiing trails.

The project includes all new mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, interior and exterior finish work, sitework and landscaping, all while preserving the historical fabric of building and using National Park Service historic tax credits, said Michael Cleary, Woodhull’s director of commercial construction.

Specifics include shoring up or removing exterior porches and decks, replacing oil boilers with wood pellet boilers, which will serve as the primary heat source, and conducting lead abatement throughout the building. The exterior will be painted “oxblood” deep red, similar to its original color. 

The most demanding part of the project so far has been on the third floor, which needed to be gutted, according to Woodhull. Lighter demolition is needed on the second and first floors. 

Demolition has uncovered some intriguing bits of history, including wood trim pieces from the first and second floors signed by the original carpenter, Gilbert Tuell. Used as a shim was an ad dated Feb. 28, 1920, for home-building kits that promotes the advantages of buying the kit to avoid the "lumber shortage.” 

Construction is expected to be complete by mid-2025.

Eventually, the project is expected to extend beyond the house, with additional housing units planned for the remaining eight acres.


As for all its housing projects, the center is using a mix of funding sources for the Gehring House. That includes its own Northern Forest Fund, which total $25 million to date, with a goal to reach $30 million, said Scott. The fund integrates private impact investments, philanthropic donations and grants from public sources. 

Additional funding sources for the Gehring house projects include tax credits, grants and donations. 

Scott said $250,000 match will need to be raised in order to unlock a $250,000 challenge from a donor. For more information, click here.

“Our aim is to create middle-market housing that will be attractive and financially within reach for people and families who contribute to the community through their work as teachers, health care providers, entrepreneurs, hospitality professionals and other roles,” said Scott.

A hand holds a piece of old trim from the Gehring House.
Photo / Courtesy, Woodhull Commercial Construction
Demolition has uncovered intriguing bits of history, including wood trim pieces signed by the original carpenter.

The center’s development model includes ownership and management of most properties for up to 10 years, at which point it sells the properties to another property manager or as condominiums, according to the center’s website.

The Northern Forest Center has been working in Bethel since the center’s inception in 1997. Work in Bethel and the surrounding region includes supporting the development of the Bethel Community Forest, advancing broadband access and conservation planning.

Other housing projects

The center also acquired five acres in downtown Greenville and plans to build housing to serve the local workforce there 

The plan calls for 29 units of housing with a mix of multifamily buildings, duplexes and single-family homes. The timeline for construction will be over the next three years. Cost of the project is estimated to be $11.5 million.

The Spruce Street development will be the center’s first to be built from the ground up.

The center previously completed two major property initiatives: In Lancaster, N.H., the $3.8-million redevelopment of the Parker J. Noyes Building, which created six middle-market apartments and commercial space for a local nonprofit and food marketplace; and the Millinocket Housing Initiative, which invested more than $1 million to renovate six homes, creating 11 rental units from properties that had been neglected.

Other current projects include redevelopment of a 15,000-square-foot property in downtown St. Johnsbury, Vt., and work on a multi-unit apartment building in Tupper Lake, N.Y.

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