Trebor Mansion Inn
11 A Golda Court ~ P. O. Box 722
Guilford, Maine 04443 USA

(207) 876-4070
Toll-Free: (888) 280-7575
trebormansion@gmail.com

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The Mysteries of Trebor Mansion:
The Inn on the Haunted Hill

mysterious Trebor Mansion Inn

Trebor Mansion was commissioned by David Robinson Straw to be built in 1830-32 by architect John Monroe, and expanded to 22 rooms in 1836 and 1849, but when the National Historic Registry began certification of the building in 1982, the Board in Washington ran into a little problem with the dates. To put it simply, if the house was built in 1830 (or 1836 or 1849) the building couldn't exist. The three architectural styles used in the construction, Stick, Queen Anne and Jacobean, came onto existence in 1858, 1874 and 1876, respectively. If the building DID exist, it couldn't have been built in 1830. The styles first came to be used in combination in the 1880's, and became known as the premier American style, the Queen Anne Stick Jacobean. But the evidence was overwhelming, and included photographs, and it agreed with the 1830 date. The Board's conclusions were based on Aristotle: When you eliminate the impossible, whatever is left, however improbable, is the Truth. The building was certified as 1830, with the comment that "the builder must have been an extraordinary man to have built this structure 50 years before its time".

trebornighttowerIn fact, of course, the man would have had to be far more than extraordinary to have built a house 50 years out of sync. Architectural styles don't evolve in a vacuum. If a house buried in a landslide in 1950 were excavated in 2002 and the archaeologists discovered a CD player in the den, it would attest to considerably more than the extraordinary talents of the house's owner. Yes, the Jacobean style was reminiscent of certain features that enjoyed a mini-vogue for the 22 years ending in 1625 in England. But the connection between those minor similarities and the Jacobean style unveiled at the British Pavilion to the American Centennial in 1876 was the product of a board of distinguished British architects who worked on the designs in complete secrecy for more than three years to impress the former Colonials. And yes, the Stick style was a logical alternative to the post and beam construction that waned with the passing of easily acquired large dimensional lumber, and a logical transition from Gothic to Queen Anne, but it also depended on dozens of other factors that took decades to develop and merge into the new style. And of course, the Queen Anne was a logical outgrowth of the Stick style, but it was also dependent on technological advances in power lathes and planers that made it possible to express the style in wood. To bring oneself to believe that all of these developments were anticipated and all of these not yet existent technologies were compensated for by one man who chose to build his masterpiece in a small town in central Maine is a bit of a stretch.

Unfortunately, all of the other explanations put forward to explain the existence of Trebor Mansion are a bit of a stretch as well. It is undeniable that some people have seen the future; one need only view the canvas of an obscure German painter who depicted the firebombing of Dresden in 1945, the searchlights sweeping the skies, the giant bombers releasing their ghastly cargoes on a city devoured by flames. He painted it in 1925. And of course there is the famous, and true, story of a mediocre novel written by the president of a shipping company about a ship called the Titania, which in the novel sailed from England on its maiden voyage in mid April, struck an iceberg and sank with great loss of life. The novel didn't sell well (few corporate bigwigs have the literary touch, and the story was considered too fantastical). It was published in 1898. The author died a few years later. Apparently no one in the company offices bothered to read the book either! The author was the president of the shipping company that built and launched the Titanic---in 1912.

Did Mr. Monroe "see" the Trebor Mansion, and execute that vision in wood and stone? It seems unlikely. Our "Titania" novelist almost got the name right (my spellchecker assumed I'd spelled it wrong and offered me "Titanic" as a correction), sank the ship in the right week of the right month, and killed the right number of passengers (he put it at 1,500--the estimates of the actual disaster believe about 1,547 died). But he didn't have to build the ship. There's a lot of rivets between the vision and the reality. And our German artist certainly didn't have a clue how to build Flying Fortresses, searchlights or incendiary bombs. But somehow Mr. Monroe managed to build his vision.

