Friday, October 21, 2016

Postcards from Maine: Outside the Searsport House

On our drive to Mount Desert Island two weeks ago, we were eagle-eyed as we took Route 1 through Searsport. We were determined not to miss seeing our favorite ruined house. Somehow, despite our best intentions, we'd missed it on the drive home back in August. And I had since learned that it was being demolished.

We had no idea if it would still be standing, but there it was, at one end of town, looking as poetic as ever in the late-afternoon autumn sunlight:

A large truck container was parked beside the house. I had read that the house's owner was slowly taking the house apart, board by board and nail by nail, salvaging as much of its fine old building materials as he could, to sell.

We parked at a used-car dealership and crossed Route 1, planning to take a few last photos and hoping we might meet the owner. 

The path to the house revealed signs of his presence. There were items on display — mostly old wooden chairs — visible from the road:

There were also a few more unusual items:

 Then we spotted this sign on a dining room chair.

I was startled to note the quality of the sign. As a copyeditor, I knew it was rare to find such a thing on a rural road. Written with impeccable grammar, spelling, and punctuation, it was gracious, informative, and precise. It revealed its author to be polite and patient with visitors. It was set in boldface and all-caps with good reason. Italics provided more emphasis where necessary. It was tacked to a piece of scrap wood and placed in a spot that was hard to miss. 

It was a a masterpiece of signage, a little work of art to those of us who care about such things. I went looking for the owner.

He was near the container, busy on a phone call. As I waited, I looked around:

While the main house was still standing, sort of, the addition on one side had been demolished. It had been in even worse shape than the main house because it had a huge open "skylight" (i.e. gaping hole) in the roof that had enlarged considerably after the hard winter of 2014–15. Foundation stones, boards, refuse, and scraps were all that was left.

Is it not still the most picturesque old ruin ever? I love its weathered paint and the way the two front bays are tipping towards each other companionably, as if they are old friends who want to be closer:

The owner — tanned, tall, and of a certain age — finished his call and came over to me. He extended a hand so covered in dirt and dust that I initially thought he was wearing gloves. As I hesitated to touch it, he looked at me. "Um, your hand is pretty dirty. . . but I'll shake it anyway," I blurted, surprising myself with my own rudeness. (At my age, I guess I'm hopeless.)

He ignored my remark, being a gentleman. His name is Mr. Brown.

He said that hundreds of people had parked their cars and come for a visit as he's been working. Some have bought the items he's dusted off and put out for sale. He hopes to sell everything. The old wood is valuable.

My husband came over, introduced himself, and we told Mr. Brown how much we've loved seeing his house over the years. He told us a story we already knew: that he had bought it to house an antique business but changed his mind. And now he had to take it down because the town considers it a safety hazard.

He looked us over and noted that we were wearing sturdy shoes and long pants. Then he had us follow him closer to the house, through the high grass ("Ticks," he said). He moved some boards to reveal an opening in the wall, went up a short ladder, turned, and beckoned. The ladder looked rickety but I didn't hesitate.

And we went inside. Stay tuned for more.


  1. I, for one, am waiting with bated breath.... what's inside? What's inside???

  2. OH OH OH! Now I'm on tenterhooks! How cool that Mr. Brown was there, and you were able to get all of these great photos.

  3. I'm so excited to get to follow the story. I hope you answer the lingering question of "so did you buy anything?".. and it is lingering because I'm going to keep asking it :)

    1. I wish you had been there! I can't buy a staircase . . .

  4. Ahemmmm, going on 5 days. What's inside? Pleeeeeease? I don't think that I can wait any longer!


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