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Harbor Crest Inn (Mercer Mansion)

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The Harbor Crest was long known as the Mercer Mansion. The property was also known as the Richard Adams House, The Cadwallader Place, Dinah’s Hill and most recently the home of Rear Admiral and Mrs. Eliot Olsen, and now the 1730 Harbor Crest. 

The history of Harbor Crest is in four parts, corresponding to the architectural changes. Built in the 1730’s, the house was originally owned by Richard Adams (1715-1745) and his brother John Adams (1713-1758). It was located on the present lot, close to York Street. The original structure was a typical early eighteenth-century York dwelling consisting of a “two-over-two” layout, that is, two rooms on each of two floors extending the full depth of the house and separated by a massive central chimney. Numerous examples of this style survive in York; it appears to have been far more common than the cape style.

Although the most significant remodeling of this house did not take place until 1899, there is evidence of more modest “modernization” in the mid-nineteenth century. This too typifies the architectural history of the town of York; though the town has few complete houses in the Greek Revival style, one finds many eighteenth-century houses that were partially or entirely remodeled in that style. Such examples being the Alexander Rulman House and the Josiah Gilman House, both on York Street in the Village.

Typically the windows were enlarged, and some interior woodwork was replaced. In this case, it is likely that the front stairways, some door mantels, and other woodwork date from this period, as well as the thicker outside wall of the east bedroom.

The 1876 Centennial prompted a revival of interest in the colonial era, and owners and architects began to rediscover the surviving architecture of the eighteenth century. Meticulous restoration, as we know it today, was not, however, the fashion in the late nineteenth century. Architects sought to enhance the old structures, and took considerable liberties in doing so; thus the “Colonial Revival” was born. The evolution of the simple Adams House into the Mercer Mansion exemplifies this process, and the result was a striking example of Colonial Revival style, encompassing and transforming the basic structure.

Henry C. Mercer of Doylestown, Pennsylvania was a well-known anthropologist and archaeologist (he probably provided the unusual tiles for the parlor fireplaces). Using services of the prolific York architect and builder E.B. Blaisdell, Mercer had the Adams House moved back from the street to the crest of the rising lot and made it the center of a spacious summer “cottage’ in what was then simply called the “Colonial” style. The major additions included a central portico with columns rising two stories, covered verandahs extending to either side, a kitchen and service ell complete with carriage house, and probably the large living room at the rear of the main house. A new roofline including hipped dormers created a usable third story. Although the newspaper cut is an architect’s rendering, surviving photographs indicate that this design was essentially the one executed.

The Henry Mercers were friends of the John Cadwalladers who owned the cottage next door; in many ways it resembled the Mercers’. Mrs. Cadwallader later purchased the Mercer Mansion and called it “Dinah’s Hill”. Because the building remains essentially as it was remodeled in 1899, the historic name remains, correctly the Mercer Mansion.

The period following World War II saw the wane of the great summer cottage and the gracious style of living that this creation was intended to house. The large buildings became expensive and impractical, even for summer use. At Bar Harbor, for example, some of the cottages had already been torn down prior to the 1947 fire which destroyed a majority of those remaining. York Harbor had no such disaster, and many fine examples survived to be restored. But in the 1940’s there was no market for them, and many fell into disrepair.

Ownership of the Mercer Mansion remained in the Cadwallader family until September of 1950, at which time if was sold the Christiana M. McGinnis of York, a real estate broker. It is reasonable to assume that the house was at that time in poor condition, that Mrs. McGinnis purchased it as an investment, and that she was responsible for the major remodeling that took place within the next four years. By the 1950’s a trend had begun to convert summer cottages for year-round use, such conversions continue to be made in York today.

The 1951-1955 remodeling included the removal of the columned portico with its peaked roof and triangular gable window. The projecting entryway and the enclosed sunroom above it, which had been contained within the portico, were now topped with a plain shed roof. The front verandahs were entirely removed, leaving only the enclosed portion at the west end. The windows of the ell were replaced with oversized double-hung sash with heavy muntins. At this time this house was equipped with modern plumbing and heating systems. In December of 1956, the Eliot Olsens purchased the property.

Before condemning the modifications which so greatly reduced the visual impact of this fine Colonial Revival building, it is important to bear in mind that restoration as we know it today was then in its infancy, largely restricted to museum projects. The building trades attracted few young people and even the skilled tradesmen of the day generally followed the fashion and tried to modernize and simplify old buildings, using stock materials and product.

In 2005, the Dominguez family purchased the Mercer Mansion. They have revitalized the fascinating mixture of periods and style in the building and restored the original design while treating the house with the dignity and respect it deserves. For example, the outstanding paneled wall of the west bedroom retains some of the appearance of the early eighteenth century Adams homestead. 

The Dominguez family has a heritage of Innkeeping, owning and revitalizing the celebrated York Harbor Inn just down the street since 1980. The Dominguez’s have carefully transformed the Mercer Mansion into an historic Inn and renamed it the 1730 Harbor Crest for its prime location in the seaside village of York. By refurbishing seven unique guest rooms, and adding private baths, the architectural heritage of the home can be witnessed and enjoyed by modern day visitors. The common areas of the grand house, the parlor and dining room are perfect for gatherings of families or small private groups. 

In fact, 1730 Harbor Crest can be reserved in its entirety for a special occasion, a small wedding party or even an important business retreat of VIPs.

The Dominguez family is pleased to add this tremendously historic building to its family of Inns including the York Harbor InnHarbor Hill Inn and Harbor Cliffs Bed & Breakfast.