The College has completed a renovation of the Harriet Beecher Stowe House, where the author lived in the 1850s while writing “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The house now provides office space for faculty on leave.

Bowdoin purchased the house, known as the “Stowe House,” in 2001. Since then, it has suffered from disrepair and neglect. A series of proposals in 2005 might have allowed the College to restore the house, but the suggested renovations were postponed because of a lack of funding.

Constructed in 1806, the Stowe House is known best for being the home of Calvin and Harriet Beecher Stowe, the latter of whom published “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in 1852 while her husband taught religion at Bowdoin.

The Stowe House has also accommodated a number of other historically important figures, such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Joshua Chamberlain, both of whom are Bowdoin alumni. However, despite this historical and regional significance, by 2001 the house had fallen victim to structural damages and the presence of asbestos.

“[The house] was basically falling down,” said Associate Professor of Africana Studies and English Tess Chakkalakal. “They found quite a lot of asbestos and remnants of a fire, and that made it really dangerous for that house to be even standing.”

After a series of reviews, the College decided that a modest renovation was the best path forward. Although the disposition, or giving up, of the Stowe House was considered, a 2012 bond issue allowed the College to acquire the funds necessary for the $1.3 million renovations.

“We were at a crossroads, trying to figure out the best thing to do with it,” said Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Katy Longley. “We thought about disposition, and we decided that the most responsible thing would be to do a modest renovation. The renovation cost would be about $1.3 million. I think the College has struggled since it acquired it in 2001 to figure out what to do with it.”

The renovations addressed the questionable structural integrity of multiple parts of the house, as well as the ongoing asbestos problem. In addition to repairing damaged sites, the repairs also restored the house to its 1850s appearance.

“The renovations have been done to get rid of the most structurally unsound parts of the building and return it to its 1855 condition, which is the historic period that’s closest to the Stowe residency,” said Katherine Randall ’16, who completed a digital timeline of the Stowe House in 2015. “It’s been about making [the house] more structurally sound, as well as restoring some of the architectural integrity and returning it to that beautiful neoclassical building that it was in the 1850s.” 

“Harriet Beecher Stowe lived there from 1850 to 1852, while she wrote ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ and there was a major renovation right after she left in the 1854 timeframe,” said Director of Finance and Campus Services Delwin Wilson. “It took a very simple house and made it much more Greek revival, much more ornate. So that’s more the time period that the interior is reflecting currently.”

Now that the restoration has been completed, one of the next questions to be addressed involves how the Stowe House will be used by both the College and the town of Brunswick. Although the newly renovated building has been used primarily for office space, a single room is being set aside to celebrate the intellectual and historical legacy of the Stowe House.

“Right now, there are offices in there, and those offices are occupied by faculty on leave, for their sabbaticals [and for] emerita faculty. It has turned into a nice place for faculty who are on leave or recently retired to think and work,” said Chakkalakal. “But I continue to hope that the College will try to revitalize some of its intellectual history in that space by perhaps making it into a center for faculty, students and even staff to have conversations.”

Additionally, the room not used as office space is intended to be open to the public, where people from all over can come and experience the storied history offered by the Stowe House.

“We want it to be a space that can be used equally by people who visit Brunswick or the College, by people who have no affiliation with the College, to come and understand Stowe’s legacy,” said Randall.