The Nathan Clifford School
The building that is now known as the Nathan Clifford Residences was once known as the Nathan Clifford School. Completing construction in 1909, the then innovative elementary school had been designed by famous Maine architect John Calvin Stevens to incorporate the latest in building technology. Electricity, safety, and cutting-edge environmental systems were installed from construction. Despite being converted to a residential building in late 2013, the historical school still retains much of its original styling both on the interior and exterior, a fact that makes it unique and desirable in its current residential role.
Backstory and Context
The architect of the Nathan Clifford School, John Calvin Stevens, is well recognized for his extensive work across the state of Maine. He donated notable artwork both of his own work and other notable artists’ to numerous Maine collections, and was a participant in multiple art clubs and organizations. His influence was so extensive that in 2009 the city declared October 8 as John Calvin Stevens Day, a move which was recognized by the United States Congress.
Born in Massachusetts, Stevens moved with his family to Portland, Maine at the age of just two. Unable to attend college due to lack of funding, Stevens studied under another notable Maine architect by the name of Francis H. Fassett until he was skilled enough to lead his own branch of Fassett’s architectural office. While working at this branch, his style developed and was influenced by other skilled architects he worked with. He left Fassett’s company in 1884 to form his own architectural firm in the City of Portland.
During the last decade of the 1800s, Stevens helped write a book on the Shingle style of architectural design, a style that would come to characterize much of his life’s work. This book, titled “Examples of American Domestic Architecture,” became recognized internationally, making Stevens a truly renowned architect. Homes constructed in the Shingle style that Stevens brought to the minds of contemporary architects still characterize the coasts of Maine. Stevens’ style influences even new structures, primarily residencies, being built on the coast in the current day.
The school itself, heavily influenced by Stephens’ desire to design modern buildings that suited the unique needs of those who would use it, was a model of the future for nearby school districts from the moment it was constructed. The Nathan Clifford School was a unique work among Stephens’ school designs; not only was it among the last of the schools he designed, it uniquely exhibited the Classical Revival style. While many of his school designs incorporated these features, none displayed it so dominantly as the Nathan Clifford School.
The school’s notable design, however, was not the end of its historical importance. In 1932, the school began the State of Maine’s first and only educational program designed specifically for visually impaired students. This program served the state until 1964, under the care of just two devoted teachers across the program’s life. Beatrice Berry and Sara Hollywood educated nearly 300 visually impaired students during that time.
The school was named after Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Nathan Clifford. Nathan Clifford spent years practicing law and participating in the politics of Maine. He served the United States extensively through the Civil War and beyond. By the end of his career in politics, he was one of a select few Americans who had ever served in all three branches of the Federal Government.
The Nathan Clifford School ceased serving as a public school in 2011, after the construction of Ocean Avenue Elementary School allowed for the relocation of classes to a newer building. The State of Maine then sold the property to a developer for just $1. In 2013, the Nathan Clifford School became the Nathan Clifford Residences, which boast beautiful living spaces surrounded by history. Though many improvements and renovations have been made to the structure over the years, the core design and much of the relevant characteristics have gone unchanged.
Nathan Clifford School. National Park Service. Accessed July 16, 2017. https://www.nps.gov/nr/feature/places/pdfs/13000925.pdf. National Park Service nomination for the Register of Historic Places
Nathan Clifford Residences. Accessed July 16, 2017. http://www.nathancliffordresidences.com. Information on the site's current use
John Calvin Stevens. Wikipedia.org. Accessed July 16, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Calvin_Stevens. Meta-source for general information on the architect who built the school
Abbott, Stephen. John Calvin Stevens: The Early Years. Maine Home Design. September 01, 2007. Accessed July 17, 2017. https://mainehomedesign.com/rotating-features/354-john-calvin-stevens-the-early-years/. Biography of John Calvin Stevens
Nathan Clifford. Wikipedia.org. Accessed July 17, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathan_Clifford. Meta-source for general information on Nathan Cliford