Late last winter and into the spring, coastal Maine was rocked by one heavy snow storm after another. Unfortunately, a casualty of that weather was one of the three old growth white pines on my property.
Because they are in the forest, and you can’t step back far enough to get a good image, it’s hard to get a picture of these old trees that does them justice. I took the photo above last summer of one of the two old growth white pines further up the property. You can see this tree from Deer Isle Bridge if you know where to look. It sticks up above the other treetops on the ridge and is probably about 150 feet tall.
The tree in question is lower down, in a boggy part of the property. Rot in the heart of the tree is what caused a third of it to come down. The trunk that came down is huge! Check it out, with apologies to the lackluster video skills.
The season is getting underway, so I thought I would write you all to spell out some details about the house.
The Anchorage was built in 1812 by Samuel Billings, the son of a major land grant settler to the peninsula — Billings Cove, which you can see from the front porch, was named after him.
A local family purchased the Anchorage and its land from Billings in 1826 and farmed the property year-round until the 1880s, when a Pennsylvania judge bought it and turned the place into a summer house. He held on to the place until the 1924, then sold it to one of his law firm colleagues. This second family owned the place until I bought it from them in the summer of 2015.
It is an old house, a big house, and it has been added on to several times, finally resulting in the upstairs dormers and three wings sprawling out from the original square configuration of the house. You can tell that the original influences on the house were European, and Gothic, but later on they added whatever suited either their needs or fancy. I particularly love the sweet little mural of birds painted on the mantel of the small downstairs bedroom.
When you arrive, the kitchen door will be open, and there will be keys on the table. Only the kitchen door locks from the outside. I’ll leave some lights on if it’s dark when you come. Walk up to the cabin behind the house if you want a tour of the property or any time you have questions. You can call or text me at (512) 590-5207.
You can park near the kitchen door if you need to. I would love it if you used the parking spots near the barn; it helps with erosion. Please do not park on the main drive or the drive up to the Cabin since you might block me or my guests in.
There is arsenic in the well water, a pretty typical thing up here because of all the granite ledges underground. It is safe to bathe and shower and brush your teeth in this water — skin contact isn’t dangerous — but you shouldn’t drink it.
There is filtered water at the kitchen tap that is safe to drink. This option leaves something to be desired — it fills slowly, and there is a loud trickling while the purified tank refills. I put a bowl over the drain, which really cuts down the sound of the water refilling.
The flasks on the counter are already filled and ready for use.
The Septic System
I put in a brand new septic system last year, which is why the lawn is looking pretty sad. Please only use the toilet paper I provide (single ply), and do not flush anything else, including feminine products. Also be careful about what you put in the sinks. No grease and as few food scraps as possible.
In the pantry off the kitchen, there are two large metal trash cans for trash and recycling. At the end of your stay, I will bring the trash and recycling to the town dump.
If you have tons of trash, you can take it yourself at any point; the Blue Hill Transfer Station is on the way to Ellsworth (and Acadia National Park).
Blue Hill Municipal does not recycle many things that I am used to recycling where I live in the winter. They are also constantly revising what they will and will not recycle based on their cost. The tag near the microwave is reasonably accurate, though.
Do not leave any trash outside, not even in cans. (See wildlife, below, to read more about the bears.)
Please show consideration for me by leaving the trash as tidy as possible.
Not a single one of my fireplaces (including the Franklin stove) is safe to use. A chimney professional sternly warned me that any one of them could cause a house fire, and fires here invariably lead to the loss of the house, as the fire department has no hydrants to tap into.
If you are cold in the morning, there is a space heater mounted to the wall in the kitchen and a couple of spare heaters in the laundry room. There are also working electric heaters in the two downstairs baths and the back bedroom. Please remember to turn these off when you’re not using them.
I provide all bed linens. There are towels in the linen closet of the east wing bathroom.
The user name and password are located on the back of the modem/router in the room with the television. The service is pathetic; we’re still on DSL.
However, it is fine for watching movies on Netflix or checking your email. The Blue Hill Library has fast service for downloading things to watch later.
