Blaze of Glory
The battle was already lost by the time a crew from the Brunswick Fire Department put their hoses to work on this inferno at Domhegan, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's former twenty-three-bedroom summer estate on Simpson's Point, back in May 1940. In this historic photograph you can see that the roof on the two-story ell, at right, has already collapsed, and a few flaming timbers are all that remain of a single-floor dinner shed, at far right. Smoke seeps from the eave below the main house's right-hand dormer, and the widow's walk above has begun to disappear behind a veil of smoke. The men in the foreground may well be caretaker Ernest Prindall and one of his sons; both realize, perhaps, that they and their family of six would lose all of their possessions in the blaze. (A dog, at lower left, seems unharmed.)
Just moments after this dramatic photograph was taken firemen were able to get water from their five-hundred-gallon tanker truck and possibly even from the shore of Casco Bay only ninety yards away, preventing the circa-1789 structure from collapsing like the ell. The charred shell of the main house remained standing for another sixteen years after this remarkable photograph (selected from the collection of longtime Brunswick fireman Alfred "Freddy" LeTarte) was taken, but Chamberlain's cottage would shelter its inhabitants no longer.
Had he been alive to see it, Domhegan's demise might have actually been a relief for Brevet Major-General Chamberlain, who had renovated the former church building-turned-shipyard bunkhouse just a few years before retiring as president of nearby Bowdoin College in 1883. Chamberlain enjoyed sailing his schooner, Pinafore, from the wharf here and reportedly cherished the spot so deeply that he had his trusted warhorse, Charlemagne, buried on the site (though searches of the property have never been able to locate the horse's grave or any remains). In the 1890s he unsuccessfully tried to use the property as a summer art colony, and by the early twentieth century he had taken to hiring it out as an inn. By the 1930s, with Domhegan having passed to Chamberlain's daughter, the estate remained largely vacant, save for the Prindalls.
In the end Chamberlain, who so respected his Confederate adversaries that he had his men salute them when he received the formal surrender of weapons and colors at Appomattox, might have been pleased to see his beloved summer residence go up in a ball of fire, rather than fade away like so many old soldiers.