“I am very honored to present the next [Maine Preservation] award, which is entirely unique and a first for our organization. It reaches across decades, cultures and oceans. And in fact is our first International Honor Award, with deep Maine roots. ... Their story has been documented in the press and on video, and just listening to them tell this story is a treat.”The United States based organization Maine Preservation promotes the preservation, protection and vitality of Maine's historic places. Each year they present awards for excellence in preservation of historical places. In 2004 Maine Preservation honored Jean and Reed Holmes for their restoration of a building that intertwines the histories of Maine, USA and Jaffa, Israel.Hannah Ostrye, Maine Preservation Trustee
Source: Statewide Historic Preservation Honor Awards 2004 (via archive.org)
This request for nomination for a Maine Preservation Award, 2004, is truly a unique opportunity. The building presented is an historic Maine house located in modern Israel at 10 Auerbach Street, Tel Aviv-Yaffo. It is at the center of the Jaffa American Colony, once the only neighborhood outside the walled city of ancient Jaffa, now in the south of Tel Aviv. Its origins are part of Maine history and the connection between America and modern Israel. Today it attracts attention from school children, preservation groups, worshipers at the neighboring Immanuel Church, and guests at Beit Immanuel guesthouse across the street. Neighbors are in awe at the beauty that arose from a black hole at the corner of their streets. This Old House was literally saved from demolition on February 14, 2002. It is with pride that we hang the flag of Maine on its new wooden walls and invite people in to hear about the courage of the families from Maine who brought their own houses with them across the sea in 1866.
The house has been identified as the home of the Wentworth family. It was ordered in 1866, pre-fabricated at the Whitneyville saw mill, transported by the Lion on a seven mile railroad line to Machiasport, and loaded onto the 3-masted Nellie Chapin along with 20 some other pre-fabs. This cargo sailed to Jonesport, where 35 families and a handful of singles embarked. They sailed on August 11, 1866 from Jonesport to the Holyland. Arriving in 42 days, on September 22, 1866, at the beaches of Jaffa, they soon went to work erecting their homes on a hilltop just a 5 minute walk from the shore. Over the years most of the Mainers left. Their houses were sold to German Templers, and with WW II, abandoned. New immigrants to Israel used the houses for a while. Then many fell into disrepair. Year by year, the bulldozers came.
By the 1980's there were only a handful left. As a result of Jean's diligent petitioning the municipality of Tel Aviv, the area was designated for preservation. One building was purchased by a developer. Imagine his surprise when he was informed that the house must be preserved, not torn down. Today, the Captain Ackley Norton house stands as the first Maine house saved in the Colony. Another was purchased in the 1990's by an Israeli artist, who restored the Rolla Floyd house and furnished it with antiques as it may have been in the 1800's.
Then, in January of 2002, the Holmes' were hosting a walking tour of the American Colony, when a neighbor said, "Why don't you buy a house here?" and pointed at the nearly fallen down wooden half of the house at 10 Auerbach Street. It was surrounded by a metal fence to protect the neighbors from falling into the basement. We called the cellular phone number painted on the fence and began negotiations. A demolition order loomed over this house, and the owner was interested in anyone who could rescue this wooden house. Not one Israeli had the experience to deal with it. Combining courage with foolhardiness, we made a deal. Months of stabilizing, then rebuilding and preserving were made possible by the hands of a gifted and experienced Amish American carpenter living in Israel. Together we brought This Old Maine House back to life.
We have published the history in a new version of The Forerunners, both in English and in Hebrew. We have a small exhibit on the ground floor, where we tell about Maine and the founders of the Jaffa American Colony. To have personnel handy we created an apartment on the upper two levels. The stone addition, added in 1892, remains to be preserved in the future.
A highly motivated group of Christians from DownEast Maine built the first neighborhood outside the walled city of Jaffa in 1866. What prompted 157 Americans to go East when the popular idea was "go West, young man, go West"? They responded to the challenge to encourage the "ingathering of the Jewish exiles" from their centuries of dispersion. They would take the lead. After all, dirigo ("I lead") is the motto of the State of Maine. They would lead in developing the land with modern implements, ready commercial ventures, establish shipping with a Maine-built vessel, and take the lead in modern group tourism to the Holy Land.
Maine was already taking the lead in prefabricating houses. So, these young families, mostly from Washington County, ordered more than twenty prefabs and floated them ashore on arrival in the afternoon of September 22, 1866. Their story is a mix of heartbreak and incredible achievement, recently uncovered and told in supplementary materials. In fact, the extraordinary contribution of these Americans to the early stages of the founding of Israel was almost entirely lost until the research and writing of Dr. Reed Holmes and his wife, Jean.
Of twenty-two pre-fabs only four and a half remain. The Captain Ackley Norton two-frame house was the first to be restored, in 1990. The project received the Preservation Award of the State of Israel. The home of Rolla Floyd was the second wooden house to be restored. Floyd's horse-drawn carriage wheels were the first to travel from Jaffa to Jerusalem when the road was built in 1869. Now, in 2004, the Mark Wentworth residence speaks of the neighborhood of wooden houses, absolutely rare in a nation of stone and concrete, covered with stucco. German Templers, another Christian group, purchased most of the American houses which were nearly flat-roofed. The roofs were raised to gable style, and the outside wooden walls were covered with exterior plaster. That was a disaster because rainwater was captured between plaster and wood causing extensive rot. Unfortunately the first houses to be rehabilitated repeated the error and the inevitable deterioration is already apparent.
Fortunately, the Wentworth
house spoke volumes
about its condition. Jean Holmes is a licensed construction supervisor
with extensive experience in preservation of 18 th and 19 th century
wooden houses in New England. The decision was made not to repeat the
error but to return to wooden exterior walls whose lapsiding declare
the houses place of origin in the state of Maine, and bear testimony of
the courage and diligence of the Jaffa American Colony pioneers. Early
American prefabs are rarely found anywhere, especially together. They
are in Jaffa, and their renewal is transforming the neighborhood.
Guided tours of Israelis, and others, but especially of the youth of
Israel, learning of this unique aspect of their heritage, bring
hundreds each week on walking tours. You, too, especially descendants
of those courageous Maine families, are welcome to visit the Maine