Maine: An Encyclopedia

Stevens, John Calvin

(1855-1940) was born in Boston, though his family moved to Portland in 1857 when he was two years old. The Great fire of 1866 destroyed the family home along with almost 1,000 other buildings.

In 1873, after finishing high school, Stevens entered the office of Francis Fassett, one of the most popular architects in Portland. He followed the common ladder through the office, from office boy through draughts man until becoming a partner in 1880.

He then opened a branch office in Boston, which he would run for two years before returning to Portland, and became friends with William Ralph Emerson, one of the early practitioners of what was to become known as the “Shingle Style.”

Returning to Portland, Stevens worked with Fassett for about a year before opening an office in 1883. Five years later he partnered with Albert Winslow Cobb. During the three years of their association, some great works came out of the office, including the Baptist Church in Skowhegan and an unexecuted library in Bath.

In 1891 Stevens opened his own office in Portland. The next 40 years would be a period of great success for the firm, which in 1900 included his son John Howard, producing over 500 works in a myriad of styles.

The mid 1880’s through the turn of the century marked Stevens shingle period. He was a driving force in the evolution of the style, designing and executing many works along the coast. A large collection were in Delano Park , a development in Cape Elizabeth.

Stevens was not limited to one style. While the shingle style might be best for the Charles Homer Cottage at Prouts Neck, an urban house would be better done as Colonial Revival.

As with most of the architects of the age, Stevens worked primarily for the wealthy, and, occasionally, for the famous. Probably, the best known client was Winslow Homer, the noted landscape painter. The Homer family had purchased a large tract of property on Prouts Neck, in Scarborough. The Homers sold off lots and built cottages for themselves. Stevens designed cottages for Charles and Winslow.

He also  designed libraries such as the John B. Curtis in Bradford, the Cary in Houlton, and the Zadoc Long Free Public Library in Buckfield.

His projects include many on the National Register of Historic Places. In Portland: the J. B. Brown Memorial Block;Charles Q. Clapp Block; Charles Q. Clapp House; McLellan-Sweat Mansion, National Historic Landmark; The Portland Club; and Williston-West Church and Parish House. In Augusta: The Blaine House and the Governor John F. Hill Mansion. In Bangor: The Bangor Mental Health Institute. In Bath: The Hyde Mansion and the Winter Street Church. In Biddeford: City Hall. In Camden: the Yacht Club. And many others!

Sevens was also an accomplished artist. In May of 2015 the University of New England’s Portland Art Gallery presented an exhibition of his paintings and other art work.  The Gallery’s description of the exhibition noted,

While John Calvin Stevens’ architectural career, which stretched from 1880 to 1940, is renowned, less well known is his art making. From 1900 to 1920, he created hundreds of paintings with the Brush’uns, a talented group of plein air painters who frequented Cape Elizabeth, Capisic, Stroudwater and the Casco Bay Islands each weekend to capture the changing seasons of nature on their canvases.

Additional resources

Stevens, John Calvin II and Shettleworth, Earle G. John Calvin Stevens: Domestic Architecture, 1890-1930. Scarborough, Me. Harp Publications. 1990.

“UNE presents the art work of John Calvin Stevens.” University of New England. April 13, 2015. (accessed May 31, 2015)

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This entry was last modified: May 31, 2015 11:03 PM

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