Poking Around in

The Oldest House in Bangor?

Bangor Area

by Craig Mains

The Oldest House in Bangor?
by Craig Mains

Photo by Craig Mains

When I was visiting in Bangor, a house just down the street at 30 Kenduskeag caught my attention. I had seen it walking around the neighborhood but I hadn't really paid much attention to it until I read on the Bangor Historical Society's Facebook page that it was the oldest standing house in Bangor. According to them, it is known as the Smart-Daggett House and was built around 1781. After I found out that it was more than 240 years old I started paying more attention to it.

And that got me wondering. I could see the foundation had been replaced with concrete blocks at some point. The windows had obviously been replaced at least once because they didn't fully fit the openings they were set in. The asphalt shingled roofing clearly wasn't original and I doubted the siding was original. If the house originally had shutters, they were more likely to be functional, rather than ornamental. What I got to wondering about was how much of a house could you replace and still consider it the same house? Is the house really 241 years old if almost all of the parts of the original house have been replaced with newer parts?

(Photo taken 9-17-2022)

Photo by Craig Mains

I wondered if the Smart-Daggett house had at one time looked similar to the Carroll Homestead house on Mt. Desert Island. It was built in 1825 and, except for the asphalt shingles, it is close to how it was originally built. Did the Smart-Daggett house once have wooden shingle siding rather than clapboard siding? There's no way to know but it seems possible.

I realized that the questions I had about the Smart-Daggett house were similar to the thought experiment known as the Ship of Theseus Paradox. The legend was that Theseus, after slaying the minotaur, rescued the children of Athens from King Minos of Crete, and sailed away with the rescued children to Delos. For centuries afterwards, Athenians celebrated the children's rescue by sailing Theseus's ship to Delos. The question was, after centuries, during which time every single part of the ship had been replaced multiple times, was the current ship still Theseus's ship? [1] The paradox has been used as a way to think about the identity of an object, especially one that has changed over time, such as the Smart-Daggett House.

Aristotle proposed four causes or ways that an object can be described:
1) the formal cause (as in form) -- the design of an object
2) the material cause -- what an object is made of
3) the end cause -- the intended purpose or function of the object
4) the efficient cause -- how and by whom an object was made.

Aristotle thought the formal cause was the primary determinant of a thing's essence because, with regard to Theseus's ship, the form remained the same even though the material it was made of had changed. The difference between Theseus's ship and the Smart-Daggett house was that the pieces of the ship were replaced with pieces that were of the same type of material as the pieces they had replaced, while the replacement pieces of the Smart-Daggett house were mostly materials that weren't available to builders at the time the house was built.

Since almost all of the externally visible pieces of the house appeared to be non-original (except maybe the chimney?), I thought about what parts were left that might be original and whether they were enough to consider the house to be the same house. I thought that most likely the framing of the house had survived and decided that was probably enough since what defines the form or shape of a house more than the frame? I suspected the house probably was framed with big square beams that were still there.

Photo by Craig Mains

But, then things changed. One day when I was walking by I saw that the roof had been removed and some workers were dismantling the rafters. I had been right about the frame--the now-exposed beams appeared to be about five inches square. The workers were cutting them up into about two-foot-long pieces with a reciprocating saw and hurling them into a roll-off construction dumpster. I hated to see those 240-year-old beams being consigned to a dumpster. I also think that had they left them at their original length they could have resold them at a price that would have made the extra work worthwhile.

At first I thought they were tearing the house down and I thought, "Well, there goes the oldest house in Bangor." But, then I realized they weren't tearing it down--they were going to add another floor.

(photo taken October 19, 2022)

Photo by Craig Mains

Here is the Smart-Daggett house one day later. The entire attic framing and both gables were gone and the workers were about to build a new frame for a second story out of today's standard framing material--2 by 4s.

So, what now? If the form of an object is the essence of its identity and the form is partly, but not completely changed, is it still the same object?

Photo by Google Earth

Here is a more recent image of the Smart-Daggett house taken from Google Earth Street View. The date is unknown but probably sometime in the spring or summer of 2023. Not only has a second story been added but the form has been changed in other ways. The pitch of the roof is not as steep and there is no sign of a chimney. However, some elements that most likely were part of the original design, such as the placement of the front door and the windows on the ground floor, still survive. Is that, along with what ever remnants of the original frame still survive, enough to still consider this the oldest house in Bangor? I don't know. It seems though as if only a faint echo of the original house still lingers.


[1] The backwoods equivalent of the Ship of Theseus Paradox is "Great-Grandpa's axe," which has been passed down through the generations, during which time the handle has been replaced five times and the axe head twice.

Source: WikiPedia


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