Thursday, August 25, 2016

Postcards from Maine: Searsport Haunted House... Oh, No!

Your Maine postcards will be arriving here in a torrent shortly. Regard them as you would any stack of cards from a nutty old-lady friend — with a tolerant eye.

Let's get the sad, bad news over with first. One of Maine's most romantic ruins, the picturesque, melting Victorian on Route 1 in Searsport, is being slowly dismantled by its owner.

Along with many other intrigued passersby, I've photographed this house a few times in recent years. Here's a photo from this past June:


When we drove by early last week, there was a large truck trailer parked in front, obscuring part of the house, and we didn't stop to take pictures. I knew something was up so I did a little research and found news stories from June and July.

I was surprised to find a link to A Proper Bostonian in this article in the Bangor Daily News.

Here's another story from WABI-TV. 

In a nutshell, the owner is taking the house apart, plank by plank, and nail by nail, because the town code enforcement officer decided it was too hazardous to exist — in spite of the No Trespassing signs.

I never walked around to the back of the house or even got very close to it (tall grass, ticks, possible snakes, vestigial sense of propriety, twelve years of Catholic school). The back of the house collapsed after the hard winter of 2014–15, making it more dangerous for explorers. I would have liked to have seen it.

It didn't stop this intrepid Maine artist and blogger, whose posts about the house include her recent photos of the interior. (Now I will forever wish I had less propriety and Catholic schooling. But her adventure proved the code-enforcement officer's point.)  She also talked to the owner and wrote about the early history as well as the more recent history of the house.

Here is a photo of the house in its heyday, looking perfectly groomed:

Photo by Harriet Hichborn. Courtesy of the Penobscot Marine Museum, Searsport, Maine. 
The Museum has an extensive and interesting online photo database and 
the Harriet Hichborn Collection will be added to it soon

Details about its history are hazy. It was built sometime in 1830s or '40s by Joseph Park, a sea captain (Searsport was full of sea captains). Captain Park and his wife Susan raised a family there and he became a farmer. He died in 1884. The current owner, a Mr. Brown, of Belfast, bought the house in the 1990s, planning to tear it down and start a flea market and antiques business. When eBay came along, he changed his mind about the viability of such a business. He abandoned his plan and the property.

While the house's destruction was inevitable, I still hoped it would never happen, or that it would collapse from exposure to the elements, without human intervention. It's sad, but at least Mr. Brown is being meticulous and respectful about removing its valuable woodwork and other details.

Naturally, my husband and I were dying to see the house on our drive home — perhaps for the last time. I had my iPhone at hand to film it as we drove through Searsport in a light drizzle, with eyes peeled for the house and the truck in front. Route 1 is a busy road so you can't slow down as much as you'd like to.

We never saw the house. We found ourselves passing through Belfast, having missed it. We assumed it has been dismantled completely during our week in Southwest Harbor. We decided we had no interest in turning around to see an empty lot or pile of wreckage. We mourned.

Along with many other fans of the house, I refer to it as "haunted," but I don't mean it literally. It simply looks the part. It may or may not have ghosts; it's not an interesting question to me. In my reckoning, any spot can be "haunted" or not. It's naive to assume that ghosts are tied to a particular location. Why would that be? It strikes me that spirits are free to roam as they please, making the job of a "ghost-hunter" frustrating indeed. That's my theory anyhow, based on a few fleeting but memorable encounters. I also imagine that anyone who loved that house in its elegant prime might not want to witness its decay, especially without any occupants around to amuse them. (I can't help feeling sometimes that I'm entertaining our resident ghosts whether I want to or not. Apparently they like cats, too.) But what do I know? The Parks and those who lived there after them may still find their house even more mesmerizing and lovable than I do.

Yesterday I had the idea to contact the used-car shop across the street from the house, just to make sure it was gone. I looked up their info and called, and a friendly voice told me it was still there, looking pretty much like its usual, wrecked old self.

How could we both have missed it when we were looking so hard? Damn! I can't wait to go back.

Or can I? Will it be there when we return in early October? I am already anxious about it.

6 comments:

  1. That old building is a signpost for you, and you'll miss it if it ever goes away. The Hubby does this thing when he's driving in our city's downtown; he remembers how the streets USED to be when he was younger, and drives according to the old turn lanes...but they don't exist anymore and I have to remind his to stay in the present time! It does look haunted; haunted by time.

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  2. Thank you for mentioning my adventure into the old house! It was an exciting day. I love the photo you posted of the home in it's hay day! Amazing. Thanks again. Renee Lammers

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    1. Hi Susan, thank you for writing! I'm so glad you went inside the house and took photos, satisfying my years-long curiosity. Have you seen the house lately... is it still standing at all? We will be driving up next weekend and I dread seeing what's happened since June.

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  3. It was still there two days ago, October 15th, 2016. I took photos of the front exterior. The owner was there selling off pieces.

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    1. Hi Emily, thanks for your comment. I met the owner and he gave us a tour of the INSIDE. I have photos and will be posting them shortly, so please check in again.

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  4. I have been visiting Belfast and Searsport from my home near Philadelphia regularly since the 1950s and virtually every summer now for the last 35 years and have photographed this house hundreds of times over the past three decades including again today. (I have had family living in the Belfast-Searsport-Stockton-Frankfort-Winterport-Bucksport area since 1759 since my great, great, great, great grandfather, Lt. Joshua Treat (1729-1802) arrived from Boston as the armorer at Ft. Pownell in Stockton.) This house is of particular interest to me as in 1871 by great grandparents, Joseph Agustus Treat and Florence Merrill Treat, spent their wedding night in this house after being married in Frankfort and heading to Boston. Bruce C. Cooper

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