BATH — For the first time since its construction, the historic Elmhurst Mansion, home of Hyde School, is fully visible at 616 High Street.

For over 100 years, the once-mansion-now-school has had a large brick-and-iron fence stretching its entire length. Built in 1913, the fence served as a barrier between the grounds and the outside world. Standing taller than most people, it was a familiar site to anyone traveling on High Street, or Route 209.

The structure has been in various states of disrepair over the years, with portions seeming to lean out over the street. Maintaining, or restoring, the lengthy fence was an expensive proposition, with extensive brick and iron work stretching hundreds of feet. Plus, the rusty and sharp iron posed safety concerns.

“We had leaning sections toward the lower gate that were a very big concern to me,” said Shawn Johansen, facilities director for Hyde. “God forbid it should have fallen on someone walking by.”

The possibility of thousands of pounds of masonry and iron collapsing on someone, or into the street, was becoming more and more probable as the years took their toll.

“Unfortunately, what happened over the years is the salt and road sand over the winter had just deteriorated the bricks, brickwork, and masonry work that was really holding that wall together,” said Johansen. “If we didn’t make a move to tear it down, it would have started to fall down.”

Removing the fence is also a part of Hyde School’s plan to beautify the already well-groomed — even gorgeous — campus.

“We’ve got this whole plan in the works for kind of beautifying the campus and making Hyde look a lot more inviting and open to the community,” said Jenny Collinson, director of communications and marketing for the school.

While the school has always welcomed members of the public on its grounds, the large fence served as a visual deterrent. Stretching the entire length of the property, and coming right up to the pavement, it looked as though someone was determined to keep everyone out – or in.

“I think the fence was always a barrier. And we’re looking to change that image; we want to invite the community and we want to invite more students and change the old look of ‘keep out,’” said Johansen.

Plus, the fence prevented people from seeing the interior grounds, which feature elaborate stonework and the historic mansion itself.

“We have this big beautiful mansion up on the top of this knoll here, and people’s eyes were drawn to the fence, not the mansion behind it,” said Johansen.

The project involves two phases, one of which any passerby will have already noticed. The first – remove the fence – was completed earlier in the summer. The second, which will take place over the next several months, is landscaping along the border of the campus. To that end, Hyde is working with Bath lighting engineer Larry Bartlett of Bartlett Design to “address the campus boundaries with lighting, landscaping, and potential future fencing.”

While Hyde School is part of the National Register of Historic Places, no additional permissions or approval were needed to remove the fence.

“It’s not within our local historic district, it doesn’t require any sort of review or oversight from the city for that to take place,” said Andrew Deci, Bath City Planner. The National Register does not provide any local protections, it only suggests that a structure or location deserves preservation. “Just because it’s on the list doesn’t mean that it has to be preserved.”

While most of the fence has been torn down already, parts will be kept in place. The “grand entrance” to the campus, sweeping curved gates, will remain intact and be fixed.

In addition, sections of the fence will be preserved for future repairs. Other pieces have been offered to Sagadahoc Preservation, Inc., as well.
“We did offer it to them thinking ‘it is a historic fence, they might want a piece of it,” said Collinson.

For now, crews are working on replacing a sidewalk on the northern end, and preparing for future landscaping. Currently, the school is still in the design phase of the project. Johansen said he hopes everything will be completed within a year.