Don’t be surprised if you see a bear. We have a mother with three half-grown cubs in Sargentville this summer. You might also see a bald eagle. I’ve seen them at Billings Cove.
There is a walking trail that starts by the barn and goes up to the blueberry field at the top of my property. Feel free to pick whatever you find. The berries ripen in mid-July and are available until August 15.
Where’s the closest grocery store?
Blue Hill has a regular grocery store, Tradewinds. I love that they have a local section from which you can get a number of fresh meat and dairy products, as well as artisan products. There is also the Blue Hill Coop for people who like to eat organic and local produce
The Blue Hill Farmer’s Market is on Saturday mornings, at the fairgrounds (top of the hill on your way out of town and headed for Ellsworth. Brooksville also has a farmer’s market on Tuesday morning, held in back of the Buck’s Harbor General Store, which is (by the way) a great place for coffee and muffins.
The Eggemoggin Reach Country Store prides themselves on carrying everything you need, and mostly they deliver. This old-fashioned general store is one half a mile up the road from the house.
Where can I get live lobster?
The Fish Net restaurant in Blue Hill is the easiest and most reliable option — unless you are in Stonington. Stonington pulls in more lobster than any other port in Maine, making it the lobster capital of the world, and live ones can be found at several venues there, including the Lobster Coop. There are also any number of casual spots where you can get it in season. If you see a sign, stop and get some.
Where can I get a family dinner that tastes good and is no fuss?
The Mariner’s Pub has surprisingly good food — considering that they intended to build a place for locals to gather, play cribbage, and drink — and it is reasonably priced.
L.L. Frijoles is also decent. It’s not really Mexican food, but close enough! Bonus: swing sets for the kids while you wait for the order to be ready.
In Blue Hill, Marlintinis, opposite Viking Lumber on the outskirts of town, is another reliable no fuss option. Standard pub and seafood fare, giant portions.
Please note that many restaurants are closed on either Sunday or Monday nights.
Tuesday night, you can drive to Tinder Hearth in Brooksville and dine al fresco on their homemade pizza, a very popular destination for summer people. You must call ahead to reserve a spot and make your pizza selection, and in August, that generally means calling a few days ahead.
Where can I get a fancy dinner?
Portland’s premiere food magazine voted Arborvine, in Blue Hill, one of its two area picks for best restaurant. The other is Aragosta in Stonington.
What’s with the window screens?
The house uses an old-fashioned wooden screens that adjust to fit exactly into the lower part of the window; you have to insert them manually. If you line them up correctly, these peculiar screens are a very effective barrier against mosquitos. If mosquitos are getting into your room at night, it is probably because they came in during the day and are attracted to your light. Making sure all the outside doors and screen doors are closed before it gets dark helps to keep them at bay.
Speaking of screens, there are fans in many of the bedroom closets. It can get hot in the upstairs bedrooms, but an hour of running a fan will cool things off. In three summers now, I have never known it to stay warm once the sun goes down.
Is there beach access?
Billings Cove and a nice gravelly beach are at the end of the Shore Road (about two-tenths of a mile down Reach Road if you head left at the end of the driveway). The beach is ostensibly private, but the owners do allow foot traffic.
If you don’t want to walk all the way, you can park along the Shore Road and continue down by foot, or you can drive down and drop people off. Billings Cove, on the right as you walk down, has warmer water for wading, and the Reach waters are warmer than the Atlantic Ocean. There are spectacular views of the Deer Isle Bridge.
For swimming, nearby Walker’s Pond also has a public beach. There is a nice shallow spot for young children and a section with deeper water for more experienced swimmers. The beach is located on a dirt road just before you reach the Caterpillar Hill overlook, on the left side of Route 15. It’s about two miles from the house.
For a real beach experience, head to Stonington and Sand Beach. You drive out of Stonington on Sand Beach Road and look for the parking area on the left about two miles out of town. This beach is amazing for this part of Maine. Real sand, beautiful views.
What else is there to do?
Blue Hill is a good place to get information if you want to know about music festivals, theatre performances, the location of artist studios, and (yes, even) wineries. Stop off at the Blue Hill Library and ask at the front desk. You can also contact Kneisel Hall for information about their 2018 Chamber Music Season.
