Throw Wide the Door

In July, I visited The Ruggles House in Columbia Falls.  This Federal-style home, built in 1810, was the residence of Judge Thomas Ruggles.  It is most noted for its flying staircase and Roger G. Reed writes in his 2011 history “the staircase in the Ruggles House is one of the magnificent features of the house. “

After Judge Ruggles’ death in 1820, the house fell into disrepair and by 1920, his spinster granddaughter Lizzie was living in one room as other parts of her childhood home fell down around her.  At about this same time, another Ruggles descendent, Mary Chandler, took an interest in saving the house.  Documented correspondence between Chandler and William Sumner Appleton, the founder of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England) exists dating back to 1921.  Chandler, a University of Maine graduate and the state’s first female pharmacist, would oversee the restoration of the house until her death in 1955.

It’s interesting to read Percia Vinal White’s account of the house in the 1937 book, Historic Churches and Homes of Maine.  She notes the home is in disrepair and compares it to “the ghost of a dainty old lady, dressed in gray silk, who, having wandered out of the past, had sat down by the roadside and forgotten to go back.”

White’s account does not document when she visited the Ruggles House, but she notes “those grim alchemists—the salt sea-winds, the icy blizzards of winter, and the fierce sunshine of the northern summers—have worked their will of the delicate attire.”

Reed’s later history documents an increase in donations to restore the house in the 1930’s and in 1937, the house was painted white.

White alludes to the presence of Chandler when she writes “if your admiration prompts you to further investigation of the charms of this delightful old mansion, leave your car and step into a modest, nearby store.  Here, a most gracious lady—a true descendent of Thomas Ruggles—will greet you with charming courtesy, and will walk with you to the old home and throw wide the door.”

When visitors “throw wide the door” today, they are greeted by a stunning restoration.  Docent Roberta Bayrd of Cherryfield greeted me and we spent a delightful hour touring the house.  Well-versed in the house’s history and its artifacts, she described some of the more whimsical elements of the house’s design as “straight out of Mr. Ruggles’ imagination.”

Reed’s history of the house ends abruptly in 1955 with Chandler’s death and there’s no mention of the work of The Ruggles Society from that point forward.  In such a remote outpost as Columbia Falls, more than money would have been necessary to maintain and care for the property.  It is meticulously preserved and lovingly cared for.  I have visited many historic homes over the years and my laser-like focus doesn’t miss things like dust bunnies, dirt, and finger-printed windows.

I saw none of this.  My curiosity about the house and its upkeep is piqued by my visit.

Columbia Falls is quite far away; it requires planning to visit.  There’s a Christmas Tea on December 3 and I would imagine many members of The Ruggles Society attend.  I’ll bet I could learn a lot about the passionate members who make the house what it is.  I mentioned the tea to docent Bayrd and told her I might attend.  Her response was a simple and emphatic “you must.”

Indeed, I must!  And I promise, I will take some better pictures than the ones I took in July.

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