The McLellan House (1801) is the product of a post-Revolutionary building boom, fueled by the revival of an energetic maritime economy, that transformed Maine's coastal towns and cities. The House exemplifies the key role that architect-builders played in employing a new architectural vocabulary to create homes that confirmed their owners' position in society and became symbols of individual enterprise and public improvement. A preeminent example of Federal architecture, it was designed by John Kimball, Sr., one of Portland's most highly regarded housewrights, for shipping tycoon Major Hugh McLellan. Considered the premier example of Kimball's work, this brick, three-story, four-square mansion, with a lower third story beneath a hipped roof, set a new standard for domestic architecture among Portland's elite. The interior ornamentation-which includes a dramatic flying staircase and extensive carved woodwork--was adapted by Kimball from pattern books by Abraham Swan and William Pain, documenting the role of design books in introducing the neoclassical style in this country. The McLellan House also reveals changing architectural tastes and ideas about museums. It bears the stamp of many generations of habitation and use, testifying to the enduring value of this architectural landmark.
In October, 2002, the Portland Museum of Art reopened to the public the fully restored Federal-era building, the McLellan House (1801), and the Beaux-Arts structure, the L. D. M. Sweat Memorial Galleries (1911). These spaces are united with the modern Charles Shipman Payson Building to actively serve Maine's citizens. The House and Galleries have been returned to their past elegance as welcoming spaces for the preservation of the Museum's fine collections of 19th-century American paintings and decorative arts. Both buildings offer dynamic learning systems and programs, allowing thousands of visitors to explore their architectural and cultural heritage, and enabling young people to create their own art in studio spaces. The new Museum complex provides visitors with rich experiences in architecture, painting, sculpture, and decorative objects that span three centuries of American culture and make this complex of buildings unique among American museums.
The McLellan House was constructed 1800-01 for Major Hugh McLellan, owner of Maine's largest shipping fleet and founder of the first bank and first insurance company in Maine. The McLellan House is a monument to Portland's first "golden age," the decades between the physical destruction of the city during the Revolutionary War and the fiscal disasters brought on by the Embargo of 1807 and the War of 1812. Around 1800, McLellan acquired a large lot at the corner of Spring and High Streets and built the three-story brick house on the site the same year at a cost of $20,000. Hugh's brother, Stephen McLellan, built a dwelling of comparable stature across High Street the following year.
Late 19th-century historian William Goold was the first to identify John Kimball, Sr. (1758-1831) as the designer and builder of McLellan's mansion. Born in Ipswich, Massachusetts, Kimball traveled to Portland via Newburyport around 1784. Goold called him "an architect, and the first in Portland who made any pretenses to professional knowledge of that art. He studied from English works on the subject." Among the latter were Abraham Swan's The British Architect, or The Builder's Treasury of Stair-cases (circa 1760) and William and James Pain's House Carpenter or Youth's Instructor (1794). Kimball interpreted several of the illustrations in these books with varying degrees of exactness in his design for the McLellan House.
The McLellan family's enjoyment of their home was brief. In 1807, Hugh McLellan's wife, Abigail, passed away and that same year the start of the British trade embargo crippled his shipping business. By January 1815, the government threatened to auction the house for nonpayment of taxes and two months later notices appeared in the local press offering the house for sale or lease. On August 29, 1817, Asa Clapp purchased the house from the Directors of the Portland Bank for $4,050, one fifth of the original cost. Asa Clapp never occupied the McLellan House, but gave it to his eldest son, Charles Quincy Clapp, after the latter's marriage to Julia Wingate in 1820. The house would again change hands in 1832 when C. Q. Clapp sold it to his father-in-law, General Joshua Wingate. An amateur architect, Clapp left the McLellan House to move into a Greek Revival residence he had built next door. Like Hugh McLellan before him, Clapp's fortunes were to change suddenly, and he sold his new home in the wake of the financial panic of 1837. C. Q. Clapp moved back into the McLellan House after General Wingate's death in 1843. He was responsible for the lowering of the ground floor facade windows and replacing the fireplace mantles on the first floor with black marble Greek Revival mantles. The Clapp family resided in the house until after Julia Clapp's death in 1877.
In 1880, C. Q. Clapp's daughters sold the McLellan House to Colonel Lorenzo de Medici and Margaret Jane Mussey Sweat. A graduate of Bowdoin College and Harvard Law School (1940), Colonel Sweat practiced law in New Orleans and then in Portland until his death in 1898. He was a member of the Maine Senate (1861-62) and was a United States Congressman (1863-65). His wife, Margaret Jane, was a literary figure in the last half of the 19th-century. Mrs. Sweat was a member of the artistic elite and a world traveler who chose to redecorate her new home to meet Victorian tastes. Her book reviews, among the first to be written by a New England woman, appeared in Portland, Boston, and New York papers. She was also an early proponent of historic preservation and participated in the restoration of Mount Vernon while her husband served in Congress. Consequently, while she redecorated to suit new artistic tastes, she remained conscious of the significance of the McLellan House as an architectural monument and took care not to alter the structure. She did build a door from the drawing room to the library, and she also installed an oak overmantel carved in France and a gothic-style ceiling in the dining room along with new chair rails and baseboards.
In 1882, two years after the Sweats acquired the McLellan House, the Portland Society of Art (now the Portland Museum of Art) was formed by local artists and patrons. Although Mrs. Sweat was often traveling from Portland, she maintained a strong interest in the Society throughout its early years. At the time of her death in 1908, she deeded the McLellan House to the Society, to be preserved as a representative 19th-century home, along with funds to construct an adjoining art gallery named in her husband's memory. Soon after receiving notice of the bequest, the Society commissioned John Calvin Stevens (1855-1940), longtime Society member and Portland's best-known architect, to design the new building. Stevens's work on the L. D. M. Sweat Memorial Galleries (1911) shows great respect for the house. Many of the architectural details in the Beaux-Arts structure are copied from the McLellan House, and the two buildings are compatibly linked by a connecting corridor that joins the house at its back door. The terms of Mrs. Sweat's will specified that no changes could be made on the exterior or in the principal rooms of the House. In 1957, the Portland Society of Art successfully petitioned the court for permission to set aside the restrictions on changes to the McLellan House. The decision was made to "limit the period of decoration to the time of construction, but that the furnishings include pieces from several periods, Federal, Regency, Chippendale, Queen Anne." The Greek Revival mantles in the drawing room and dining room were removed and replaced with wood surrounds designed by Alexander Parris and salvaged from the Commodore Edward Preble House (1805). The Gothic-style ceiling and overmantel in the dining room were removed, although the chair rail and baseboards installed by the Sweats were left in place. Victorian wallpapers in the bedrooms and library were also removed.
The McLellan House and the L. D. M. Sweat Memorial Galleries formed the nucleus of the Portland Society of Art from 1911 until 1980. In that year, both buildings were closed to the public at the outset of construction of a new museum wing. The Charles Shipman Payson Building, a 62,500 square foot facility designed by Henry Nichols Cobb of I. M. Pei & Partners, opened to the public in 1983. Financial exigencies necessitated that the McLellan House and the Galleries remain closed longer than anticipated. However, the Trustees and staff of the Museum worked for a decade toward the goal of reopening the buildings to the public. In October 2000, construction and restoration began on both buildings along with a capital campaign to raise $13.5 million. The culmination of this preservation project was the Grand Opening of Three Centuries of Art and Architecture on Saturday, October 5, 2002.
McLellan House Decor
McLellan House Interactivities
National Preservation Honor Award
McLellan House Press Kit