During the first few weeks they lived in their historic Bangor home, Peter and Michelle Keebler found their efforts to unpack often were interrupted by neighborhood children. The couple would hear a tentative knock on a door and answer it, only to find a nervous, tongue-tied boy or girl standing on their doorstep.
After a fidgety few moments and a few false starts, the child finally would state the purpose of the visit, blurting out the question, “Are you gonna let us sled on your hill?” When an affirmative reply was delivered, the youngster would rush off shouting to friends gathered on the edge of the lawn and relay the incredible, exciting news.
Little City kids still would be able to while away winter afternoons sliding down “Pozzy’s Hill,” alongside the Jones P. Veazie house. However, they would add, these were not the Keeblers of elf and cookie fame.
“I found the children’s concern for their sledding hill charming,” says Peter Keebler. “It was something I wanted to support. … This house is a landmark for people in the neighborhood. There’s a real sense of community stability and continuity here that’s nice. We want to help maintain that.”
A physician, Peter Keebler heads the department of rehabilitative medicine at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. Before moving to Bangor in May 1996, he renovated a historic house in the oldest section of Cincinnati. His wife, Michelle, is a flight attendant for Delta Airlines.
Their “new” house sits on a hill facing Fountain Street and is bordered by Montgomery Street at the top and Congress Street at the bottom. It was built in 1875 in the Second Empire mansard style by Veazie, who died before it was completed. In 1919, the William McCrillis Sawyer family purchased the home, and in 1937, the Sawyers’ daughter Dorothy and her husband, Theo J. Pozzy, moved into the large residence. Although it is officially listed on the National Historic Registry as the Jones P. Veazie house, throughout the Little City neighborhood in Bangor, it is referred to as the Pozzy house.
The structure was designed by well-known Bangor architect George Orff, according to a Whig and Courier article dated Jan. 9, 1875. In a section titled “Building in Bangor,” the structure was described as a home with a “mansard roof, brick basement and 44-by-68-foot ground floor plan” and included an indoor bath on the second floor.
It was reported that “15,000 to 20,000 bricks were used in the construction of the cellar and chimneys” and a 33-by-38-foot carriage house was built next to the main house. It was moved to its current location and remodeled as a residence in 1936.
Architectural historian Deborah Thompson wrote in her book, “Bangor, Maine 1769-1914: An Architectural History,” published in 1988, that “Almost all the original details: heavy fluted door and window trim, gasoliers [chandeliers with branches ending in gas jets], floral centerpieces, interior shutters with louvered panels, handsome classicizing marble chimney pieces of French style are preserved.”
One of the most stunning features of the house, the Keeblers agree, is the tower, which is topped with the original decorative cast-iron fencing. On a tour of the house earlier this month, Michelle Keebler counts seven church steeples and points out the Thomas Hill Standpipe from the tower, as a freezing rain begins its deadly grip on the state.
“When the sun is out,” she says, “it is quite warm up here. On a chilly, but sunny, day last fall, Peter and I had a picnic lunch up here. It was delightful, and incredibly beautiful with the foliage in full color.”
Three floors beneath the tower is the formal, tiled entryway. Although dulled by the years, the brightly colored blue and brown decorative ceramic tiles have weathered the past 123 years well, partly because they were so rarely trod upon. In recent times, most people have used the side door to enter the home, according to Michelle Keebler.
Inside the front hall, the elegance of the house becomes apparent, despite the fact that its glamour has faded. To the right is the room that the Keeblers plan to use as the parlor, originally called the drawing room. The room to the left is their library. At the end of the hall, a majestic staircase with a walnut newel post, balustrade and balusters rises to the second floor.
The dining room, which hides a safe in a corner closet, is behind the parlor. One of the Keebler cats stands watch in its bay window, which faces Montgomery Street. Next to the library is the room the Keeblers use as a family room. Through these windows, they can watch the children line up with their sleds and saucers at the top of their famous sledding hill. At the back of the house are the kitchen, laundry room and two pantries.
