the Anchorage Newsletter, 2018



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.



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.

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.


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.


Panoramic Anchorage

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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.




The Summer Prequel, Part One: Getting There

IMG_3019In five weeks, I start my annual journey from Austin to mid-coast Maine.

The route I took last year is marked on my old Road Atlas in orange. I went through the Jim Crow rice fields of Arkansas and straight across Kentucky, cruising on its generous and restful parkways and veering north to cross the Ohio River on an old trestle bridge. On the drive out, I had my daughter, Jane, with me, and we shot straight up Ohio into New York so that she could see Niagara Falls. On the way back I cut across West Virginia on Route 50, taking on Appalachia one stubborn ridge at a time and plunging straight into the humid South, like Dante entering the gates of hell.

This year, I am going to avoid the sad flat part of Arkansas and cut across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, states that I have never seen. On some future trip, I will drive the back roads through bayou country, but this year I plan to take on the full length of the Blue Ridge Parkway from Georgia to Virginia, so I’ll make quick work of the redder states. I know the route from Virginia to Boston well; I lived in Charlottesville for six years. If I weren’t stopping off to see my parents, I might continue north on the Taconic and drive from the Adirondacks across the Green and White Mountains into central Maine.

I do love road trips. I like waking up before dawn and hitting the road as the sky begins to pale, smelling that early morning freshness as I tank up for the first time of the outskirts of some one horse town. I love one horse towns and even towns that are just a strip along the interstate. I like that sweet glimpse of life seen in the moment you drive past a backyard in some little town — a girl chasing her dog, a family seated outdoors at a table decorated with balloons and a paper cloth.

As many people have observed, the United States is full of small towns. They all have downtowns, hearkening back to the day when downtown was the center of life and commerce. Now that life has shifted elsewhere. I remember sitting on the high curb of my childhood downtown, Saxonville, watching an Independence Day parade.  Soon afterward, the carpet factory that was poisoning the water closed down, and Saxonville ceased to exist, just like that; letters mailed to us no longer mentioned it in their address, and even the elementary school changed its name to honor one of the former principals instead.

Our village became part ofsax04 Framingham, and the downtown shopfronts went to wrack and ruin. Of course, some a civic-minded former mill worker devoted her life to sparing the carpet factory from being torn to the ground; there is always someone like that, at least in New England. Her efforts paid off; the nineteenth-century buildings of that downtown, along with the Dickensian spires of the factory itself, were placed on the Historic Register in 1992. But as a community, Saxonville was gone forever.

Downtowns across America have met the same fate, and this is something you cannot help but notice when you drive across the country. The poorer the state, the more it seems apparent: in wealthy states, like Massachusetts, historical societies step in to protect us from our inclination to kill the past.

But in Arkansas, the downtowns I saw were tragic. Boarded over shops and restaurants lined the streets. Big agriculture rules this part of the world, and the seed shops gleamed with newness in stark contrast to defunct general stores and cafes that were literally deteriorating. I took a side trip to Hope, the birthplace of Bill Clinton, on the way home. I could not find his childhood home. The signs were vague; I lost the trail somewhere in the back streets of yet one more falling apart downtown.

IMG_2790The only place that was really jumping in Hope was the McDonalds on the outskirts of town, near the freeway interchange. It had a brisk two columned line at the drive through when I pulled in a few minutes later to purchase something my dog might eat. I pulled into a spare lot at eight in the morning; the sun was already mean and glaring. The dog sniffed at the burger and looked away. I should have ordered scrambled eggs for him. I took a bite out of my own Egg McMuffin and tried to imagine life here, with the twentieth century dismantled and the twenty-first century not yet in place.

I had spent the night before in a motel where homeless people lived. When you travel with a dog through middle America, you will stay in a lot of motels like this. I don’t mind. Families congregated around the pool, talking. Watching their children jump in the water gave me food for thought. The children’s enjoyment was restrained, almost polite. I wondered if they would remember this place, because of the pool.

A young Asian family had purchased the franchise several years before, and they were barely making a go of it themselves. The place was under construction in the haphazard way of people without a dime to spare. They had hired people to clean the rooms in exchange for a place to stay, which is a good idea, except it meant the rooms weren’t passably clean and were being cleaned at all hours of the day and night. Children’s bikes lined the corridor behind the office; they were living in the place themselves. I had the woman behind the desk move me from the first room she showed me because the mini fridge was still full of food, and the former occupants had been heavy smokers. She did it in an expressionless way, without surprise.

I wanted to say to her, I understand. I have my own money pit. But to her I was just another Potential Bad Review who had been lured in by the brand name recognition and would not be coming back.