PORTLAND, Maine – Nov. 7, 2022 – Mechanics’ Hall, a 163-year-old building located at 519 Congress Street in the heart of Portland’s Arts District and formerly known as the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association, is now listed as a Nationally Significant Landmark Building on the National Register of Historic Places after a rigorous application process, and nearly 50 years since the building was first listed as a Local Landmark within the Registry. The new designation will help to draw attention to the building and its urgent preservation needs, as well as open up funding opportunities on a federal level.
“Mechanics’ Hall is thrilled to receive this significant upgrade to our historic status,” said Executive Director Annie Leahy. “The Hall is a stunning representation of Portland’s cultural history and is overdue for repairs that will help preserve this beautiful building and ensure its legacy and influence for decades to come.”
The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.
Designed by Maine’s first architect, Thomas J. Sparrow and built from 1857-59 by the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association, the building houses a lending library, grand ballroom, boardroom, and small classroom, which is often used as a gallery space. Mechanics’ Hall has two ground floor commercial rental spaces currently occupied by The Art Mart, an art supply store, as well as the Maine Crafts Association, which opened its first Portland store in the summer of 2018.
“This important designation recognizes the magnificance of our Italianate-style building,” said former Board Chair Paul Stevens, “and acknowledges the early work of our members to support Maine’ sartisans and craftspeople.” Stevens’ great-grandfather, the architect John Calvin Stevens, designed the grand ballroom on the third floor of Mechanics’ Hall.
“Getting people inside, particularly on the heels of the pandemic, has been critical to raising awareness that, in a city seeing rapid growth and new development, Mechanics’ Hall is wonderfuly old and deserves to be saved,” said Leahy.
Mechanics’ Hall Press Release Page 1
Leahy was appointed Executive Director in 2019 by the board of directors in a concerted effort to position the organization as a cultural resource. In just three years, Mechanics’ Hall has become a sought after arts and cultural destination that welcomes approximately 500 people through its doors every month.
In the last year alone, the Hall has hosted 50 literary programs and book launches, including partnerships with the National Book Foundation and Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, as well as 10 musical performances, 21 art installations and maker events, and other performances in collaboration with Portland Ovations, the Portland Chamber Music Festival and the Portland Theater Festival.
Despite programmatic success, the Hall is in dire need of a new roof, a project that is estimated at $1.8 million. The National Significance designation will provide additional opportunities for Mechanics’ Hall to apply for federal funding for building repairs and restoration.
In 2021, Greater Portland Landmarks listed Mechanics’ Hall on its 6th “Places in Peril” listing, which calls attention to threats facing community-defining, historically-significant places in the Greater Portland area.
“This new National Significance designation will help raise awareness to a wider audience of supporters and that is critical to help ensure that The Hall remains a living connection to Portland’s past while serving the organization’s long-standing mission, ‘to make knowledge, ideas, and arts accessible, ” says Sarah Hansen, Executive Director of Landmarks.
The organization completed a five-year strategic plan in 2022 that positions Mechanics’ Hall as a vital community resource and partner for individuals and organizations working in arts and humanities. It also includes prioritizing the stewardship and preservation of their historic building as a substantial contribution to the cultural sector in Maine.
“The Founders of Mechanics’ Hall understood that literary arts and humanities give voice and dimension to our community and help us to make sense of the world,” said Board Chair Bill Stauffer. “This National Significance recognition acknowledges the importance of saving places like Mechanics’ Hall in our city.”
“Mechanics’ Hall has been a landmark in downtown Portland since 1859. Its stately presence on Congress Street bears witness to the vital contributions that the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association and its members have made to the creative life of the city for more than two hundred years,” says Maine State Historian Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr.
ABOUT MECHANICS’ HALL:
In 1815, the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association formed to support Maine’s creative community: they were blacksmiths, coopers, artists, innovators and creators. Between 1857 and 1859, they built Mechanics’ Hall in Portland – a communal gathering space with a library at its center. Today, Mechanics’ Hall celebrates that rich history through literary arts programs, music, performance and more while working to restore its landmark building as a vibrant cultural resource.
To learn more, please visit Mechanics’ Hall at mechanicshallmaine.org and follow the organization on Instagram @maine.mechanics for weekly programming and community updates.
