the Anchorage Newsletter, 2018

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Hi, folks!

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.

 

Arrival

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.

Parking

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.

The Water

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.

Trash Removal

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.

Fire

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.

Linens

I provide all bed linens. There are towels in the linen closet of the east wing bathroom.

Internet

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.

Wildlife

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.

FAQ

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.

 

Changes Are Coming

IMG_3573I’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.

 

I Battle the Local Telecommunication Provider, and Other Headaches

cropped-img_17751.jpgThis morning finds me at the Blue Hill Library, a comforting establishment that is hand’s down nicer than any branch of the public library that I’ve patronized in Austin. It’s a pleasant place to work, with several quiet rooms where folks with laptops and devices congregate. When my daughter was here last month, she spent many afternoons here watching movies and television on her iPad. The library also sponsors a wide variety of events — there is even an art gallery upstairs — and has things on display like the facsimile edition of a book written in calligraphy and magnificently illustrated by Carl Jung. It’s a great resource to have.

The Peninsula is an interesting amalgamation of wealthy summer people, writers and artists who live here year round, and locals who keep the infrastructure running. I feel that I simply could not have picked a better place to live once Jane graduates high school and I move here for good. My neighbors are friendly and welcoming. Several women are fixing up (or have fixed up) old houses on their own, just like me, and my next door neighbor is cleaning out the Anchorage for the first renters.

Yet the process I’ve stepped into is daunting.

For instance, I am here at the library, rather than drinking a cup of coffee and sitting at my laptop in the privacy of home, because Fairpoint Communications refuses to install my wireless. Well, refuses is perhaps not the right word. They can’t bring DSL to my property because they are at capacity along my phone line and need to put in some new piece of equipment to boost the signal or whatever it is they do. Speeds at the tiny Sargentville Library branch, just three doors down from the Anchorage, are considerably down from last summer, suggesting that the boost is needed already.

And yet, a simple fix that would take three days in Austin is scheduled to take three months in this neck of the woods. I have been calling the company every few days, but they are comfortable stonewalling and remain resolutely courteous, a tough nut to crack. As the only internet provider to this part of the world, they can simply do what they want. The worst part? The DSL capacity is 15 mbps. That’s not enough to watch a movie or download any documents of consequence, so it looks like I’ll be working at the Blue Hill Library some days even after the service is finally installed.

And There’s More

Complaining about the lack of a 15 mbps internet service seems ridiculous when problems are cropping up everywhere around me:

  • The foundation of the Anchorage desperately needs shoring up beneath the dining room floor. The obviousness of this problem, which I feel should have been taken care of last year, makes me doubt the carpenter’s abilities.
  • There is a serious looking drywall crack in a downstairs corridor ceiling that I hope the carpenter can fix before the renters arrive on Saturday.
  • The gardens are a mess.
  • The woman who mows my lawn quit after breaking two windows last time she was here because she kicked up rocks under the mower. (She did fix the windows. Sort of.) The rocks are there because the excavator never cleaned the site after moving earth last year. I hesitate to reprimand him because he so cheap and otherwise decent and has a huge backlog of work. Besides, I hired the woman who mows to seed those areas. That work was not really done satisfactorily. The woman’s elderly mother has wrested the account from her daughter and will be coming to do the lawns tomorrow after a day of chemo treatments. This is not confidence inspiring.
  • The tree guy I hired has completely disappeared on me.
  • There has been some sort of argument or misunderstanding between the painter and the carpenter, and some of the work I contracted never was finished. I don’t believe this is work I paid for, just work they promised to do and never did. I have spoken with them several times, and they play dumb. Very frustrating.

Looking around the cabin yesterday afternoon — one can ascend into the building from a stepladder placed on the concrete footing where the bedroom fireplace once stood — I noticed something rather alarming. The north wall of the building is a bit out of whack and seems perilously close to slipping off its support beam. This would be kind of bad. Some of the workmen will be at the house tomorrow, and I’ll have them take a look and see what can be done.

If I had internet at my place, I’d post a picture of this problem. Instead, enjoy this little video of two poodles playing at the local beach.

Finally, A Closer Look Inside

 

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. Not only is this the grueling part of my teaching semester, but I also feel more generally burnt out. Since the divorce a few years ago, I’ve been tackling one big project at a time without a significant pause to focus on myself or slow things down. My mind and body have decided, I suppose, to stage a coup. I am sleeping more and ramped up my self-care efforts; after a long phase of very little activity other than walking my dog, I’ve begun strength training and regular aerobic exercise again. Fortunately, in a couple of weeks, the semester will be over, and I’ll have time to get in a rhythm of weekly blog posts and think about how to present information in the year ahead.

