Cumston Hall, the home of the Cumston Public Library and The Theater at Monmouth, has long been the been the center of the political and social life of the people of Monmouth. A strikingly handsome building, it dominates the main street of the town and has aroused the interest of passer-bye since its dedication in 1900. The building was named for Dr. Charles Cumston, for many years the Headmaster of Boston English High School. Retiring to Monmouth, Dr. Cumston decided to give his town a community hall which would house town offices, a town meeting hall, a public library, and an auditorium. The job of designing this building he entrusted to Harry Cochrane, a Maine man who had already garnered a regional reputation for his fine interior decorating work.
Cochrane decorated his first church in 1887, the same year in which he married Ida Lorena Gott of Monmouth. In an era of grand decoration, of stenciling and free-hand ornamentation of walls and ceilings, of marbleizing of plaster and wood, of gilding, and of painting murals and large in-situ oil paintings, Cochrane soon achieved regional acclaim for his work. Between 1887 and his death in 1946, he was commissioned to decorate upwards of 400 public buildings in Maine and New England, including churches, parish halls, convents, banks, and courthouses. In 1898, he won first prize in a competition to decorate the convention halls and rooms for the huge Knights Templar triennial conclave in Pittsburgh. Perhaps his most spectacular mural project would be the 1927 decoration of the Kora Temple in Lewiston.
Cochrane's talents extended far beyond murals, however. A true Renaissance man, he was a prolific poet, and an accomplished singer, composer, and conductor. Appointed in 1920 by Governor Milliken to be chairman of the Maine Centennial Committee, Cochrane wrote and produced a motion picture called The Romance of Maine. His Hymn, Prince of Peace, is still sung in Monmouth churches, and his best known painting, The Man on Horseback, now hangs in Monmouth's Methodist church. In addition, Cochrane established his own photographic studio in Gardiner.
This impressive list of achievements perhaps explains why Charles Cumston entrusted his project to Cochane, although Cochrane had never before designed a building. Given free rein over the project, Cochrane transformed the proposed town hall into a grand Romanesque Revival structure with opera hall, library, caucus room, and town office all in one. He designed and executed the plaster ornamentation, the stained glass windows, the stenciling and murals, the molding of the exterior and interior wood trim, and the color schemes. To cap his achievement, for dedication day in 1900, he composed the music and conducted the orchestra for the event.
Cumston Hall has served the town of Monmouth well over the years. Until 1952, all school affairs took place there. During the summers from 1952 until 1959 the American Savoyards delighted faithful audiences with their Gilbert and Sullivan productions in the intimate Victorian theater so well suited to those comic operas- and so well suited now to the magic of Shakespeare's plays. Much of the Cumston theater's charm is due to the cherubic frescoes Cochrane himself painted on the ceiling, and to his carving and hand-molded plaster work on the walls, boxes, and proscenium arch.
Named in 1973 to the National Register of Historic Places, Cumston Hall is sure to encourage for many years the affection for which it was built. The hall continues as the home of Cumston Public Library and the location of many community activities. Since 1970 Cumston Hall has been closely associated with the Theater at Monmouth, and during the summer months, the heart of the Hall is the theater, where artists make public and private praise to Harry Cochrane's masterpiece.