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Former Old Town Canoe Shop

Discussion in 'Open Forum' started by Bill Lovejoy, Aug 1, 2012.

  1. bredlo

    bredlo LOVES Wooden Canoes

    "In this case, there doesn't seem to be much that can be done."

    If you're referring to the town having their minds made up, seems you're right.

    But if you're referring to there being no options for keeping the building... well no offense - but that's just silly. Everything from historic homes, churches and factories have become unique, dynamic cornerstones of new construction projects. The sole limitations are the imagination of the architects and developers, as demolition often costs the same as creative reuse.

    Imagine if they removed the back half of the building, leaving the wooden facade in place - and perhaps a portion of the brick structure. You could step through a century-old doorway and into a 21st Century, glass-walled space filled with all the light, flexible floorspace, emergency exits, sprinkler systems, disabled access and other reasons this one theoretically "must" go away.

    I'm not suggesting keeping things beyond their usefulness simply for nostalgia. But this community could rally around this place, which helped pioneer the transformation of canoes from birchbark to cedar, then fiberglass, and now lightweight plastics. That kind of thinking could be reflected in the factory, too.. figuring out how to keep it competitive and useful for changing times. Anybody can put up a boring, all new building.

    But condo loft conversions, tech companies in carriage stables, and old brick factories with modern, glass additions are hugely memorable, tie a company to its community, and are in my view a big selling point that costs relatively little up front.

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  2. bredlo

    bredlo LOVES Wooden Canoes

    A couple more.

    I'll hasten to add not all these projects turn out aesthetically successful. But particularly in this case, you're talking about replacing:
    a long, low building with lots of floor space... with
    a long, low building with lots of floor space, most likely.

    It'd be fascinating to consult an imaginative architect, allow design students to participate... or perhaps look at some other avenue to see if there's a stimulating way to mine the past to highlight the future.

    Again - not local, not familiar with this particular situation - just a fan of making the most of unique architectural opportunities.

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  3. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    I would love to see the factory building get saved for another use but the odds are long. The demand for industrial real estate in that area is very low and the supply is substantial. There is an abandoned shoe factory for sale that is just north of the canoe factory as described at There is a huge old paper mill just south of town which is struggling to find a future as described at with lots of extra space available. The canoe factory has been offered for a long time as described at and but there appears to have been little interest. This may take quite a while to get resolved.

    Last edited: Oct 28, 2012
  4. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    How about a museum?
  5. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    Others have suggested that idea but I don't know any person or group with enough money and interest to fund it. This is not an inexpensive proposition. The maintenance alone is huge on a building that big and old. There is already a small museum in town at but they can't afford to take on a project like this. The experiences of Kirk Wipper, Ralph Frese, Jill Dean, and others who have worked long and hard to start canoe museums indicates that this is not an easy process, even when you already have an outstanding collection of canoes. Please tell me if you know of a funding source that I have missed.

    Last edited: Oct 29, 2012
  6. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    I don't know of any funding source, unfortunately... was just a wild thought.
  7. Jan Bloom

    Jan Bloom LOVES Wooden Canoes

    It would be a shame to demolish, sometimes I believe that this country does nothing to protect its heritage. At least the Martin Guitar Co has its head screwed on tight. They still use the building they built in 1859 with the various additions. They also have a new factory built in the late 60's. But all my Martins were built in the old building. My 3 Old Towns were built in the old Old Town building. I guess I just like things that were built in old buildings.
  8. bredlo

    bredlo LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Museum is a neat idea, Paul. In looking at how giant the property using's bird's eye view... it's an interesting layout: sort of a giant "L" that hugs the police and fire stations. If I were the city (the current owner) and had that $600K government grant to remove all the asbestos, I'd probably do the cleanup, and then immediately divide the property.

    The original facade and perhaps 100' of depth could be walled off and mothballed for restoration. The rest of the factory could be sold, demolished, leased out to small business owners... whatever. Upkeep and heating on the small, original section would be much more reasonable, and eventually selling off 3/4 of the rest of the property could in fact fund a boat museum, boatbuilding workshop space, rental artist studios, etc.

    As for a collection to show off, the first thing that comes to mind are all the wonderful little private collections we individual boaters have amassed -- often to the chagrin of our spouses, and long after we run out of space to house them.