Every summer on Deer Isle, the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, hosts programs in the blacksmithing, clay, glass, and other fine crafts. Artisans share their inspiration via evening sessions throughout the 2018 season.
One trip that is partcularly fun for kids is Nervous Nellie’s Jams and Jellies, on Deer Island. “Nellie’s” partner, Peter Beerits, has transformed several acres of woods and a “town” out of found objects, including real buildings hauled to the store site. You can wander through it all and maybe even say hello to the sculptor.
My contractor, Henry Borntraeger, has a licensed lobster boat and can take you out. I don’t know what he charges. He says if you will help pull lobster pots, you can have free lobsters for dinner, though. Contact him at 207.348.6652.
For desperate times, there is a water slide/ and a mini golf place on the road to Bar Harbor. Neither are amazing, but your kids will like them. Tasha’s, opposite the Mariner’s Pub, has a driving range and modest minigolf course.
Castine is a beautiful town with a lot of history — it was occupied by the British during the War of 1812 — about one hour on the back roads. The drive alone is fun, with great views of the Bagaduce River.
For antique combing, I recommend heading off the peninsula and driving another 15 miles or so to Searsport, which once was a wealthy merchant’s town. Now it is a row of stately homes with breathtaking views of Penobscot Bay, surrounded by antique malls and flea markets. There are tons to choose from.
I’ll be making some changes to this website in the coming weeks. It has lacked a focus because I was unsure what direction I wanted to take with the property. So I stopped updating the blog and working on other parts of the site.
This year has brought me some clarity. I can hardly wait to share more details with you. First, though, I’m going to work a bit on the site design.
Hello, blog followers. It’s been awhile. For someone who spent much of the summer lying in a hammock and thinking about the future, I have been reluctant to take action, and the months since my last series of posts have been full of self-induced stress.
A Summer of Renovation Projects and Small Disasters
My beloved seven-year-old poodle, Hazy, suffered a gastric hemorrhage on the drive from Austin to Maine, setting the stage for a season of emotional burn out and self-doubt. One minute I was taking photos of a quaint mountain town in North Carolina, the next minute I was looking at a mess of raspberry colored blood and tissue that my dog squirted out all over the sidewalk, sighing politely, unable to wait a second longer. The next day, after many frantic phone calls, I found a veterinarian who was willing to examine my dog and take him for the day to give intravenous fluids. Apparently dogs die not from shedding out a layer of their intestine, as horrible as that sounds, but from the severe dehydration that follows.
The dog returned the next morning for evaluation and was pronounced good to go; in the photo above, he is resting with the IV port still in his leg. I highly recommend Riversong Vet Clinic in Brevard, North Carolina, by the way. They are skilled and compassionate people who did not hesitate to help an unknown animal in need despite having a heavy case load that day.
The road trip was rife with other annoyances, such as a flat tire on the Blue Ridge Parkway and a power outage that shut down the entire city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, forcing me to seeking lodgings elsewhere, but the dog and I also enjoyed views like these as we inched our way toward the Shenandoah Valley.
Our arrival to the property was presaged by many messages and photos from Dave Simmons, the handyman I hired a few months earlier to take care of the place. Ben Webb, the excavator, postponed work on the septic system through an unseasonably warm autumn, the entire winter, and into the spring. Dave sent a photos of the property in April showing the complete upheaval of the front yard and removal of the stairs leading to the porch. It was a mess for a long time, something my neighbors let me know about whenever I spoke with them that summer.
Finally, in late April, Ben smoothed dirt over the concrete tubes of the leach field and planted grass seed. He was not done with the project; the lines connecting the two septic tanks still needed to be buried in the side yard. That part of the project was incomplete until July, when the first Airbnb guests of the season arrived.
Meanwhile, the handyman and my new carpenter, Henry Borntraeger IV, convinced me that I needed to roof much of the Estemeer (or north wing) of the house, mostly to get rid of a deep swale on the west side of the building caused by a quick structural fix some years back. The swale wasn’t causing damage — structurally, the whole building is pretty sound — but no one could be convinced of that fact, and since the whole roof really needs to be replaced anyhow, I let them go at it.
