2018-03-13 / Opinion

Preserving our past, protecting our future

Guest Columnist

Preserving Biddeford buildings of historic significance should be important to all of us.  Once these buildings are gone, they are gone forever. 

A case in point is the Staples house that was on the corner of West and Granite Street.  It’s hard to imagine a more charming 18th century house and 19th century barn.  The house was first occupied by Benjamin Staples, a Biddeford pioneer who came here from England in the 1600s and passed this beautiful house down to five generations of Staples descendants. 

The last Staples descendant was Edward Staples who was a prominent Biddeford citizen.  He was born on August 21, 1836 and spent his youth in this beautiful yard full of endless fields, ancient oak trees and wild rosebushes.

Edward graduated from public school and then, attended Bethel Academy.  In 1855, he was employed by William Fields, a clothing merchant and after an apprenticeship of four years, he opened a clothing store of on 100 Main Street.  In 1883, he was elected Mayor of the city – an office he held for three consecutive years.  During his mayoral tenure, he advocated and succeeded in getting the streets of our city paved.

He worshipped at the Second Congregational Church.  This is only fitting since his ancestors joined Jeremiah Hill when he started the church in 1793.

I would like to think that Edward Staples would be a big proponent of Biddeford history.  In a book from 1893, the writer says “Edward was interested in his native place – anxious for its growth and improvement.”  

It is a tremendous loss for Biddeford that this historic house was razed to the ground.  It’s even more tragic since the Staples family were so careful to pass this beautiful house down to each of its descendants. 

We all share in this tragedy because we will never have this beautiful, ancient house as part of our city ever again.   And it would be so easy for all of us to be angry at those who failed to stand up for this building, but that is the easy way out.

It is so much more constructive to take our outrage and ensure that this never, ever happens again.  As a city, we need to have our city surveyed to ensure early houses are documented and afforded protection when a request comes in to tear these buildings down.  There are so many 18th century houses in Biddeford that are hidden under vinyl siding and 20th century add-ons that it is hard to see the 18th century bones underneath.  Through a professional survey, we can make it harder to destroy these buildings.

Louise Merriman is Vice President of the Biddeford Cultural and Heritage Center.




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