    Wouldn't it be cool to reinvent the concept of a museum by offering free, temperature-controlled storage for people's rare antique boats? The way it might work is that wooden boat collectors from all over New England would be able to drop off 3,4, or a dozen of their beautiful boats at the museum, free of charge. They'd retain the right to pick them up any time they wish during business hours, of course - no contracts or questions asked.

    In exchange, the museum would be able to display these boats. The public would get a look at everything from totally restored to semi-disrepair, but it'd be fun to know that each one is loved by an individual family, and intended to eventually head back into the water. With the museum not having to amass their own collection would mean low startup cost... but the ability to offer an ever-changing exhibit of great canoes. Just add sprinklers, security systems, and insure everything to high heaven.

    I'm sure these are all just more ideas people have already come up with. But to me that historic main entrance seems like the area preservationists should focus their efforts on, vs. trying to save the entire factory - particularly if the writing's on the wall.
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2012
  9. chris pearson

    chris pearson Michigan Canoe Nut

    Lets face it, "we" are all romanticists. This club is stacked full of them. The same thing that attracts us all to saving these old canoes draws us to not just leveling a building and starting from scratch. I love history and everything that comes with it, even if we sometimes like to think it was more romantic back then, though it was filled with it's share of hardship. I'm with all of you who think it should be saved to some degree, but there is nobody who would rather see it saved than Benson, and listen to his take on things. Sometimes willing things to happen no matter how noble intentions are, can't take the place of the almighty buck. Sad, but true. This country does need to take a good hard look at Europe, where nothing is wasted and dwellings are revitilized all the time. We have so far to go.
  10. pklonowski

    pklonowski Unrepentant Canoeist

    No doubt about it, Chris... Guess I'd like to see all the old All-Wood and W/C boat shops preserved... whether that's realistic is a different question.... It's just so sad to see all the "Things that used to be" get raped by the almighty Buck. If only one of us could win the gazillion-dollar lottery....

    Oh, I suppose I 'd have to buy tickets for that.....
  11. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    Well, the building was still standing but looking a bit sad this week when I went past as shown below. I've not heard anything new about the future for this site.


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  12. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    The article today at indicates that they are planning to start the demolition by September. I have traded messages with the city manager this morning about helping with the “recordation” documentation, salvaging a few bricks and some other things from factory, along with an offer to lead a last tour if they plan to allow one. Another sad day,

  13. JClearwater

    JClearwater Wooden Canoes are in the Blood


    If you are allowed to lead one last tour I hope you post the details of the date etc. on here. It would be an 8 hour drive one way for me but I would consider it. I would be nice to put my "hand in the wound" and see where history was made. And you're right, another sad day. Maybe Old Town could combine the tour with a scond tour of the new factory - I'd like to see that too.

  14. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    There has been no response to my offer of a tour yet but I will certainly let everyone here know if it can be arranged. A tour of the new factory is even less likely but I can ask if we are able to arrange a tour of the old factory first. Stay tuned,

  15. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    It has been confirmed that there will be no final factory tour due to insurance issues. The salvage company accepted my offer for the old "Office" sign over the front door so it was with very mixed feelings that I went there today and took it down as shown in the attached images. Ironically, Dan was busy building a nice new canoe shop while I was helping to tear down an old one. It was also interesting to discover that the building had been painted green in the past.


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    Last edited: Jan 9, 2014
  16. Kathryn Klos

    Kathryn Klos squirrel whisperer

    Good that you got it, along with the nice corbels.

    SWEETWATER LOVES Wooden Canoes

    a couple nice canoe decks hanging from that would look nice or turn it into a canoe rack with the different year paddles in between the corbels would also look nice

    SWEETWATER LOVES Wooden Canoes

    to bad the wcha headquarters couldnt move into the factory
  19. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    The current plan is to place this sign and corbels over the door to my home office (which also happens to have a few canoes on the ceiling and some paddles on the wall).

    The current WCHA headquarters are in a spare room at Annie Burke's house in New Hampshire so I expect that she wouldn't be thrilled about commuting to Old Town, Maine. The WCHA's dues would have to go up a lot to support a building like that so I expect that many of the members wouldn't be excited either. Oh well,

  20. Steve Ambrose

    Steve Ambrose Nut in a Canoe

    Glad you got the sign! The old building is looking very tired. At least some materials are being salvaged in stead of just razing the whole structure.

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