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Daniel Low: Eastport’s Ingenious Architect

By Earle G. Shettleworth Jr.

Eastport’s Central Congregational Church was built between 1828 and 1831 from plans by Daniel Low. Photo by Thaddeus Holwonia. Courtesy Tides Institute

Jedidiah Morse’s description of Eastport, Maine, in his 1823 New Universal Gazetteer noted its location on Passamaquoddy Bay with a bold shore accessible for large vessels. He made a point of mentioning buildings in the town of 1,937 inhabitants, including a bank, printing office, and three churches—two for Baptists and one for  Congregationalists. 

During Maine’s first decade of statehood in the 1820s, most prosperous towns such as Eastport had their own architect-builders to design and erect structures of all types. Most of these skilled individuals combined traditional building practices with a knowledge of published builders’ guides to create attractive homes, churches, and public buildings. Books by Englishman William Pain and American Asher Benjamin inspired many graceful examples of Federal-style architecture in Maine’s coastal communities. However, rarely is it possible to document just which books influenced an architect-builder of the period. One exception is Daniel Low of Eastport, whose work includes houses, churches, and a public hall. The seven books that we know he owned influenced designs that enhanced the built environment of his adopted community.

Low was born in Boston in 1779, the son of John and Esther Standish Low. Nothing is known of his early life or his professional training. But by 1800, he was working in Bath, Maine, at the age of 21, as both a housewright and a shipwright. Between 1801 and 1802, he was employed as a carpenter by Martin Cushing, one of Bath’s leading architect-builders. During this period, Cushing designed and oversaw the construction of Bath’s North Meetinghouse. One of the first Federal-style churches in Maine, the design was based on the widely used Plate 33 of Asher Benjamin’s The Country Builder’s Assistant, first published in 1797. Benjamin popularized the form of placing the entrance and the pulpit at opposite ends of the long rather than the short axis of a church.

As part of Martin Cushing’s North Meetinghouse crew, Low was exposed to every aspect of constructing a large timber-frame building. This project also gave him the opportunity to work with the experienced architect-builder Tileston Cushing, who was hired by Martin Cushing to oversee the framing of the church.

Low remained in Bath until 1809. In 1806 he married Elizabeth Crooker, and they started a family of two boys and three girls. By 1808 his business was sufficient to hire an apprentice. Little is known about Low between his last appearance in Bath in 1809 and his first project in Eastport in 1818. The only clues to his whereabouts are three references to his being in Tamworth, New Hampshire: the 1810 census, an 1810 deed, and a record of the birth of his son Isaiah in 1814.

By 1818 he had established himself as an architect-builder in Eastport, bringing with him professional experience and a small but significant library of builders’ guides. He used two of his books by Asher Benjamin in designing churches in Eastport. The first of these was the First Congregational Meetinghouse on Shackford Street. The foundation was laid in the fall of 1818, and the frame was raised in May 1819. On May 15, 1819, the Eastport Sentinel commented that “the whole work reflects the highest skill and fidelity of the master workman.” The building was completed by the end of 1819 at a cost of $10,343.25 and dedicated in January 1820. The handsome two-story frame structure featured a tower, belfry, and spire. Like Bath’s North Meetinghouse, the Federal-style design was based on Plate 33 of Benjamin’s The Country Builder’s Assistant—Low owned the 1805 edition of the book. He also had firsthand knowledge of the popular church form, based on his work in Bath. In addition, between 1802 and 1805, Low would have witnessed the construction of Bath’s South Meetinghouse, a similar Federal-style church that was designed and built by Tileston Cushing.