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Bowman House (1762)

Georgian elegance in rural Maine

Dresden, Maine

Framed by dense woods and set in rolling hills overlooking a pristine section of the Kennebec River, the 1762 Bowman House is a rare survivor of domestic eighteenth-century elegance in a rural setting. Lawyer and later Judge Jonathan Bowman built the stylish house and furnished it with exquisite Boston-made furniture, Chinese export porcelain, and imported silver and glassware, creating a world of beauty and elegance far away from the rough reality and challenges of life on the Maine frontier.

In 1965, after decades of being empty, the house was saved by designer, historic preservationist, and entrepreneur Bill Waters and his partner, Cyrus Pinkham. The interior is a recreation of Bowman’s world, including objects original to the house and family pieces collected by Waters over his fifty years of stewardship.

Plan Your Visit

Location

22 Bowman Lane
Dresden, Maine 04342

Days & Hours

Thursdays, July 1 – October 14

Tours on the hour, 11 AM – 3 PM

 

Admission

$25 adults

$23 seniors

Free for Historic New England members

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

Historic New England is following all state, local, and CDC safety guidelines for Dresden. Face coverings are required for all staff and visitors. Enhanced cleaning and disinfectant measures are in place. Tour group size is limited.

Directions

Take 295 North to Richmond. Follow sign for Dresden at the end of Main Street, then turn right at sign for Dresden Mills. Continue over the bridge. Make a left at the intersection with the blinking traffic light, which is 128 or Cedar Grove Road. Bowman Lane will be on your left about half a mile down Cedar Grove Road.

Parking

Available in front of the house

Contact Information

Kennebec River

In the eighteenth century Bowman House overlooked a busy, commercial riverfront. That scene is now an expansive lawn overlooking a serene section of the Kennebec River.

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  • Kennebec River

    In the eighteenth century Bowman House overlooked a busy, commercial riverfront. That scene is now an expansive lawn overlooking a serene section of the Kennebec River.

  • Entrance Facing the River

    Many grand houses of this period in Maine had their principal entrance facing the river, since that is how most people would approach it.

  • Dining Room

    The restored dining room displays elegant eighteenth-century furnishings, some of which were owned by the Bowman family.

  • Pink Parlor

    Bill Waters restored the formal parlor with custom wallpaper that matched the color of the original woodwork. The sofa is a travelling sofa, so-called because it can be taken apart to transport easily.

  • Blue Room

    The Blue Bedroom wallpaper was also custom made to match the color of the existing woodwork.

  • Crewel Room

    The Crewel Room displays crewel work hand-woven in India and two of the many bed warmers collected by Bill Waters.

Bowman House LandscapeLand of the Wabanaki

The land on which Bowman House sits was home to Wabanaki people for over 12,000 years. The Wabanaki traveled locally and seasonally, planting crops; harvesting fish from the river; and hunting. By 1758, the Indigenous people were forced out after years of violent conflict and disease brought by European colonists. Pownalborough, established in 1761, became the county seat amid growing communities and a river busy with international shipping.

View of Bowman House dining room from the entry hallThe Bowmans’ Mansion House

Jonathan Bowman was born in 1735 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, to the Reverend Jonathan Bowman and his wife, Elizabeth Hancock Bowman. Jonathan’s uncle Thomas Hancock was the richest merchant in pre-Revolutionary War Boston. Thomas helped Bowman go to Harvard, where his classmates included John Adams, John Wentworth (later Governor of New Hampshire), and two men who would be his neighbors in Maine: Charles Cushing (later Sheriff of Lincoln County) and Jacob Bailey.

In 1760, Jonathan Bowman was sent to Maine to represent family financial interests. Thomas Hancock was a member of the Kennebec Proprietors, the Boston investment group that held title to a vast acreage of land on both sides of the Kennebec River in Maine. They believed the area was ripe for growth as a shipping hub and legal center. Uncle Thomas had Bowman appointed Clerk of Courts, Probate Clerk, and Register of Deeds for the new community of Pownalborough.

In 1762, Bowman hired Boston architect Gershom Flagg, builder of the nearby courthouse, to build him a house commensurate with his status.

Larger and more imposing than most of the houses nearby, the architectural style of the house is unadorned Georgian. Bowman furnished it with exquisite Chippendale-style furniture, Chinese export porcelain, and imported silver and glassware, creating a world of beauty and elegance far away from the rough reality and challenges of life on the Maine frontier. Receipts show that he continued buying for the house right up to his death.