Meanwhile, I decided to hire the Davis Agency, which lists properties on the Blue Hill Peninsula as well as nearby Mount Desert Island, to manage the Anchorage and Cabin for me as seasonal vacation rentals next summer. I sent their representative some photos so that she could give me an estimate of how much I might charge per week for the place. Once she and I talk on the phone again, I’ll start posting this information to the blog and on my Facebook page.

It occurred to me, as I compiled the photos, that I have never really given my readers here a run through of the place.

Although I’m not thrilled with the quality of these photographs — many were taken on a cloudy day, and a few are not well focused — at least they give an idea of what the houses look like on the inside.

The Tour

Let’s start with the barn. Note the row of small square windows near the Mail Attachment 4corner roof. There are two lofts inside; the one with the windows was used as a home gym. An ancient bench press that must weigh several hundred pounds is parked in there. There is even a shower, though it doesn’t work at present. The ground floor is big enough for someone to work on a small boat or have an artist’s studio; there are nice workbenches in place.

As everyone has remarked, the barn is “spooky.” I thought so myself. It’s dark in there! If you open both large, sliding doors it’s quite nice, though. I especially like the view of the house from there. But I need to have an electrician out to see about reinstalling the electricity.

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The main house, the Anchorage, was built in 1812 by a member of the John Billings family, who received a large land grant in the area. Details about the first years of the house vary. It is described as the “Billings Homestead” in the Sedgwick Bicentennial brochures; copies of the original deed hang in one of the downstairs bedrooms. I will write more on the history of the house at another time, though. I need to speak with the Sargentville librarian and the family who owned the place before me so that I can piece together the facts and place the construction and occupancy of the house in a proper historical context. It’s clear that at least two additions to the original house have been made — at the north end of the house, someone grafted an outhouse and a pig shed on to the back — and that one bedroom, possibly a parlor or winter kitchen, was converted into a downstairs bath.

The house has three wings radiating out from the dining room, which is the center of the house. Each of these wings can be a separate apartment; they have their own baths, doors that close them off from the rest of the house, and separate entrances.

  • The east wing has one double bedroom and a full bath with clawfoot tub. I imagine that the full bath was crafted out of a sitting room or parlor — note the circular window in the shower, which looks out on the wraparound porch on the south side of the house.
  • The west wing, right off the dining room, is composed of a sitting room (also known as “the Map Room”), two bedrooms — a single twin and a double — and a bath with shower. The Map Room currently has a fireplace, but that is the chimney I had removed, and the carpenter recommended that the internal fireplace be taken out as well because its weight is putting a strain on the foundation. This is the only real structural change I intend to make to the Anchorage.
  • The north wing, which contains the functional parts of the house, runs from the kitchen back through a beautiful bedroom with a bay window, a large utility room, a shower and a very unique toilet, which the contractors have dubbed “the throne.”

The house is full of nooks and rambling passage, like the walk through closet that links the single bedroom on the west wing to the Map Room. The steep stairs to the second floor are behind a doorway off the dining room that, at first glance, seems to be a closet. In the north wing, a long corridor ends with an the laundry room, then veers off to the left, where there is a winter entrance leading to a rambling three-quarter bath.

The toilets in the house are wonderful. Apparently bathrooms were installed only recently because the summer family that owned the place did not want to destroy the authenticity of the experience with modern conveniences. Perhaps that is why they created such unique, fun, and comfortable baths when they finally got around to it.

“The throne,” a toilet perched high at the north end of the house, beyond the utility room, is perhaps my favorite place in the house. Open panels on either side of the stairs that lead to this toilet let in fresh air and summer breeze; you can sit uninterrupted, reading in the natural light. The bathrooms also have working heaters, which is a nice touch.

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I’m especially disappointed in the photos of the Cabin. They completely fail to capture the charm of the place — its high ceilings, the finished bedrooms contrasting with the unfinished kitchen, the comfort of the porch. It looks ramshackle in the pictures, and it isn’t, not at all. It was built of solid materials and is durable and well-thought out in terms of its design. The Adirondack rusticity forms a nice counterpoint to the Continental touches of the Anchorage. It is so pleasant that several people who were interested in buying the property expressed a desire to keep the Cabin and tear down the main building. Unthinkable — but a good indication of how the Cabin makes you feel when you step inside and walk around.

I will be finishing this house off over the next several years, starting with a proper foundation next June. The back wing of the house is sinking badly and needs immediate attention. I thought about tearing off that wing –and the contractors didn’t disagree — but I like the idea of dividing off a section of the big bedroom at the back of the house to make a utility room. Skylights in that bedroom will bring in light, and once the brush is down, and some landscaping is in place out back, it will make a wonderful room for guests.