By Dick Matthews
PHILLIPS – At Ambleside in Phillips they’ve turned the clock back to the 1880s.
Ambleside, a stately, three-story brick home, was built alongside the Sandy River by Seward Dill, his wife Shuah, and their son Harrison in 1865. Over the past two years the building, which is owned by the Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes Railroad (SR&RLRR), has undergone extensive interior restoration, and during Phillips’ Welcome to Summer weekend offered its first living history experience to a group of high school students.
Six students and two teachers from Maranacook Community High School spent four days and three nights there, preparing meals on a wood burning stove, drawing water from a hand pump, dining by the light of oil lamps and candles, and experiencing life as it was in the late 19th century. Their hosts were living history specialists Corey Ellis, who adopted the persona of Harrison Dill, Seward’s son, and Deb Frino, who played Emma, Harrison’s housekeeper.
Ellis and Frino, who have had extensive experience doing living history at Morrill Farm B&B in Sumner, have also spearheaded the renovation of Ambleside, together with assistance from SR&RLRR members and volunteers from the community. Though work is ongoing, seven of the home’s 15 rooms have been partially restored, enough to launch the first of what they hope will be many living history experiences. When completed, the house will also accommodate a two-room railroad museum.
“Ambleside is rich in possibilities for becoming a major attraction in the Phillips area,” Ellis noted, “and could host a wide assortment of school groups or other groups or organizations who want to stage an event redolent of the home’s rich past.”
For the Maranacook students’ stay June 3 through 6, Ellis and Frino donned period costumes, and Pam and Dick Matthews paid a brief visit dressed as Seward and Shuah Dill. A mover and shaker in early Phillips, Dill was one of the principle figures in launching the SR&RLRR and bringing the narrow-gauge railroad to the town. He eventually deeded Ambleside over to his son Harry, and Seward and Shuah’s visit corresponded to one of their later trips back to Maine from their home in California.
Participating Maranacook students, who also adopted 19th century garb and personas during their stay, were: Chris Beckwith as Hiram, Kyle Brundige as Captain Lewis, Gavin Pottle as Moses, Hannah Woodford as Fanny, Ashley Harmon as Alberta, and Claire Fromberg as Harriet. Teacher Mike Streeter assumed the role of Antipass, and teacher/chaperone Scott Harmon played Joseph.
“We’ve done this before at other living history venues,” Streeter said, “and our stay at Ambleside is the best experience we’ve ever had.”
During the Welcome to Summer weekend in Phillips, Ambleside was open for tours by the public. Several dozen people, some of them for the first time, came to visit the house, which has stood empty for years. Many expressed surprise at the extent of the work that’s so far been done. The renovation has been “intensive,” Frino said, but noted that much progress has been made.
Funds for the project have come from several sources, including local grants and generous contributions from the community, including two separate donations of $10,000 each from an anonymous source.
“We’re still a considerable way from having what we need,” Frino added, “but we’re slowly getting to where we’d like to be.” Both Frino and Ellis are confident that this first foray into Phillips’ past is just the first of many that will occur in Phillips’ future.