Restoration of Horton and Hill Buildings Funded by Façade Grant

By Lura Jackson

This photo (taken before 1890) shows the T. Horton and J. Murray Hill Buildings at the corner of Sawyer and Main Street. Owner Jake Chambers is committed to the historical restoration of the building, even recreating the advertisement visible in the photo. Facade funds will lend to the completion of the restoration process. 

The business district of Main Street Calais has a long history of highs and lows, accompanied by as many stories of construction and demolishment. Of the many buildings that remain in the historic downtown area, there are those that stand out in the degree of their preservation, often thanks to the commitment of their respective owners. The Horton and Hill buildings on the block of Sawyer Avenue (leading to the City Building) are among those that are respectfully maintained, and their ongoing restoration will continue with financial assistance from the Community Development Block Grant program (the Façade Grant).

The conjoined buildings (built to appear as a single building) were constructed shortly after the great fire of 1870 destroyed a large portion of the Calais downtown district. Prior to the fire, druggist Thomas Horton operated a pharmacy at the corner of Sawyer Avenue. The wooden building proved to be no match for the powerful blaze that started just behind the adjacent property. After the loss of the building, Horton partnered with J. Murray Hill (a real estate broker and land developer that lived next to him on Swan Street) to create the three-story tall brick and granite structure that stands today. 

Horton's section of the building was maintained as a drug store for a few decades following his death in 1875. By 1900, it had become Casey's Barber Shop, which would flourish in that location for the greater part of the 20th century. By the 1970s Casey's was replaced by the thrift store that continues to operate there. 

Hill's side of the building was most likely constructed to be an investment rental property. Originally it hosted Bailey's Jewelers for many decades; by 1950 it was replaced by Silverman's store. Silverman's sold an assortment of goods including bicycles, hardware, tools, and electrical supplies. After Silverman's, Hill's building was rented to an unemployment agency (with Boardman and Brown's law office upstairs), which then became Pine Tree Legal. The Hill building is now vacant.

In 1996, Jake Chambers purchased the Horton building, and in 2006 he purchased the Hill building as well. Chambers (who traces his ancestry in the Calais area for four or five generations) has spent the past several years restoring the properties to their historical condition. Vinyl windows were replaced in both buildings, wooden cornices were repaired and repainted, and the storefronts have been rehabilitated with compatible modern materials. The Façade funds will enable the continuation of the restoration of the structure (including the completion of the brickwork on the front, the cornices, and window replacement).

For Chambers, the restoration of the historic building serves personal and business purposes. “I used to get my hair cut at the barber shop when I was a little boy,” he says. “I have some fond memories there.” Chambers recently completed the restoration of a historic advertisement on the side of the building (utilizing remaining paint residue and photographs), contributing to the flair of the handsome Italianate and emphasizing his belief in the importance of maintaining its exterior. “If Calais wants to attract businesses, a crisp, clean Main Street is necessary.” He sees the Façade grant as an excellent opportunity for the area, though he recognizes that more funding is needed. “Calais has the potential to be another Camden or Bar Harbor, but Calais will need to reinvest in itself.”

With thanks to the St. Croix Historical Society for materials.