There is a photo of the mansion purportedly dating to 1849 showing it to be the same as it is today. Otherwise, of course, the rationalist would say that the house must have been completely rebuilt in the 1880's, effacing almost all traces of its former style, which was probably Greek Revival or Federalist similar to the west wing of the mansion as it appears today. Anyone who thinks that the most prominent piece of architecture in a small town can be transformed under the watchful eyes of its populace without anyone noticing it is welcome to their opinion, but they have obviously never lived in a small town! Besides which, the west wing was added in 1836---six years after the main structure was built.

Trebro Mansion In 1908 Small town curiosity aside, there is a sort of conspiracy of silence about the Trebor Mansion in the village. Why the most distinguished piece of architecture in the most prominent setting in the village, housing the largest lodging business in the township and built by the most important family in Guilford barely rates a single mention in the Town's Centennial and Sesquicentennial Books is a mystery. Why the locals avert their gaze is just one more puzzling aspect of Trebor Mansion.

The owners of the mansion over the years have been equally eccentric. The last of the Straws to live in the mansion spent decades in an insane asylum before her death. The last owners to live in the mansion before its renovation in 1976, George and Helen Haley, lived for years in two rooms in the west wing, rarely entering the main house. Vines and undergrowth obscured the front of the house. They bought it for $2,500 in 1946 from the family of a Unitarian pacifist United States Senator from Illinois who purchased the Mansion as a wedding gift---for his mother-in-law! He gave her the keys to the mansion at the wedding in Chicago in 1933. (This must be the most elegant method known for removing an in-law.) When Senator Paul Douglas died, he was cremated and his ashes scattered in a Chicago suburb. The burial site of his wife, a US Congresswoman, is unknown. Local lore has it that Omar Lombard, of the famous inventors Lombard, was involved in the house's construction. He died in 1990 at the age of 101. There is no record anywhere of any architect practicing in Maine or the U.S. named "John Monroe". U.S. President James Monroe left office in 1825 and died July 4th, 1831. It would be a nice nom de plume for someone working in that era that didn't mind a little confusion about his name or his origins.

Victorian Architectural Styles 1860-1910

The Stick Style, popular from about 1860 to 1890, is sometimes considered to be only a High Victorian elaboration of the Gothic Revival style, and/or is considered to be a transitional style between the Gothic Revival and the Queen Anne. Whatever the classification, the style is sufficiently distinct to deserve separate mention.

The single most distinguishing feature of the style is small vertical, horizontal, or diagonal planks placed on top of exterior walls. The style is often associated with houses featuring enormous, overhanging, second-story porches. Houses with additional applied decoration are sometimes called Eastlake, after British furniture designer and arbiter of taste Charles Eastlake. Mr. Eastlake, an English architect wrote "Hints on Household Taste", which was published in America in 1872. He fostered a type of decoration that was best made by turnings on a mechanical lathe (as opposed to the flat fret-sawed gingerbread), and this style was used to varying degrees on Queen Anne buildings.

The next major Victorian house style was the Queen Anne Jacobean, which so utterly dominated Victorian residential architecture 1880 to 1910 that it is now virtually synonymous with the phrase "Victorian house" to much of the public. The Queen Anne Jacobean style, rich and varied in ornamentation and form, was wildly popular after its introduction in America at the 1876 Exposition in Philadelphia. Taking its name from the reign of an eighteenth century English Queen, the style was brought to America by the British government, which displayed several of the houses at the exposition. The Queen Anne style is vaguely related to "Jacobean" architecture. (Jacobean refers to English architecture during 1603-1625.) The Queen Anne style started from this modest beginning and metamorphosed into the beautiful houses we admire today. This style is more original (more "American", if you will) than the Gothic, Italianate, or Second Empire styles, because it is far more dynamic and pushed much further beyond its roots than did the other styles. It is a mystery where the "Queen Anne" name comes from, because the architecture during the reign of the historic Queen Anne (1665 - 1714) has little in common with Jacobean architecture. This style has nothing to do with Queen Anne or the formal Renaissance architecture that was dominant during her reign. It is associated with English architects led by Richard Norman Shaw. As it was interpreted in America, it satisfied the need of the newly rich of the 19th century industrial era for symbols of wealth and success. It became the style for the "Gilded Age". Queen Anne is usually the predominant style in towns that experienced an increase in wealth in the early 1900s. The first true American Queen Anne architecture was H. H. Richardson's William Watts Sherman house built in Newport, R.I. in 1874. This early design has a half-timbered second story.

