Soon, Joe and Lisa McSwain will say goodbye to the high life.
The company they’ve run together for 25 years — Mid-Maine Restoration, founded in 1983 — will keep going, passed on to their lead foreman, Andrew Wilcox. He and his crew will continue to climb into church steeples and clock towers and other structures, a literally up-in-the-air style of work that has presented challenges and has drawn praise across New England.
“We’re proud to have a very, very clean safety record,” Lisa said. “We’re very careful. We’re hardly ever in a place where it’s not dangerous.”
“And you only get one fall,” Joe added.
Joe, who calls himself “the fourth, and possibly the fifth generation of my family to do this work,” established the company and has kept it going. Joe is 62 now and more inclined to keep his feet on the ground. Wilcox, 35, has been with the company since 2004 and has been slowly moving into position to take over. He now does the hiring. He becomes the owner Jan. 1.
“I like what we do,” said Wilcox, who will base the company in Waterville, where he lives. “We get to work on cool old buildings.”
As for the McSwains, this isn’t retirement, but they will be working at a lower elevation. They are launching a new company, Mid-Maine Millwork, that does fabricating, (a big part of Mid-Maine Restoration’s operation), millwork for local contractors and custom furniture. They have hopes for marketing and making more versions of a workbench Joe created for the shop. And Lisa will continue with her other business, WB Gardening, as she has for 22 years.
With Mid-Maine Millwork, Lisa said, “We’re going to do stuff other people don’t do.”
The McSwains’ capability to deliver on that promise is evident in their Edgecomb home and shop. They built the wood-frame house and workshop themselves, and the cozy home is filled with furniture and built-in features Joe created. In the course of his work with Mid-Maine Restoration, Joe accumulated a lot of hardware, because the particulars of each historical job dictated he re-create custom features that couldn’t be ordered at a big-box store. At the workshop, the McSwains showed off a piece of belfry deck railing from the Winter Street Church in Bath, a current project. The 40- to 50-year-old piece is an original; they’ll have to create an exact copy.
Also along the way, the McSwains and their workers have developed what Joe called “ancillary trades,” ones they’ve had to learn on the fly. “If you need plumbing in a tower, you better know how to do it,” Joe said. “You’re not going to get a plumber up there.”
Recent projects for Mid-Maine Restoration include the library tower at Colby College in Waterville and the Franklin County Courthouse dome in Farmington. The firm’s website and Facebook page are filled with photos, videos and news stories about its various projects. The particulars of the work get attention.
“We have never run out of work,” Joe said, though he did note that cultural changes — diminished church attendance, for example — have affected the growth of the business and what can be reasonably charged. Mid-Maine Restoration has been fortunate to become a mature company, he said, which means the McSwains are passing along not just a business but also a good name to Wilcox.
“He’s great with the customers,” Lisa said of Wilcox. “He’s going to do fine at this.”