In Which I Peruse the Sargentville Library Archives

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My daughter Jane and my father, Robert Fulton, standing on the front steps of the Sargentville Library.

I recently received a message from Pam Simmons, who has been helping to preserve the community’s local history. She has just finished the onerous task of putting all the Sargentville library archives online.

Sargentville, like most villages on the Blue Hill Peninsula, has a library that serves the almost two thousand residents of Sedgwick, the larger town of which Sargentville is a part. Founded in 1874, at the height of the village’s heyday, the Victorian style cottage across from Settler’s Rest, the local cemetery, was completed in 1905. The building has no plumbing; digging a well through the bedrock was more expense than the Library Association Board of Trustees could justify.

It is open just twice a week, and one of those days the staff hosts hosts a book club whose members overwhelm the tiny reading room. As a service to the community, the library maintains an open DSL signal that anyone — summer visitors and locals alike — can access in order to check their emails in a pinch. My daughter and have I spent many hours on the front porch, seated in the comfy lilac-colored Adirondack chairs provided by the staff, getting caught up with our friends back home.

Last summer, I met Pam somehow — I want to say that we were introduced at the summer solstice party given by my next door neighbor, but that might not be accurate — and accepted her invitation to view some archival documents related to the Anchorage. Pam is only a part-time resident; most of the year she lives in California. Her family home is further down Reach Road from me, overlooking the center of Sargentville, which once had a gas station, a general store, and an ice skating rink.

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Dad on the stoop of Davis Piano, the sole business in downtown Sargentville. Behind him is the site of the former gas station and general store.

Pam was also kind enough to show me around her house, which, like the Anchorage, retains its original central chimney. Pam recently had hers completely rebuilt and each of its four fireplaces restored to their original function. (Only the ground floor fireplaces remain in the Anchorage.) Although the day was warm and bright, she had a brisk fire going in the room where we looked at the archives.

The history surrounding my house is not altogether clear. A book written by a local historian, Abby Sargent Neese, claims that the Anchorage was moved from elsewhere to its present location. Not so, insists Sylvia Conner Wardwell, the energetic and forceful matriarch who climbed my porch steps last summer with a binder containing the original copy of her pictoral memoir, As I Recall, in her hands. (Pam helped her publish the manuscript last fall, and I received a copy of my own in the mail.) Sylvia Wardwell told me that Samuel Billings built the house himself and that it was his crowning achievement. In the archives, Pam notes that it might have been built by Abel and Benjamin Billings instead.

The house passed into the hands of Benjamin’s daughter, Phebe, who lived there with her husband, Daniel Peters, their son, Moses Pillsbury Peters, and his wife, Salome. Sewell E. Peters, presumably the son of Moses and Salome, sold the house in 1897 to Judge Knapp, a Scranton lawyer, who was the first to use it as a summer place. Knapp is the one who named the house the Anchorage. In 1924, he sold the place to Walter Hill, one of his law firm partners. The Peck children from whom I purchased the house are Hill’s direct descendants.

What people seem in agreement about is the fact that the house is haunted. Otis Sewall Peters — the son of Moses Pillbury and Salome — apparently died of a fever in one of the downstairs bedrooms, and the spirit of “Little Otie” continues to preside over the house. Although a number of my neighbors greeted me with this news, I feel pretty confident that I inherited a romantic story more than a friendly ghost — in their 90-year tenure there, the Peck and Peterson families never caught a single glimpse of Otie. If he does haunt the Anchorage, he exerts a benevolent influence. He certainly appears to have been much loved in his short lifetime. His marble tombstone, with the single blooming rose, is the most poignant monument in Settler’s Rest.

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A Few Words About the Trees

There are two large deciduous trees blocking a clear view of the Reach at the far side of my property:

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The leftward tree obscures the view of my neighbor’s house across the field; right next to it is the other tree. These trees are marked for execution, and before the end of the summer, I hope, they will be gone. They have to go not because they block my water view but because they have grown up inconveniently, among the electrical wires. In fact, the rightward trees has grown right around the guide wire that serves several other properties, and the power will have to be suspended when the trees come down so that no one dies while the work is being done. Continue reading “A Few Words About the Trees”

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.

The Journey Continues

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A lot has happened since I posted that snowy photo of Maine in the middle of last winter.

Now here it is, the beginning of the summer season, and my cabin is still perched high in the air as the slow layers of a new foundation take shape underneath. The ground is so boggy on the north side that Ben Webb, my pragmatic excavator, decided that this side had to be poured after the rest of the structure, and that is the reason I will be forced out of the place during the first week I use the main house as a summer vacation rental.

More on that tomorrow. For today, enjoy some beautiful flowers from the property back when I visited in May.

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An Update on the Site

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Hey, Everyone.

I haven’t posted in a while because I need to upgrade this site from a blog to a website, which means there’s a bunch of stuff I have to figure out. Best guess for that development is mid March. That also sounds like a good time to start gearing up for the summer.

Meanwhile, it’s a balmy 80 degrees here in Austin. Happy winter!

Cover image: “Snowy Trees,” by Michael Heisel