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)


mary jane said...

Wow! Amazing pictures! I wish they were a book, I want to look at them at length. I love the document of how Mr.Peavy left everything, how he slept in the parlor, and had a checkered tablecloth!

I'm a "cyber" friend of Eliza, who lives in Searsmont. We had the 2nd oldest house in town, which horribly burned down in 2003. We built on the same land, a cement house!

sian said...

Hi Will -
I'm a friend of Mary Jane's and she told me about your blog and the pictures of Mr. Peavy's house. Did you ever meet any of his relatives? I am curious as to how long he lived by himself there. I live in Belfast but love all the old things, all the old houses, the old ways, that you saw. I wonder what happened to his dogs?

My camp - which is over a hundred years old, in northern Maine, has the same woven grass "carpeting" as one of the upstairs bedroom photos. I wonder who made it and where it came from? It's wonderful stuff to walk on, if delicate.

Great photos - you know what you're doing. Thank you for posting it. Did you ever find a house in Maine that wasn't too sacry to take on? Maybe I read too fast but I didn't catch that you had.....

Will said...

Sian and Mary Jane,
Thank you for your comments.
Maybe someday there will be a book.
It was not owned by the Peaveys when those pictures were taken.
To answer your questions. Yes, we met Basil Peavy who lived in Bath who was born and lived there until 1942 or so when the property was sold by the town for taxes. Basil died about two years ago.
We are still in contact with the man who was the owner when these photographs were taken.
We know it was built in 1843 by James Burns of Washington, Maine. We always thought it was built for the Peaveys but some research that I did this summer shows that it was probably built for Ira True. True sold it to William Peavey, the great grandfather of Basil, in 1850.
We didn't ask what happened to the dogs, for fear of knowing the worst, but I am sure they were humainly treated.
The old matting, I have been told by a museum curator, is Chinese, and was often imported in the 18th and 19th centuries for such use. The house of George Washington at Mt. Vernon has similiar matting on some of its floors.
The posting is not totally complete (it just takes me so long to write something) and I intend to finish the story that we did indeed purchase the property and we are still in the throes of its consolidation.