John Calvin Stevens left an indelible mark on Maine by designing more than a thousand buildings in the state over his six-decade career.
He made major innovations to the Shingle style of architecture so characteristic of coastal summer cottages like the Bush compound in Kennebunkport.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
Stevens designed buildings like the Biddeford City Hall (above) in the Colonial Revival style.
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.