Generally speaking, when contractors look at this section of the building, the advice is to tear it down. I understand. It is a hodgepodge of pig sheds and outhouses creatively grafted to what was once, perhaps, the summer kitchen. But it’s my favorite part of the house, and rather than destroy it, I am going to restore, insulate, and turn the Estemere into a workable year-round apartment for some young couple who wants to live on my place and help with chores. At least, that is the goal at this writing.
About That Fire?
A while back, I wrote about my misadventures with a certain chimney sweep. Since that time, I’ve lost another chimney stack and found out that none of my existing fireplaces are safe, though occasional use of the Franklin stove in the Anchorage kitchen was deemed acceptable. A hole directly over where former occupants stacked the firewood in the garage off the barn led to some extremely smoky and disappointing fires in that uncomfortable hearth, making me all the more eager to roof that part of the barn before too much damage sets in. In the meanwhile, I had the roofers cover the affected areas with plastic tarp.
This autumn’s goal is to get at least one fireplace — namely the fieldstone hearth in the great room of the Cabin — in working order. This one structure has already cost me nearly $5,000 since it had to be cut around when we lifted the Cabin last summer in order to put in a solid foundation. The carpenters had to saw through two main beams that may or may not provide structural support; since the room seems to have been built along the classic principles of pier and beam architecture, one would assume that they are, but on the other hand, the left side of the chimney was built right into a beam, which feels more decorative than supportive.
No one can figure it out. Right before I left Maine for the season, I had the structural engineer out to meet with the carpenter in order to see what steps needed to be taken to preserve the structural integrity of that portion of the building. (I had already contracted a mason who, for just over $7,000, would rebuild the entire top of the chimney stack and remove the lead flashing, which now hung uselessly, like fish scales, about six inches shy of the new roof line.) It was a fruitless meeting in which the two men basically decided that they agreed with one another about everything, and I remained none the wiser about what, in fact, would be done.
I may not have been paying the best attention, though. I was at my wit’s end because my 80-year-old mother had just major surgery after spending months in agony from a cyst that had grown up against her spine and was pressing on the sciatic nerve. I wanted to spend time with my parents, but my father was angry at me because I was not spending enough time with my parents, and his wrath was keeping me both guilty and away. After years of worrying about what might happen if my father died first, I had an unpleasant flash forward to that alternate reality in which mom left my father on his own. I didn’t like it. My father is so anxious and set in his ways that my mother absolutely has to outlive him.
Idle thoughts like these crowded my brain, joining the series of renovation plans that needed to happen, might happen, and would probably never happen. I also had this to contend with:
Two dogs in the backseat. Two dogs needing to be fed, taken out, driven over 2,000 miles back to Austin. One of them peed about once every 20 minutes. No wonder I was unable to concentrate. I was at the absolute maximum of what I could handle.
To Sum Things Up
The masons are still working on the chimney, and they have pointed out that I’ll need to have the firebox rebuilt as well. In case anyone has been keeping tabs, that’s close to $15,000 just to have fire in one fireplace. The carpenters finishing trimming the wall where the Cabin’s second chimney used to be, and somewhere along the way, they dropped a tool on the brand new lavatory sink, causing a massive chip in the porcelain finish. No one has accepted responsibility for this damage; the caretaker merely suggested that I should purchase a new sink. The old sink had to be replaced because the washer was shot, and given the age of the sink, there was no way repair it. The new sink had been installed for less than a month when this happened.
I am back in Austin. It’s been a hot and humid autumn. The puppy has grown almost to the size of my adult poodle. My mother is mending nicely. Before long, it will be Winter Break.
I took this shot a couple of days after returning to Maine. It is not at all how a person would actually visualize the houses in relation to each other, but at the same time the panorama image captures the ramshackle essence of the Anchorage pretty exactly.
Three different builders have suggested abolishing the Estemere — the spot where (I guess) a pig shed and outhouse were joined to the kitchen ell — but for me those additions make the house special. It is not just an original farmhouse but has served two unique purposes, first as a farmhouse and then as a summer house. Both are worth preserving.