The main house is the centerpiece of this property. The house was built between 1797 and 1798 and while originally of hip roof design, it is now a gable roof. The exterior details are distinctly Federal, while the interior is a mix of Federal and Colonial design. Everywhere the house speaks history.
Two sides of the house boast original hand-split clapboards, ones that have overlapping joints. Six-over-six windows remain, protected with combination windows. Painting is up to date. Granite steps, decorative stones, and gardens further complement the structure, as it sits upon a terrace on a small hill above the village center. There is little doubt that young Ebenezer emulated General Henry Knox for whom he worked as a finish carpenter in the earlier 1790s in Thomaston. He and Knox became friends.
The house is a very early Georgian-Federal building with an attached kitchen and a commodious ell. The northern, main section is a “four-over- four” home with two large sets of fireplaces. There are eight of them all restored and with safe brickwork. One fireplace contains a modern wood- burning stove. The original kitchen features a bake oven and large fireplace, and is in the southeast corner. The east side rooms are slightly narrower than the west side ones, and done in Colonial style. In these east side rooms, paneling surrounds the fireplaces and plain plaster is above wide-board wainscots on the additional walls. The sleeping rooms above have beautiful panels, boxed corner posts and plain plaster walls, floor to ceiling.
The west side rooms are done in the "latest fashion" of the 1790s and show Alden’s other great skill, building formal rooms with spectacular woodwork. Using a published book (1794) of fashionable patterns, he created two very formal rooms, dining and parlor, and a large guest room above. These and the stairway are especially noteworthy and are, with only minor repairs, original.
The bathrooms are of ceramic tile and Corian. An attached screened porch (14 feet by 15 feet) is directly off of the kitchen facing the southwest.
An alarm system monitors heat, fire, movement inside and forced entry. It is simple to use and is taken into consideration by the insurance agency in setting its fees.
While these paragraphs and commentary attempt to describe the principal rooms, it is worth noticing that each main room has at least 2 doors and, very rare, a closet or cabinet. Between rooms are hallways; an upper one was the nursery in the early days. The numerous attractive doors allow rooms to be shut off or heated as desired.
The attic is large and has a very stylish original stairway leading upward from the front halls. Its floor is generously insulated. The attic is lighted by four windows and provides much storage.
The earlier roofline (a hip roof) was changed by Ebenezer’s son Augustus in the 1860s, and includes a gable toward the street and wide trim boards. Below the roof’s edge Augustus carefully preserved the original woodwork which his father Ebenezer had hand-sawn over six decades earlier.
The 40 by 80 foot barn was built shortly after the Civil War, likely to increase space for storage and commerce. It is in superb condition and can accommodate several cars, equipment, and tools. Two years' worth of firewood is stored below. No outline of an earlier barn exists.
The barn was built by Augustus Alden in about 1869 on plans then popular in this area and was built using mortises and tenons, held by pegs or "trunnels" remaining flexible, yet very strong. Many of its frame pieces came from even older structures, saving a great deal of time by recycling. Each frame section is called a “bent” and they support the boarding boards of the roof and sides.
The north side housed livestock below a second floor, while the south side was open to the top. Upper areas were available for hay storage, a major commodity of the Alden Store. Below the main floor under the hillside is another full height area, with two double doors facing south where animals might move in and out; that kind of doorway is called a “run-in.” In the 1960’s, the barn was lifted to accommodate new sills all around and new posts, set on hidden concrete footings. It remains ‘square’ today.
All doors and windows are original as is nearly everything about the barn. The south-facing roofing was replaced in 2012. The red west side and all white trim have been recently painted. The east upper window has been replaced (2012) with a screened louver, preventing undue heat buildup under the dark roofing. There are gardens on the warm south side.
Ebenezer (1774-1862) was a direct descendant of Mayflower Pilgrims John and Priscilla Alden, the Plymouth, Massachusetts couple made famous by Longfellow. ("Why don't you speak for yourself, John?") Born in the Boston area, he must have begun his apprenticeship early and excelled in his work, eventually becoming a house wright in Middleborough, Massachusetts.
In about 1792, Revolutionary War General Henry Knox brought him to Thomaston, Maine where he was employed as a finish carpenter, making and installing trim on the original Knox mansion, Montpelier, pictured below. By 1795 Ebenezer was in Union, Maine, operating his general store there. He began work on various business ventures, even while he continued his work on his own property. Following the example of General Knox, he planned and built a prominent and attractive home there, now known as the Ebenezer Alden House. The house was completed in 1798 and in 1799 he went to Massachusetts to bring back his bride, Patience Gillmor, whose father and brother were already part of Union. Ebenezer and Patience were to have twelve children.
