Home Arts and Leisure John Calvin Stevens, Designer of Maine (Especially Those Shingle Style Houses)

John Calvin Stevens, Designer of Maine (Especially Those Shingle Style Houses)


John Calvin Stevens left an indelible mark on Maine by designing more than a thousand buildings in the state over his six-decade career.

The Brown-Donahue House in Cape Elizabeth, designed by John Calvin Stevens. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

The Brown-Donahue House in Cape Elizabeth. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

He made major innovations to the Shingle style of architecture so characteristic of coastal summer cottages like the Bush compound in Kennebunkport.

John Calvin Stevens

John Calvin Stevens

He was born in Boston on Oct. 8, 1855, the son of a cabinetmaker. His family moved to Portland when he was two.

He wanted to go to MIT, but couldn’t afford it. So he apprenticed to Francis H. Fassett, an influential Portland architect. Stevens began designing buildings when he was 18 and didn’t stop until he was in his 80s.

His houses still stand along the Maine coast, especially Cape Elizabeth and the Casco Bay islands. You can also find them n Portland’s West End and suburbs.

Winslow Homer studio

He designed the Winslow Homer house and studio, transforming the latter from a carriage house. Like many of his buildings, the Homer studio connects organically with the Maine landscape and incorporates historical motifs. Stevens’ style was described as having a ‘primitive simplicity and wholesome vigor.’

L.D.M. Sweat Memorial Galleries, Portland Museum of Art

L.D.M. Sweat Memorial Galleries (at the rear of the building), Portland Museum of Art

Stevens also painted landscapes and collected art. He donated Homer’s painting Afternoon Fog to the L.D.M. Sweat Memorial Galleries, which he designed. The galleries now belong to the Portland Museum of Art.

His own painting, Delano Park, Cape Elizabeth, hangs in the Blaine House, which he did not design, in Augusta.

John Calvin Stevens House

John Calvin Stevens House. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

So Many Buildings

He designed nine buildings for Hebron Academy and the Psi Upsilon Fraternity House on the Bowdoin College campus. The National Park Service lists his own home, the John Calvin Stevens House,  on the National Register of Historic Places.

Charles M. Bailey Library in Winthrop, Maine

He also designed many public libraries, municipal buildings, hotels, and churches. John Calvin Stevens’ libraries can be found in in Buckfield, Clinton, Rumford, Houlton, Waterford, Limington, Winthrop, South Paris and Bethel.

Biddeford City Hall

Biddeford City Hall

Stevens designed buildings like the Biddeford City Hall (above) in the Colonial Revival style.

Bay of Naples Inn

Bay of Naples Inn

Sadly, some of his grand Shingle style hotels like the Belgrade Hotel in Belgrade Lakes and the Bay of Naples Inn in Naples are no longer with us.

He had a son, John Howard Stevens, also an architect. John Howard joined his firm in 1898 and when he made partner in 1904 they renamed the firm Stevens Architects.

Stevens died on Jan. 25, 1940. The City of Portland declared Oct. 8, 2009 ‘John Calvin Stevens Day’ in his honor.

Image: Winslow Homer studio by By User:Magicpiano – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28901158. This story was updated in 2022. 



Anne Wheeler October 10, 2014 - 11:48 pm

Is this from GDI?

West End Walks: Thomas Street begininngs | Found on the Streets of Portland Maine February 8, 2015 - 2:09 pm

[…] Tile roofs are a rarity in Maine. That alone is usually enough to catch the eye of the stroller. Our subject this time has the added benefit of being from the cities best known architect, John Calvin Stevens. […]

Flashback Photos: The Carnegie Libraries of New England - New England Historical Society March 22, 2016 - 8:11 am

[…] was built in the Prairie Style on a very non-prairie location: Vinalhaven Island in Maine. John Calvin Stevens, the designer of Maine, designed two, in Houlton and […]

Six of New England's Most Famous Writers Houses - New England Historical Society July 29, 2017 - 8:22 am

[…] Balestier had grown up in Vermont. In 1893, they built a South Asian Indian bungalow in the American Shingle style next to her brother’s home. They called it Naulakha after a book he wrote about a precious Indian […]

New England's Six Wealthiest Towns (And How They Got That Way) - New England Historical Society October 27, 2018 - 9:42 am

[…] landmark, Portland Head Light. The town also has a number of Shingle Style houses designed by John Calvin Stevens. Two film icons lived in town: director John Ford was born there and Bette Davis had a summer home […]

Gordon Bennett, the Madcap, Scandal-Mongering Publisher Who Built the Newport Casino - New England Historical Society September 4, 2019 - 7:55 am

[…] combined elements of the Shingle Style and the Japanese Pavilion at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The Casino featured […]

Bethel House Hebron Hall – Homepedia January 12, 2020 - 10:25 am

[…] View Image More Like This […]

Six Presidential Houses in New England - New England Historical Society February 16, 2020 - 8:35 am

[…] Point juts out into the Atlantic Ocean in Kennebunkport, Maine, and includes a large Shingle Style house, eight other residences, tennis courts, a dock and a sports field. Though the Bushes still […]

Comments are closed.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest artciles from the New England Historical Society

Thanks for Signing Up!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join Now and Get The Latest Articles. 

It's Free!

You have Successfully Subscribed!