The Strathglass Park Preservation Society

Working for the preservation and improvement of Rumford's historic district

Strathglass Park, Rumford, Maine's historic but tarnished jewel

The town of Rumford has something found in few other New England communities: an historic, architecturally-significant, century-old neighborhood.  Add that it's on the National Register of Historic Places. Add that homeowners can buy into the neighborhood for under $40,000. Add it all up and Strathglas Park, a section of approximately 100 units on four streets, is clearly one of the primary assets of the community.

But it is a neglected asset, in decline.  Buildings are in disrepair and many of the properties have been used for low income rentals, creating what might be politely referred to as "social issues", from disruptive adolescents to litter to unleashed dogs.

The paradox presents a challenge to investors and  homeowners. It is possible to buy into the "Park" cheaply, but getting a reasonable return on the investment will probably require any investor to get involved not only financially, but in the community as well.

Strathglass Park was one of the first planned communities in Maine. It was built by the entrepreneur Hugh J. Chisholm as laid out in his 1891 “Plan for Rumford Falls.” Around the turn of the 19th century hundreds of immigrants were streaming into Rumford to work in the paper mills. Chisholm established the Rumford Real Estate Company in 1901 in order to build housing for many of the employees. In 1902 construction of Strathglass Park began. The park was named after Chisholm’s country estate in upstate New York, and designed by New York City architect Cass Gilbert. Gilbert and Chisholm traveled to Scotland together, and following their visit Gilbert designed fifty-one duplex houses, four single-family dwellings, and nine apartment houses, all constructed of brick.

For many years Strathglass Park was home to mill employees, many of whom were managers. However, following World War II, Strathglass Park began to fall into decline. Several factors can be attributed to this deterioration, including the sale of the Oxford Paper Mill in 1967 to the Ethyl Corporation. Prior to the sale, the Oxford Paper Mill paid for the Strathglass Park maintenance program. Today, with that subsidy long gone, the ornate brick facades and slate tiled roofs are in disrepair, and many original architectural features are missing.

Because of Strathglass Park’s historical significance and unique architecture, it was listed as a historic district in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. At present, there is no preservation master plan, design guidelines or maintenance program - other than the snowplowing and road paving offered throughout the town - in place for the Park.In 2005, a local community activitist, Len Greaney, prodded the town to take action on Strathglass Park.  With the cooperation of then town manager Steve Eldredge, a meeting of property owners and renters was held, and a survey was taken of their concerns, to try to identify how the town government might help the area recover.

The meeting and subsequent survey identified specific goals for the local government and Strathglas residents.  These included creating a residents' association for Strathglass Park and having the town address infrastructure including broken sidewalks and signage, and enforcement issues including parking, leash laws and better control over neighborhood adolescents.  After the meetings and the survey, however, no further action was taken until 2008 when a Strathglass Property Owners Association was formed. From the Owners Association, a non-profit was organized to carry out restoration projects. The non-profit, The Strathglass Park Preservation Society, achieved 501(c)3 status in 2011.

The organization made several improvements to the Park, raising the funds itself and using them to repair a fieldstone wall that surrounds the Park, to remove graffiti from the wall and two light columns at the entrance, to remove a rusting iron bar from the columns and to install two historic-looking lights at the top of the columns, (which now come on every evening and serve as streetlights for the intersection) to order and install signs for the two entrances to the Park describing the Park's historic status, and to publish a booklet, "Care and Maintenence of Your Strathglass Building" - a guide for building owners in the historically proper way to maintain the buildings. Society members have been active in attracting nearly a half million dollars in grant funding to allow building owners to repair their properties, and recently published and distributed a suggested "code of conduct" to try to reduce misbehavior and damage caused by transient residents. Society members have also taken responsibility for maintaining the gate lights in the nine years since they've been installed and for paying for repairs out of Society funds.

However, the support of the town government for rehabilitating Strathglass Park ended due to political maneuvering within the town, and so these privately-funded rehabilitation efforts eventually faded out. Today, the SPPS retains its organizational structure, and is ready to resume rehabilitation efforts should the adverse political climate change.

For investors and property owners, there is an appeal in an architecturally significant and beautiful half-duplex that can be purchased for the price of a mid-priced new car.  Whether such an appealing investment can turn into a profitable one may involve the investors and owners spending not only their money, but also the time and effort needed to help Strathglas take the steps necessary to revitalization.

For more information: 

Strathglass Park Preservation Society, PO Box 65, Rumford, ME  04276