As you enter the 19th century-section of the Jonathan Fisher House, the dwelling’s angular architectural style catches the eye. As with almost everything in the yellow clapboard home, the unvarnished pine paneling was the Congregational minister’s design alone.
“He liked angles, so we assume that all these quirky edges are just a part of him getting people from A to B,” said Blue Hill resident and local historian Brad Emerson. He is the former chairman of the historical museum dedicated to the life and teaching of the Rev. Jonathan Fisher (1768-1847).
Minutes from Blue Hill’s downtown on the Mines Road, the museum is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday or by appointment. For history buffs, local residents and Maine newcomers alike, the docent-led house tours, interior design and artifacts reveal a Renaissance man whose passions and breadth of knowledge ranged widely from mathematics to farming, living at New England’s northern frontier.
“Almost whatever you are interested in, there is something here that addresses it,” Emerson said.
For instance, visitors can see Fisher’s large camera obscura, a light-proof box with a tiny hole, which he designed and built from a friend’s sketches. On view are his four self-portraits presented to each of his four daughters on their wedding days.
Born in New Braintree, Mass., Fisher was educated as a minister at Harvard during the 1790s. Upon graduating he was presented with a choice: work at a safe, wealthy parish in the Boston area or venture to the wilds of Blue Hill, which was little more than sheep pasture at the time. Fisher took the latter, riskier option and ventured to Blue Hill, where he had a large hand in shaping the budding town.
Besides helping to establish the community’s critical infrastructure as well as survey work, the “versatile Yankee” preacher was a meticulous record-keeper, documenting every floorboard, oil painting and bed strap that passed through his hands. His daily journals and careful preservation of documents provide great insight into a significant 19th-century civic leader.
In the Fisher House’s archives, visitors can peek at the minister’s penultimate draft of his 1793 college mathematics thesis (the final copy resides at Harvard) and editions of his “magnum opus,” “Scripture Animals, or Natural History of the Living Creatures Named in the Bible.” Written especially for youth, the self-published book contains detailed information about and block-print illustration of every creature in Noah’s Ark.
“He had been painting and observing birds in nature and other animals for a long time, and he decided to write this book,” Emerson explained. “In the evenings he would make meticulous drawings of the animals he intended to feature and then carve wooden printing blocks of those images by lamplight.”
Ever the entrepreneur, Fisher always carried copies of his book to sell to passers-by. Blown-up images of the carvings grace featured the museum’s walls.
Maintaining the Jonathan Fisher House, Emerson says, isn’t easy. Continuous repairs are required to deal with the wooden structure’s natural dislodgement and swelling.
“Keeping a 205-year-old house going is difficult!” Emerson said with a laugh. Despite these challenges, the antique dealer’s passion for the museum is plain. The chance to preserve Fisher’s work and teachings is motivation enough.
The Jonathan Fisher House, located at 44 Mines Road in Blue Hill), stays open through mid-October. There is no entrance fee, but donations are suggested. For more info, call 374-2459, email [email protected] or visit jonathanfisherhouse.org.