Queen Anne style houses are composed of a number of parts, including towers, dormers, bay windows, and corbelled chimneys. Wall surfaces such as coursed shingles, clapboards, and inset panels of sawn wooden ornament are combined with irregular rooflines and decorative wrap-around porches. Windows may include small square or diamond panes, stained glass and the more typical 2/2 double-hung sash.

Mysterious Trebor Mansion Inn

Queen Anne style houses were built throughout the country from roughly 1890 to 1910. The style caught on quickly, in part because woodworking mills could mass-produce turned porch posts, moldings and other trimmings. Queen Annes were eclectic, often asymmetrical with wrap-around porches, turrets, angled roof brackets, and different combinations and applications of exterior building materials.

If any one phrase can describe the elaborate style it's "the more fanciful, the better." The Queen Anne style at its most extreme is characterized by bewildering excess, featuring large projecting bay windows, towers, turrets, porches (often on multiple stories), balconies, stained glass decoration, roof finials and crestings, walls carvings and/or inset panels of stone or terra-cotta, cantilevered upper stories, acres of decorative trim, patterned shingles, belt courses, elaborate brackets, bannisters and spindles -- even the chimneys on Queen Anne houses are spectacularly crafted. This style featured textured surfaces on buildings, including decorative patterns made of wood or stone, and various colors of shingles and slate.

The Great Fire and Solving the Mystery of Trebor Mansion

The speculations above about the origins of Trebor Mansion were certainly fun to consider, but nothing in the realm of real evidence emerged to buttress any one theory over any other.  Yes, there was striking poltergeist activity, but which theory does that advance?  In the end, it was the fire which allowed the missing evidence to emerge.

When the mansion burned with an estimated $600,000 in damages on 1-24-2004, interior and structural elements that had been hidden for more than a century were suddenly revealed.  The State Fire Marshal discovered writing in the backplaster of the front parlor (more below), striking stencils were revealed on the walls of the 2nd floor hallway, and the beams in the ceiling of the first floor and the colonial corner posts of the original post and beam structure on the top floors were visible again.

What the new evidence revealed  was striking enough to land us on HGTV’s “If Walls Could Talk” program (episode #1606), and the reality turned out to be every bit as unusual as our speculations.

The structural elements showed that the top three floors were of different materials and design from the grand Victorian first floor.  The ceiling joists between the first and second floors were rough hewn, the lathe in the top floors hand carved out of hemlock logs “rolled” down the wall.  The stencils on the second floor (revealed when the wallpaper covering them burned off) were confirmed to be Moses Eaton’s work, the most famous stencil artist in American history.  The immature writing in the backplaster was that of a girl, “Grace Straw lives here”.  The top of the house was post and beam, but the Victorian floor was balloon construction.  Using this hard evidence and the resources of local historical societies, we were able to solve the mystery of Trebor Mansion.

In the last century, people had different (and superior!) ideas about life.  Nothing useful was willfully discarded.  If your home was old, out of date, or too small, you added on.  Ells were the norm in every New England farm dwelling.  Our ell includes the kitchen and dates from 1836 - build the main house first, then add as you need it.  The Trebor Mansion of 1832 was a 2 chimney, 3 bedroom, 2 storey Greek Revival to which an ell including the kitchen was added in 1836.  It was in this house that David Robinson Straw and his wife raised 11 children (13 were born but 3 died before the age of 6).  As one of the most prominent homes in the village, it attracted the attention of the wandering Moses Eaton, who for $4 a week plus room and board would stencil the main entrance ways and parlors of the best families on his annual trips to Maine.  He probably came to Trebor in 1836.  In 1836, the 2nd floor hallway was the ground floor!  Everyone who visited the Straws would have seen what good taste they had on entering the front door.

