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Updated: August 21, 2023

Historic homestead in Newcastle completes $3.5M renovation

old house in sections Courtesy / Kari Herer A view of the Frances Perkins Homestead National Landmark, with its 1837 brick farmhouse, ell and barn. The restoration work also included an ADA-compliant, accessible porch.

The Frances Perkins Homestead in Newcastle got a new lease on life in 2019 when the national historic landmark was purchased by the Frances Perkins Center.

Now the homestead's life has been extended by the completion of a $3.5 million capital campaign and historic preservation project designed to save the 1837 farmhouse and other structures from deterioration.

old photo of brick house and car
Courtesy / Frances Perkins Center
The Frances Perkins Homestead is seen here from the 1920s.

The homestead reopened last week with a celebration and awards ceremony that honored Jennifer Abruzzo, general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board, Mufalo Chitam, executive director of the Maine Immigrants’ Rights Coalition and Maine State Historian Earle Shettleworth Jr.

Michael Chaney, the center’s outgoing executive director, was also recognized for his work over the last nine years. 

The homestead property, occupied by the Perkins family since the 1750s, includes the brick farmhouse, connected ell and barn on a 57-acre site on the Damariscotta River.

The property is named for Frances Perkins, the U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Franklin Roosevelt from 1933-45 and an influential figure behind the New Deal. 

old photo of people with 2 shaking hands
Courtesy / Frances Perkins Center
Perkins talks with workers.

She spent summers throughout her life at her ancestral family home in Newcastle. 

In 2014, the property was named a National Historic Landmark, and was placed on Maine Preservation’s "Endangered Places" list in 2018.

At the time, Maine Preservation said that "while the principal structures of the homestead have survived nobly over 180 years, harsh Maine winters have taken their toll."

The toll included deteriorated roofs, windows, doors and exterior brick walls, as well as failing posts, floor framing and roof beams, and antiquated mechanical systems. 

person with dog on lawn
Courtesy / Frances Perkins Center
Frances Perkins plays with her dog Balto at the homestead.

"These issues are threatening both the buildings and contents, and significant repairs are required to protect the building and allow it to host visitors as a public educational site,” the nonprofit organization said.

The center, located on the property, made plans to prepare the site’s historic structures and land for program and public use. 

Chaney was instrumental in negotiating the purchase of the homestead and its contents, raising $7 million in capital and operating funds. He oversaw the historic preservation work, much of which was conducted during the pandemic and challenging economic climate, to open the center's doors this June. 

The center’s future plans include building a new visitor and education center — with exhibition space, archival storage, research facilities, restrooms, bookstore, catering kitchen and community meeting space — on the homestead property. 

Chaney will remain the homestead site manager as the Frances Perkins Center welcomes its new executive director, Giovanna Gray Lockhart.

The homestead is open for tours by advance reservation through October and offers a glimpse of the site’s history as a working farm, brickyard and home to many generations of the Perkins family. 

The community is invited to a free homestead open house on Sept. 17, from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, click here.

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