ROCKLAND, Maine ― The effort to restore the 19th century duplex where acclaimed poet Edna St. Vincent Millay was born is entering its final phase.
With one side of the home now complete and slated to become year round rental, the group, Millay House Rockland, is preparing to begin the final phase of restoration on the second side, which they hope to use for a writer-in- residence program.
The restoration has been underway for the last five years. Acquiring the funds for the extensive interior and exterior renovations has taken longer than initially anticipated though, which slowed the process.
Millay only lived in the home on Broadway for about six months after birth, but none of the other homes in the area that her family occupied have been preserved in her honor.
It’s been a long road, but Millay House Rockland is close to giving the poet’s legacy a dedicated home.
“Edna really belongs to Rockland and Union and Camden. Her early poetry is about the coast, about Maine. It’s very carefree and appealing poetry,” Millay House Rockland Board of Directors President Ann Morris said. “This is the home that is being preserved inorder to preserve her legacy.”
Millay was born in the front bedroom of the north side unit in February of 1892. But when the house ― which her parents were renting ― was sold, they moved back to her father’s hometown of Union, according to Morris. When her parents divorced, she moved with her mother to Camden.
Following her upbringing in Maine, Millay received a scholarship to Vassar College in New York. Millay’s writing and poetry earned national recognition in the early part of the 20th century and in 1923 she became the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
In the 1930s, following Millay’s rise to fame, a plaque was placed on the duplex at 198-200 Broadway marking the house as Millay’s birthplace.
“This house has always been a famous landmark,” Morris said.
Despite that, it was slated for foreclosure when the Rockland Historical Society purchased it in 2016 and renovations have been ongoing since. Ownership of the home was transferred to Millay House Rockland when the non-profit organization formed in 2017.
In 2019, the home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places — not because Millay was born there, but because it exemplifies the type of mirror-image duplexes that were being built in Rockland during the 19th century to provide housing for the working class.
The restoration has cost about $300,000 thus far, according to Morris. Renovations have included restoring the exterior of the home, replacing the roof and heating system, gutting both interiors and completing the interior construction of the north side unit, which includes an updated kitchen, three bedrooms and one and a half bathrooms.
Funds for the restoration have largely been raised through grants, Morris said, including multiple contributions from the Quimby Family Foundation. Millay House Rockland is currently working to raise the final $20,000 of the $100,000 it will take to complete interior renovations on the south side of the home.
“The thing that took so long was raising the money,” Morris said.
Millay House Rockland hopes to begin renting the north side unit, where Millay was born, in early 2022, for about $1,500 a month. Income from renting the unit will help cover building expenses, like property taxes, Morris said.
While the north side of the home is where Millay was born, Morris said logistically it made more sense for that side to be a private rental. It is the side that is the closest to a garage which tenants will be allowed to use. The south side also has a larger front room that better lends itself to future programming potential, she said.
“There is always the chance or the hope that whoever does rent [the north side] will find some kind of inspiration from a muse that might be floating around,” Morris said.
With the bulk of the money for the south side restoration already raised, that work is slated to begin in March and Morris estimates it will be complete by the end of 2022.
At the onset of the project, Millay House Rockland had intended to partner with a Portland-based literary organization to provide writing programs in the midcoast area. But the time the restoration project has taken has changed things, Morris said.
Now, Millay House Rockland will be partnering with the Rockland-based Ellis Beauregard Foundation to use the south side space for a writer-in-residence program.
The coast of Maine was a muse for Millay over a century ago and Morris said using her birthplace as a chance for others to do the same is a good way to honor the late poet’s legacy.
“All history of any community is exciting or important, but when you add the seacoast you add a whole other dimension,” Morris said. “There are so many stories and we want writers to come here and feel a little bit of what Edna and her mother and father and sisters felt as they were living in this area.”