The Guilford Historical Society records indicate that the house was "remodeled" in 1849 when the tower was added, which fits any of the spookier theories outlined above.  But what if the numbers were transposed?

In 1894, when Grace Straw, the last Straw to live at Trebor and the youngest of David Jr’s children, was 14 years old, we now believe that David Jr. decided to build a house that would show the world that the Straws had indeed arrived.  But the Yankee compulsion to “use it up, wear it out and make it do” led to very different outcomes from our modern, disposable outlook.  Straw contracted with the Lombard family, who operated Guilford Lumber Company (1892-1906) to raise the ancestral home and build a grand Victorian incorporating the original structure. 

There were two hilltop Greek Revival homes in Guilford at this era, and in plain view of one another across the river.  One was the Straw home, (Attorney Straw was leader of the Democratic Party in Guilford and a brother in law of US Congressman Moses Mason) and the other Henry Hudson’s home (Attorney Hudson was the leader of the Republican Party in Guilford, and later served on the Maine Supreme Court). We believe both contracted with the Lombards in the early 1890’s to build rival mansions, and here is what Henry Hudson's mansion looked like - before and after its reconstruction:

URBAN RENEWAL 1894 STYLE -
Hudson.jpg

The Hudson House becomes the Hudson Mansion, courtesy of
the Lombard builders.

newhudson.jpg

In my personal opinion, Straw went first.  His mansion went up 3 storeys, while Hudson’s went up 4 storeys (you can always go a little glitzier if you wait to see what the other guy does). Note that the porches, decorative gables and tower on the Hudson Mansion are identical to Trebor before the fire.  Believe it or not, the Hudson Mansion, one of the most prominent and well preserved historical sites in Maine was destroyed by wrecking ball in 1961 to make way for a 1 storey brick post office.  They didn’t even bother to remove the grand piano, as it was too much trouble. The tower was used a child’s playhouse by the contractors who destroyed it for many years afterwards.  The replacement value of the property today would be in excess of $1.5 million dollars.  I guess modern folks do think differently than the old Yankees.


Below are the writings found in the backplaster of the front parlor after the fire.  Grace Straw would have been a young teenager when she scratched her name in the damp plaster around 1894. A spinster school mistress, she died after a long commitment in Bangor State Hospital in 1954.

Secret NookSecret Nook

Two of the craftsmen wrote their names or initials as well.  We are grateful that these people wrote their names here on the off chance that someone would see them a century later, and we believe we have a picture of them!:Are these the men who raised Trebor? This house, being raised in Bethel
HouseonBlocks.jpgBook House.jpg

about 1895, has identical porches and gable trim as Trebor. And there was a Bethel connection with the Straws - Agnes, David Sr’s sister, was married to Congressman Moses Mason of Bethel and attended the infamous and rowdy Jackson Inaugural of 1836.  The dress she wore to the Inaugural is in the Bethel Historical Society - which is housed to this day in the Greek Revival home of Congressman and Mrs. Mason.

Our final pieces of evidence were contributed by Straw descendant Donald Philip Higgins and the first is a bio of David Robinson Straw Sr. from Loring's History of Piscataquis County:
" He was a reliable man, a safe friend and counselor and a shrewd businessman. He reared up and educated a large family and left them a large estate." Higgins himself adds: "He owned and lived in the home now known as the Trebor Inn. It was enlarged upon by his son David to its present size of eighteen rooms. It has been entered on the National Register of Historic Places as an 'outstanding example of a highly decorative Queen Anne style with striking external surface treatments in the gables and tower'. An entry in the family bible of his son, Gideon Moses Straw, tells us a great deal about both: " My precious father- David R. Straw-died Aug. 31- 1876 at 3 o'clock A.M. Oh. My dear, dear Father! - aged 80 yrs, 9 months- 24 days ".