The focus of the property, even today, is the house itself. Situated on a knoll above the town and Seven Tree Pond, it dominated the area, especially in an era of cleared fields. In addition to the house are a barn (his son’s work, c. 1869), a workshop (c. 1875), the store (c. 1795), and, in old style, an outhouse and a garden building.
The house illustrates Ebenezer’s time: It is a mixture of styles. The exterior is quite consistently Federal. The east side interior is Colonial, with a bake-oven kitchen room, paneled walls, simple trims and plain plaster. The west side shows the Federal style, with clear reference to William Pain’s “Practical House Carpenter” (London 1794 and Boston 1796). Alden’s apprenticeship had been in revolutionary, Colonial style, times. His first big job, the Knox mansion, was a celebration of the new nation, epitomized in a nicely decorated and well-trimmed Federal style home.
The Alden House that shows both of the builder’s sets of skills and interests makes it most unusual. Many old homes reflect the finishing of one room after another over the years in the style of the day in each case. The Alden House was finished all at once and shows the two periods of the young Alden’s professional life. A glance at the north (street) side shows the usual central door with three windows above and one on each side of the doorway. But, the door is not in the center; the west Federal rooms are about two feet wider than the east Colonial rooms.
1794 Pain, Wm., Practical House Carpenter, London & Boston
Source of designs for three fireplace surrounds and room trim
1851 Sibley, John L., History of the Town of Union, Boston
"Alden came in 1795 and settled on the hill east of Seven Brook"
1969 Ballou, Editor. “Maine ‘69 Architecture and Construction”
"A sense of design and love of woodworking can be seen."
1974 Nash and Kahn, 200 Years in Union, Rockland, Maine
"the first store in Union…"
1976 Thompson, D., Maine Forms of Architecture, Camden, Maine
"...consummate skill and taste of this extraordinary craftsman."
1982 Beard and Smith, Maine’s Historic Places, Camden, Maine
"1797 makes this a most remarkable and advanced structure…"
1985 Ziegler, P.C., Storehouses of Time, Down East, Camden, Maine
"A cathedral of the north...” This quoting a Maine State historian
1985 Martin, K. & Editors, "Down East Magazine," "Maine's Finest Period Home"
“Colonial in form, but Federal in detail”
1987 Editors, “House and Garden," British publication, “Craftsmanship Restored"
The house and gardens, and Alden, are shown and praised.
1990 W.H.Banks, “The Magazine Antiques," “The Ebenezer House, Union, Maine"
"…spacious and elegant...” “...meticulously and lovingly restored…"
1992 Endersby, et al., Barn, Houghton Mifflin
At 40 by 80 feet, its design exemplifies “the New England barn."
2001 Shaub and A.Teal, Ed., “The Mayflower Quarterly,” June, 2001
"…gracious spaces laid out by a master craftsman…"
2003 Shaub and Shaw, Bridges to the Past, Union Historical Society
"…continued his trade of finish (trim) carpentry…"
2006 Heriteau, J., Complete Trees, Shrubs and Hedges, Creative Homeowner, N.J.
"Keep scale and structure in mind...massive tree is set off by expansive lawn"
2007 Editors, “Maine Home + Design,” “Living in History”
"The tone here is one you don’t want to fool with. You want to maintain…"
2009 Glass, Chris, Historic Maine Homes, Camden, Maine
"It has been fortunate in its succession of owners."
2011 Poore, “Early Homes,” Fall/Winter, 2011, “Maine’s Ebenezer Alden House, 1797”
"Union’s first general store...” “completing the home in 1798, aged 24"
While the magnificent Maine shoreline has received much attention, the Union area, a bit inland, is still being discovered. Here are dairy farms, blueberry barrens, lush river valleys, lakes, ponds, and scenic vistas. The Union Common is one of the oldest commons in the state and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
For greater employment, shopping and pleasure, Rockland, Camden, Rockport, and Belfast are within short distances from Union. Augusta, the state capitol, is about 28 miles west.
Union is the home of the annual Maine Antiques Festival in early August as well as the Union Fair and Maine Wild Blueberry Festival later in the month. In summer and fall there is a farmers' market on the Common. Geographically, the Town of Union is situated at the intersection of three numbered routes: 17, 131, and 235, between Augusta and the coast. It lies within the watersheds of two scenic rivers, the Saint George and the Medomak.
Perhaps due to location or necessity, Union has become a kind of small economic center for the bordering towns, with an appropriate mix of retail, banking, light industrial, and service businesses within the town. It is an exceptionally pleasant place to live and work.