Claire Jeffers, Jeffers.Claire@gmail.com, 703-622-9012
Portland, Maine: Mechanics’ Hall, in partnership with the Foundation for Portland Public Schools, has announced a new initiative to provide free membership to all Portland Public School staff. Called “Share the Love”, the program gives any staff member who chooses to participate a free one-year membership, which includes access to the organization’s borrowing library, events, and educational programs.
“The past 12 months have been some of the most difficult for our community. And still, many – including Mechanics’ – have experienced incredible generosity, showing us how fortunate we are here in Portland, Maine,” said Executive Director Annie Leahy. “The kindness shown to us by members, patrons, and new friends has been tremendous…” Read full press release here.
By Annie Leahy, Executive Director & Paul Stevens, Board President – Not long after the current pandemic forced us to close the Hall to the public in March, we began to wonder what we might learn from the generation of mechanics who endured the flu pandemic of 1918. We searched through our accessible archives, hoping to unearth a cataloged letter or report to gain a bit of wisdom from their hardship that might ease our own. We could find nothing. Read the full letter here.
By Susan Axelrod – In addition to its highly visible architecturally significant buildings and spaces, Portland has a number of gems that are, in effect, hiding in plain sight: the Portland Masonic Temple, Wilde Memorial Chapel in Evergreen Cemetery, and the garden at the Wadsworth–Longfellow House, to name a few. Just a block from the garden is another hidden jewel: Mechanics’ Hall. Like its other Congress Street neighbor, the Masonic Temple, Mechanics’ Hall has storefronts facing the street, which help to keep the 160-year-old building’s larger purpose under wraps, as well as provide income for its owner, the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association (MCMA). Full article here.
By Bob Keyes – For three years, Sen. Angus King of Maine observed the ongoing work to restore the cast-iron dome of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., unaware that a craftsman with ties to Maine was leading the effort to return the landmark to its magnificence.
He watched as a mountain of scaffolding was erected around the dome’s exterior, and each day sparked a new question in the senator’s mind about details, scope and challenges of the project. On Friday, King will have a chance to get answers to his questions, when he introduces Robert Baird of Brooklin at the 2019 Sparrow Lecture at Portland’s Mechanics’ Hall, presented by the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association. Full article here.
PORTLAND, Maine – Mechanics’ Hall Board of Directors today announced the appointment of Annie Leahy as the organization’s inaugural Executive Director. Leahy will start her post on April 22nd. She joins Mechanics’ as the organization begins a process of planning for major building and facility improvements that will allow the Hall to present a wide variety of creative and artistic programs which honor the mission of the MCMA – to inspire and enrich the community by promoting ingenuity, creativity, innovation, and the diffusion of useful knowledge.
“We are thrilled that Annie has accepted this leadership position with Mechanics’ Hall,” said outgoing Board President Pam Plumb. “Throughout the interview process, she acknowledged our history, spoke to our mission, and articulated a strong programmatic vision for our future. Her experience, energy and drive will be a great asset to the organization.”
Leahy comes to Mechanics’ with over 20 years experience working at both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. She’s held senior positions in New York City at ABC News, the Tribeca Film Institute and the Tribeca Film Festival. She moved to Portland, Maine in 2009 as the Executive Producer and Director of Programming for PopTech. She currently serves as Board Chair at SPACE Gallery and is on the advisory board for Portland Bach Experience. Full article here.
By Bob Keyes – The Mechanics’ Hall in downtown Portland will be draped in color for the First Friday Art Walk when a Portland-based organization dedicated to reducing winter heating costs in Maine demonstrates how much heat the old building is losing and how much more efficiently it could operate.
The projection, presented by Passivhaus Maine, an organization that promotes low-energy construction, will be shown between 6 and 7:30 p.m. Friday. It is a stylized vision of the actual thermal imaging of the building, taken last February, showing hot spots where heat is seeping from the building and cooler spots where there’s better insulation to hold heat in and keep cold out. The projection lasts a little less than two minutes, and will be shown every 10 minutes or so, over the course of the evening. It also will include general information about the advantages of energy-wise construction and renovation, the pervasiveness of heat loss and what people can do about it. Full article here.
By Herb Adams – SPRING IS HERE bringing the 10-speeds out into Portland’s newly painted bike lanes and happy pedalers out in quest of health, fresh air, and faraway places.
As they whiz through Bayside, few know they travel hallowed ground, for here in Bayside was born the velocipede craze that bloomed into Maine’s long love affair with the bicycle. Full article here on page 8.