The obituary of his son and namesake from the Kennebec Journal April, 20 1908 reads: "Guilford, Maine, April 19, 1908: "The death of David R. Straw Jr., aged 72, one of the most prominent men in this section of the state, occurred Saturday. The cause was a general breakdown due to old age. Mr. Straw was born in this place in 1836, one of the 13 children of David R. and Caroline Straw. He was educated at Phillips Andover Academy and Bowdoin College, graduating from Bowdoin in the class of 1859. He was admitted to the practice of law in Piscataquis County in 1862 and for many years was one of the most prominent lawyers in central Maine. He was a member of Mt. Kineo Lodge, A.F. and A.M. and also St. John's Commandery, K.T., of Bangor. He was an Odd Fellow as well. For several years he has devoted his time to the supervision of private business interests. Together with Otis Martin he founded in 1880 the insurance agency, Straw and Martin, [whose office today survives as the Guilford Historical Society]. Mr. Straw was instrumental in starting the several woolen industries in this town and also the extensive slate quarries in Monson. [In 1889 he was President of the Monson Maine Slate Co.] On June 16, 1873, Mr. Straw was married to Ellen L., daughter of Abner Downing. She was born in Norway, Me., November 23, 1845. Mr. and Mrs. Straw have had the following children: Alice B., born March 9, 1877, who died February 20, 1884; Grace M.,born September 25 1880; and Harold D., born April 7, 1882. They also have an adopted child, Doris W., who was born August 12, 1893. Mr. Straw has been Town Clerk and Treasurer for a number of years, and he served on the Board of Selectmen one year." ........"The family residence, one of the handsomest in the locality, was built under his own supervision. It stands on elevated ground, and commands a beautiful view. Both Mr. and Mrs. Straw are members of the Methodist Episcopal Church."

AND ABOUT THE GHOST

One mystery solved, one to go. Who was the ghost of Trebor Mansion? The front parlor was “the ghost parlor”.  You may not believe in ghosts, but you never met our ghost.  He (or she) liked Motzart and was quite melancholy. The fire started in the front parlor, and there is no conclusive evidence as to what caused it.

The State Fire Marshal concluded that “an electrical fire cannot be ruled out - the fireplace was not to blame” and left it at that. ghost1.jpg

After the fire we talked to the famous cryptozoologist Lauren Coleman, who told us that from the evidence we presented him, he believed that the ghost was a fire poltergeist, and that fire insurance originated in Germany because of this "menace".  

Yes, cameras still malfunction in certain areas around the mansion, but there has been no ghost in the parlor since the fire.  Whatever it lived in, on or through is gone with the fire.  But he or she was considerate enough to leave a portrait on the way out.  

Maybe gone, but you are welcome to  watch this Episode of ZeroLux Paranormal from 2014:

 "We investigate the Trebor Mansion in beautiful Guilford, Maine. There is much to say about this episode - so much, in fact, that what happened during our time here challenged our skepticism in ways few other places have managed. Our evidence review was mind-boggling, extensive, and after analyzing the collected data with a fine-toothed comb we eventually succumbed to the assertion that we couldn't explain how, what happened, happened. The Trebor Mansion is a location our team considers to be of great significance to the field of paranormal, and we highly recommend paranormal investigators book a night and investigate for themselves. Simply put, "the spirits are in" at Trebor Mansion." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=824VghRvk1I

 
Rooms/Rates/Tariffs | Maps/Directions | HOME | Marvels of the Highland Lakes Region
Your Eccentric Hosts |The Mysteries of Trebor Mansion | Photo Album
Martha Stewart Doesn't Live Here | The Great Fire of January 24, 2004 | Social Events
Reservations/Contact | Massage | Red Neck Wabi Sabi | Grand Reopening | Trebor TV
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