In 1770, Jonathan Bowman married Mary Lowell Emerson, the widow of a ship captain. The family soon grew to include three sons and a daughter. By then, Bowman was Judge of the Courts and Probate, and a power behind most of what went on in the region. He had also grown his participation in shipping, including owning all or part of at least seven international trading ships.

Although it is difficult to imagine today, the Kennebec River was busy with shipping traffic through the early nineteenth century. Bowman ships carried vast amounts of lumber and salted fish down the Kennebec River to Baltimore and other southern ports, Liverpool, Leith, Glasgow, St. Kitts, and Eustatia. The ships brought back sugar, rum, whiskey, wine, coffee, chocolate, spices, linens, silk, cotton, sewing tools, knives, tobacco, tea, snuff, pipes, books, magazines, and manufactured goods.

Bowman had at least three Black servants, named Cicero, Boston, and Dinah. The documentation for Cicero and Boston suggests that they were both enslaved by Bowman. Cicero appears in accounts of expenses for medical treatment, shoes, and billing for his labor on a ship. He ran away from Bowman in 1775 to go to Cambridge, probably to join the Continental Army. Reuben Colburn, the man who sold Benedict Arnold shoddy bateaux for the ill-fated Quebec venture that same year, was hired to bring Cicero back. Boston appears in accounting of labor hours for ship work, and might be the same Boston who ran away from his owner in Connecticut in 1770 using false papers. Dinah appears in 1787 accounting from Bowman’s first cousin John Hancock for her board in Boston while the Bowmans’ daughter Mary was attending school there.

The Revolutionary War was a bitter civil war in Pownalborough, with roots in religious feuds as well as politics. Bowman and Cushing were descendants of seventeenth-century Puritan immigrants. Both were staunch Congregationalists who did not want the Anglican church in their community. Their former classmate Anglican Rev. Jacob Bailey was controlled by his patron, the wealthy Sylvester Gardiner.

Gardiner made enemies of Thomas and John Hancock when he used fraudulent legal methods to try to claim land they owned. His machinations ensured that Jonathan Bowman would become an even greater foe. Gardiner and Bailey were Tories. Bowman and (now Sheriff) Cushing, both Patriots, became leaders of the Committee of Safety. After Bailey refused to read the Declaration of Independence to his congregation, local fighting intensified. Gardiner and Bailey were forced to flee to Canada. Bowman and Cushing remained in positions of power, with their prewar wealth intact.

Sylvester Gardiner wrote the only known contemporary description of Jonathan Bowman, describing him as tall and striking in appearance, with strong features and silver hair. He particularly noted Bowman’s clothing, described as a full black suit with silk stockings and large glittering shoe buckles.

Mary Bowman died in 1785. In 1798, sixty-three-year-old Bowman married thirty-three-year-old Nancy Goodwin, of the neighboring Courthouse family. A condolence letter from Bowman to Nancy on the death of her brother Charles in 1790 shows a friendship well before their marriage. Jonathan Bowman died in 1804. Nancy outlived him by fifty-two years, and it is through her family descendants that Bowman furniture, objects, accounts, and correspondence were saved.

Archival image of Bowman House exteriorThe Carney Farm

After his father’s death, Thomas Bowman sold the property to James and Joanna Carney. Born in Maine around 1775, James Carney apprenticed in Boston before opening his own blacksmith shop in Newcastle, Maine, when he was in his early twenties.

The Carneys married in 1799. Joanna (Marson) Carney was the daughter of a Dresden ship captain. They lived in Boston, where James ran a grocery store with his brother at the corner of Washington and Dover Streets. With his family getting sick from polluted Boston water and the sudden availability of Bowman House, Carney decided to move back to Dresden and buy the property. He added several new barns and a blacksmith’s shop. The business was very successful thanks to iron work done for local shipbuilders. In 1811, Carney built the brig Dresden, 181.01 tons, at his landing on the Kennebec River near his home.

James and Joanna had twelve children, all of whom lived to adulthood. The Carneys were active in the community through the Universalist Church and known for their charitable works. These included hosting a memorable town Fourth of July celebration in 1807. James Carney died in 1858. The Carney Cemetery is adjacent to the Bowman Cemetery just down the road.

In 1861, James Carney Jr. sold the farm to Daniel and Betsy Tiffany, who continued to run it for nine years.

Bowman House c. 1905The Ice Company

In 1870, the property was purchased by the Lincoln Ice Company, one of many on the Kennebec River at a time when international demand was high for Maine ice. Bowman House became offices and manager housing for the company. You can still see cleat marks from the workers’ shoes on the stairs and ground floors of the house today.

