The Lemont Block, a four-story historic brick building on the corner of Maine Street and Pleasant Street that has been an iconic part of the Brunswick skyline for over 150 years, is about to have a new chapter added to its storied history.
Since its construction in 1870, the building has had many illustrious residents, including secret societies such as the Knights of Pythias. It even hosted an oration by Civil War General and former President of the College Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.
Aaron Turkel and Cleo Vauban, a Harpswell couple, purchased the Lemont Block two years ago when it went up for sale. They plan to revitalize the building, with renovations slated to be completed early next year.
“When we came across this opportunity, we thought it was a really unique way for us to give back to our community and be able to put our energy and our passion to use,” Turkel said in an interview with the Orient.
For Turkel, who is originally from Freeport but has spent the last 15 years in Los Angeles, the opportunity to revive the Lemont Block meant a great deal to him personally.
“This was my haunt,” he said. “I had my first beer at Joshua’s, I bought my first CD at Bull Moose. So for me, this corner represented a lot.”
Over the years, the Lemont Block has hosted Brunswick High School graduations, provided a meeting space for storied organizations like the Freemasons and been home to a wide array of shops on the ground floor. The Bowdoin Store was even once located in the Lemont Block.
The building has been a local mainstay for a century and a half, Turkel said, and he is hopeful it will remain one.
“I love the fact that we can look back and appreciate this building through all the different eras of Brunswick,” he said. “It’s been present for all of what this town is and will be.”
The Block’s current first-floor tenants are Grandpa’s Garden, Maine St. Steak and Oyster and the Lemont Block Collective, which is run by Turkel and Vauban.
“Cleo [Vauban] came up with the idea of a local Maine-made market, and her concept was [to] go find a dozen local artists, especially because they can’t go to their craft shows right now, and invite them to come in and have a collective,” said Turkel.
More than a year after purchasing the Lemont Block, the couple is excited to continue the renovations, and they are heartened by the support they’ve received from the Brunswick community.
“It was really fun to see people’s reactions and to hear that people were into what we were doing and thankful for all the effort we are putting in,” said Turkel. “We’ve just been getting so much awesome positive feedback.”
While the task at hand is a large one, the couple is up for the challenge.
“Enough people look at [renovating old buildings] and they say, ‘We’ll never be able to do it,’ and they give up and tear it down,” Turkel said.
He and Vauban wanted to make sure that wasn’t the case.
“Whenever a younger generation comes along, there’s a new choice that happens. ‘Can you figure it out? Can you be the generation after ten others before you came and kicked the tires on it to actually make it happen?’ Well, maybe. We are going to try,” Turkel said.
As the renovations continue, Turkel is continually finding more ways that the Lemont Block is connected to local history. One of those connections is its deep ties to the College. In the very first edition of the Orient, from April 3, 1871, the building is mentioned. “Nothing which has been done in Brunswick for many years has been productive of so much benefit to the town, and pleasure to the students, as the erection of Lemont Hall.”
Turkel appreciates that Bowdoin is an important part of both Brunswick and the building’s history.
“I would love to fly the Bowdoin flag here,” he said. “I think that we should re-explore those connections together and try to tell that story for future generations.”
For Turkel, the opportunity to continue the Lemont Block’s story and give back to the community is one that inspires him every day.
“If you find something that you’re passionate about and that you think is unique and interesting and worthy of you pouring your passion, energy and commitment in, then do it,” Turkel said. “Because you can probably find a way to get it done, and I hope that’s what happens here.”
The couple maintains a website, lemontblock.com, for interested parties to get in touch or follow the progress of the renovation.