In four of the first-floor rooms are Italian marble fireplaces. They range in color from white in the parlor and library to black in the dining room to a swirling brown and rose in the family room. Shaped and polished by long-forgotten artisans, they are the stunning centerpieces in these large rooms with their 12-foot-high ceilings. The gray shutters attached to every window, can be closed against Maine’s cruel winter winds and opened to the sun’s warming rays, points out the mistress of the house.
Another unique feature in a house full of unique features is a painting by an unknown artist above the library mantel. Rather than being framed, the canvas is attached directly to the wall. It is a painting of the Place de la Concorde in Paris, and measures 5 feet by 5 1/2 feet. Why it is displayed the way it is is a mystery to the Keeblers.
Upstairs are four rooms that mirror the first floor. The two at the front of the house have gray marble fireplaces. A bathroom, with a bidet, was added in the 1950s to what eventually will be the master bedroom suite above the parlor and the dining room.
Across the hall are a room now used for guests, above the library, and the Keeblers’ temporary bedroom above the family room. From these windows, they can watch sledders slide down the hill toward Congress Street and hear their squeals of delight and terror.
Behind this room is the original bathroom, mentioned in the Whig and Courier. The couple believes the fixtures were installed when the house was built. The pipes that connect to the large pedestal sink, footed tub and toilet are nickel-plated. Until the pipes are repaired or replaced, the bathroom is being used as a plant room.
At the back of the house, above the kitchen, are the three rooms that make up the servant’s quarters. Although the Pozzy family employed a maid who resided here into the 1990s, Keebler uses one room as an office. The updated bathroom in the servant’s quarters is being used in lieu of the original one. The third room is used for storage.
Keebler wanted the house from the first moment he saw it on a walk through the city during his job interview visit. The first time he was inside the house, he saw only the basement, a maze of rooms, including a wine cellar, connected with brick archways. Michelle Keebler videotaped the rest of the house for him.
“He must have watched that tape 100 times,” she says, with a slight laugh. “From the outside, I think it looks like the Addams Family house. But it’s warm and welcoming inside.”
“What appealed to me about the house is its historic nature and the potential for restoring it, to a significant degree, to its original character,” he explains. “It’s been well kept up structurally. Not a lot of interior renovation is needed, but it does need cosmetic work inside.”
The Keeblers already have begun that process, purchasing antique period furniture for the house. A five-piece set of Renaissance revival parlor furniture sits in the master bedroom-to-be, waiting to be reupholstered in their original style. On the ornate wooden arms of the furniture is carved the patient face of a woman. The set was made the same year the house was built.
The couple also have a 16-place dining room set and other period pieces that re-create the house’s original elegance and grace.
Grace and elegance, however, are not the things that come to mind when Peter Pozzy recalls growing up in the Veazie house. He was 8 years old when his parents, brother and sister moved into the house where his mother had been raised. His grandparents moved into the carriage house, which had been moved and converted into a home for them.
“I remember being very happy there,” says Pozzy, who lives across Montgomery Street from his boyhood home. “My parents always made the house welcome to our friends. They came to the house every day. We had dances every Friday and Saturday night. We’d dance in the hallway and under the big staircase. I don’t remember going to anyone else’s house to do anything.”
Pozzy’s father, Theo, died in 1995 and his mother, Dorothy, died in early 1996. He says that selling the house was difficult, but adds that “the Keeblers are such sweet people, it’s not as if strangers are living there.”
It was not simply the house itself, however, that appealed to the Keeblers. The neighborhood and the house’s place within it also attracted them.
“Many folks who are longtime residents and clearly had close ties to the Pozzy family, came by to introduce themselves and tell us stories about the house,” Keebler says. One of those visitors was Dr. Robert Kellogg, who lives on Kenduskeag Avenue. As a young medical student, he took a course on preventative medicine from Keebler’s uncle at Cornell University.
The Keeblers anticipate it will take them a minimum of three to five years to complete their renovation and decoration of the house. This year, they plan to update the 1940s-style kitchen, have some roof repairs completed and get some exterior painting done.
“But I grew up in an old house,” Keebler points out. “My parents have been fixing it up for 40 years. So, it may take longer than we’re planning now.
“Being the owner of a house like this is, in a sense, being a steward,” Keebler says. “Maintaining its character is imperative.”