Saturday, October 27, 2007

Our Montville house

Our house in Dixmont, Maine was arsoned in 1971 and in April of that year we went with a friend to look at place near Montville. She was also looking. We wanted a central chimney cape, preferably with a barn, acreage and away from the road. A friend suggested we look at a house in South Montville. It didn't suit us as it was close to the road and with little acreage, but perhaps our friend would be interested.
We all liked it, but our friend, recently separated, got cold feet, and decided not to buy. I was fascinated with the place and took a lot of photographs; my photographic mission was mostly sociological but perhaps they would have some aesthetic value as well. The owner’s father was recently relocated to a nursing home and the house was pretty much as he had left it.

Real estate was cheap there then and it would cost almost as much to put on a new roof at it could to buy a new place. The economy was very depressed with little or no prospect for employment. One could be a carpenter or work in the woods cutting trees or sawing lumber at minimum wage. So it was no surprise that whatever property we saw was in the throes of neglect. This place was no exception.

Additional photos of that house that April can be seen here

We returned to Philadelphia without success, and when we returned to Maine that summer continued looking, renting a place in Searsmont. That house was for sale and in retrospect we should have bought it. It was an early 19th century cape with a large shed and an unattached barn, all in good condition. In addition it had pond frontage and was winterized with central oil heat. But it directly fronted on a fairly busy paved road which was the deciding factor not to buy. It was also a bit out of our price range.

During the fall and winter of 1971 our thoughts kept coming back to the Montville houses and in February of 1972 we signed an agreement of sale for the smaller of the two properties with a handshake agreement to purchase the larger house and barn when the title was properly researched and made clear.

The Hart Place

The smaller house, also known as the Hart Place, was in need of major work as well. The wet basement caused some of the floors to rot in addition to most of its supporting beams. One unannounced visitor before he could be warned, walked on part of the unstable floor and fell into the basement

Our Montville friend had recommended Herbie Smearer of Morrill to do the work. Together Herbie and I did what was the necessary to get the house back in shape replacing the main cross beams, floor joists and the rotten floors of two of the rooms.

Herbie and Will working on a new beam.

At one point in its history, the original nine over six window sash had been replaced with upper and lower sash of equal size, each having two vertical lights. Earnest, a master at woodworker at Mollisons in Belfast (where EBS is today) made all new sash closely approximating the original.

Long before we bought it, the house had least two, possibly three fireplaces surrounding a large a central chimney. The staircase to the second floor, which had been in the rear of the house, was moved to the front, occupying the space of the former chimney. The ceilings of several rooms on the first floor were tiled with acoustical tile, which was only not to our taste, but made with asbestos.

The proud new owners.

We returned the staircase to where it once was, removed the ceiling tile and eventually plastered the bare ceilings.

Off one end of the house was a structure that had apparently been moved from a different location. One end of it was completely collapsed and what remained of it was unable to be saved. We salvaged what we could: the boards, beams and bricks.

The kitchen was moved from a small back room to a more logical location; where the original kitchen would have been. The water supply was a dug well with a hand pump in the kitchen. We kept this arrangement for several years until we realized that in August the well most always went dry. A septic system with a full bathroom was added in 1993 and the next year an artesian well. Other improvements over the years included wood shingling the roof and two of its outer walls (the house was originally shingled) and all new electrical wiring.

As to the history of this house (the Hart place) I know only a few sketchy details. Stylistically it appears to have been built about 1815. At that time South Montville was a thriving community of mills built within 200 yards of its front door by Ezekiel True, his sons Moses and Paul and perhaps others. There certainly a gristmill and a saw mill as well. All the boards and beams of the house are mill sawn, except for the very largest beams, which are hand hewn.

"The Hart Place" can be seen at the center top about 1900.

Across the narrow unpaved road stood its barn. All that remained of it was its foundation and a 1948 Pontiac that had fallen through its floor. I recently learned that Kermit Flanders had asked the then owner Linwood in about 1960, if he could have what remained of its useable lumber. The barn's roof had caved in and Kermit pulled it down with its facing wall collapsing on the road.

The barn mentioned about can be seen in the left center of the image by the road. The "Hart Place" is to the right of the barn behind the orchard. The barn of the larger house can be seen to its right. The main house is obscured by the two large elms. The structure to the left of the barn by the road is the Peavey blacksmith shop. The Peaveys were the owners of the house photographed and described at the beginning of this post. (Click on any of the images for a larger view)

Monday, October 8, 2007

The South Montville Grange

The South Montville Grange has lingered at the end of our road, its paint slowly peeling from its clapboards for years. On occasion, there would be some minor bustling or a community supper, but generally it would be closed and no one around. We went to a supper, possibly the last one they had, about twelve years ago. Lots of doughy pies, beans and hot dogs as I remember.
Several years back, they came and built a handicap access ramp and a planter between the two doors where weeds languished. It still stood straight and was like an old friend that you would see often, but on each meeting you might be concerned for his health and what would become of him in the future.
I passed by the other day noticing that a lone worker was puting on a new roof. Thinking he was doing this for the Grange, I asked if he was being paid for his services - that he was possibly a volunteer. He said no and that in fact they (he and his wife) had bought it. They were both artists and that it would become a studio/workshop and that perhaps that they might have an occasional exhibition on the upper floor.
They now live near Kennebunkport with their children and makes his living as a carpenter. He comes alone during the weekends, staying on a modest cot in the upper floor. Their plan is to find land nearby and build a house.

You may ask; "what is The Grange?"
This explaination is modified slightly from this site.
The Grange briefy explained

"The Maine Grange was created on February 16th, 1876 and other town Granges were built soon after... a Grange is "America's foremost Volunteer and Grassroots Organization." The first Grange was organized on December 4th, 1867. It was made so farmers could have a say in politics across America. Through most of the 1900s, the Grange flourished and had power within America. The Grange had a very important role in community life in this small town."

Here is David coming down from the roof of the Grange

The first floor which will be their workshop studio.

The hall upstairs:

Here are three views that show the Grange circa 1900

and a detail of the above photo showing the Grange with its stable; the building on the left.

Monday, September 3, 2007

I did it!

Inspired by my daughter, I decided that there have been times when it might be useful for me, if no one else, to have a blog, even if no one reads it.