BOWDOINHAM — Mortimer LaPointe makes his living creating things – mostly furniture – out of historic and reclaimed wood. So when the opportunity arose to buy and restore the carriage house from General Joshua Chamberlain’s homesite in Brewer, the history buff couldn’t say no.

LaPointe, who owns LaPointe Antiques and Restoration, purchased the carriage house — without even seeing it first — several months ago from a young couple for an undisclosed sum. He’s spent the last few months anxiously waiting for the structure to be disassembled and moved to his property in Bowdoinham.

The wood, much of it more than 150 years old, arrived last week, and work to restore the two-story building began immediately.

Chamberlain, the Civil War hero of the Battle of Gettysburg, Maine governor and former president of Bowdoin College, was born in Brewer in 1828. The carriage house sat on the Penobscot River behind the house where Chamberlain was born. LaPointe said the family was planning on having a company disassemble the structure and reclaim all of the wood, because they didn’t have the financial means to restore the structure themselves.

“I didn’t set out to buy this carriage house, but these guys who get a lot of our wood from came to us and told us they had this unique piece of Maine history,” LaPointe said during an interview last week in his wood shop. “We couldn’t pass it up.”

LaPointe had the foundation for the structure poured over the summer, and then he waited for the wood to make the trip down Interstate 95 from Brewer to Bowdoinham. He was admittedly nervous the last few months because he wasn’t sure what was causing the delay or if he’d get pushback from people in Brewer or the city’s historical society. However, he said he hasn’t heard from anyone, while knocking on one of the pieces of wood in his shop for luck.

Last week, LaPointe spent an entire morning and part of the afternoon raising the four walls to the structure. It got a little hairy during the first attempt as LaPointe and four others tried to raise the wood while a fifth pulled a long rope around the tree. After making several phone calls in hopes of finding a truck or tractor or some machine that could raise the walls, two more folks arrived and with the aid of a come along pulling the rope, the walls were raised and secured enough to survive the winter.

“I was frustrated there for a minute because I didn’t want to have to pay to rent something, but we got it figured out,” LaPointe said. “Now we’ll try and get the roof up and secure the structure even more to protect it for the winter. We’ll hopefully have everything done and the building completed by next summer.”

Unlike when LaPointe is creating a new piece of furniture, this project has no real necessary completion deadline and no real plan for the future. LaPointe said there’s been a lot of ideas kicked around, but there is nothing set it stone about what becomes of the carriage house. He said he hasn’t connected with the Joshua Chamberlain Museum in Brunswick, but he probably will, and he hasn’t contacted anyone at historical groups like Maine Preservation or the Maine State Museum.

“I’d be worried about losing control of my property,” he said.

LaPointe’s family has owned the property in Bowdoinham for decades, and there is a lot of open space that extends down to Merrymeeting Bay and the Kennebec River. Could the property and restored carriage house be used for weddings and other celebrations, as a community meeting space or historical museum? Sure, LaPointe said.

“It truly will create a blank canvas for us, and there’s really no telling what we can do with the place,” he said.

LaPointe’s girlfriend, Christine Haviland, has been an instrumental part of the process. She said when they realized the structure was going to be destroyed, the immediate goal was to get the carriage house moved. Unfortunately, there were several hiccups and delays in Brewer, and while waiting for the structure to be delivered, the couple lost sight of the size of the space they’d have to work with, Haviland said.

“We imagine that we would use some of the space to store and sell some of (LaPointe’s creations), and I’m looking forward to putting in some studio space, as well,” she said. “Now that it is finally going up, we realize there is a lot of space to ponder.”

The structure needed a lot of repairs, but after having restored old homes in the past, and as an admirer of history and architecture, the thought of losing an important piece of history was distressing, Haviland said.

“We jumped in with both feet, and we are committed to saving this piece of Maine history and to share it with others,” she said. “It will be a labor of love, and we’ve had a lot of local woodworkers offer their help.”

To help with the cost of the restoration and the ultimate regular maintenance of the structure, LaPointe and Haviland started a crowdfunding campaign on called Save the Carriage House. They are planning on starting a newsletter to detail the restoration’s progress, and they are asking for feedback. Haviland said they’re also planning events for Chamberlain fans and history buffs.

Larissa Vigue Picard, the executive director of the Pejepscot Historical Society, which owns the Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum in Brunswick, said it is always gratifying to see a historical structure saved and repurposed, and she said it has extra significance when it’s a building related to a major figure like Chamberlain. Every piece of a historical figure’s life that can be salvaged, preserved and added to the overall story enriches our understanding of that story, she said.

Picard said the icing on the cake is the proximity of LaPointe’s property to the Chamberlain museum and his Brunswick home.

“Our tour docents can now share with visitors at the museum that the family’s Brewer carriage house is only a few miles north of them (in Bowdoinham),” she said. “I’m sure Chamberlain himself would relish the thought that the building survives and a new family is using out. He had great love for his state and the people in it, and would undoubtedly be glad to know the myriad ways his legacy lives on.”

Usually LaPointe is commissioned by someone to take old wood and turn it into a piece of furniture like a desk, chair or kitchen island. He said there is a different mindset this time because he’s doing this for himself and not for somebody else.

“I always try to do the best I can in my work, and this is nice because i am doing it for myself and for others to be able to enjoy it,” LaPointes said. “I’m all about trying to preserve history. This place was too important to just let it be sold off as reclaimed materials.”

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