The industry brought a brief period of prosperity to midcoast Maine until it was superseded by refrigeration These were the last years of the ice industry, and the company went through three different iterations of ownership before closing in 1910.

Bowman House c. 1940Passed Between Preservationists

From 1911 to 1961, the property was bought and sold by four different people, each time for one dollar. Each owner was involved in historic preservation in the area, and their intent seems to have been to preserve the property until the right buyer could be found to save it. A 1937 Historic American Building Survey (HABS) report documents the house then, virtually empty and rough, but intact.

In 1961, the daughters of Maine’s first State Historian, Madeline and Mildred Burrage, both artists and historic preservationists, bought the house. They completed some well-documented repairs and found the perfect buyers.

Bill Waters’ Bowman House

In 1965, designer, historic preservationist and entrepreneur Bill Waters and his partner, Cyrus Pinkham, purchased Bowman House. In 1971, they had the house listed on the National Register of Historic Places and endowed and gave the house to Historic New England with a life tenancy for themselves.

Born in 1926, Bill Waters grew up in a wealthy, socially prominent family in Blakely, Georgia. Bill was first exposed to eighteenth-century antiques in the home of his aunt Agnes Smith. He studied art and, after a brief stint in college, moved to Atlanta and worked as a window dresser for high-end Rich’s department store.

Inspired by his friend Eleanor Pitman, a fellow window dresser at Rich’s, Bill moved to New York City in 1947. He got a job as a sketcher and designer for fashion magnate Hattie Carnegie. At her salon, he watched as fashion icons including Coco Chanel and Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, came to shop.

In 1950, Bill and Cyrus moved to Maine to help run Margaret Smith Company, a handbag company created by Cyrus’s sister that had become a runaway success. Through Bill’s designs and connections, the handbags became a fashion necessity sold in specialty stores and at Bonwit Teller through the 1970s.

They lived in a c. 1800 house in Damariscotta, Maine, that triggered Bill’s passion for historic preservation. He developed a network of experts in the museum and preservation fields who became trusted consultants and friends. He loved tracking down Bowman and other Maine pieces. In the late 1970s, Bill opened Lilac Cottage Antiques in Wiscasset, which he ran until his death in 2016.

Bill spent more than fifty years buying, collecting, and restoring Bowman House to its elegant eighteenth-century appearance. Just as Jonathan Bowman had done, Bill created a beautiful and sophisticated world tucked away in rural Maine.

Collections on Display

Looking Glass

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Chest of Drawers

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Creamware Pitcher

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Property FAQs

Find out about accessibility, photography policy, and more.

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  • Can I park at Bowman House?

    Yes. You can park for free in front of Bowman House.

  • Are there restrooms at Bowman House?

    There is a portable restroom near the house.

  • Can I take photographs at the museum?

    Interior and exterior photography for personal use is allowed at Historic New England properties. For the safety and comfort of our visitors and the protection of our collections and house museums, we ask that you be aware of your surroundings and stay with your guide. Video, camera bags, tripods, and selfie sticks are not permitted. Professional/commercial photographers and members of the media should visit the press room for more information.

  • Is the museum accessible to people with disabilities?

    A tour of any Historic New England property requires a considerable amount of standing and some walking. Bowman House has not been equipped with accessible ramps, elevators, or chair lifts. Folding chairs can be provided for visitors who would like to use them during a tour. We are glad to offer guests a visual tour of the museum. Visitors with limited mobility may be able to enjoy a first-floor tour of the house and grounds. Service animals are always welcome. We encourage visitors with concerns to call ahead. We are happy to work with you to make your visit an enjoyable one.

  • Can I book a group tour? What is the cost?

    The cost for a group tour of ten or more is $1 off the regular admission price. Call 207-687-2216.

  • Do we need to take a tour or can we just look around?

    All visitors to the house receive a guided tour. The grounds are open from dawn to dusk.

  • Are dogs allowed on the property?

    Historic New England welcomes responsible pet owners to enjoy our grounds. Dogs must be on a leash and under control at all times. Dog waste must be picked up and properly disposed of, off the property.

  • How do I become a member of Historic New England get more involved?

    Become a member of Historic New England to receive free admission to Bowman House and all other Historic New England properties. Call 617-994-5910 or join online.

  • Do you provide admission discounts for EBT cardholders?

    EBT cardholders from all fifty states can show their card for $2 admission to house tours for up to four guests per card.

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Become a member of Historic New England and tour for free.

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