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Have you see the prices they’re still getting for waterfront property? Even in these "hard times" warerfront seems to be one of the few things that's not getting any cheaper. If you can’t afford waterfront don’t worry because - as most of us know - the further you can get from any body of water the cheaper the land gets.
That wasn’t always the case here in Maine. In our town there’s was an old sea captain’s house on a six acre plot of land that fronted on our beautiful blue bay. But the captain’s house sat on the road at the other end of the lot about as far from the water as it could get.
One time I was talking to Clarence Tucker - a local historian - about the old Captain Butler homestead and I had to ask him why he thought Captain Butler would do something odd like build a house as far from the water as he could, giving the house no view of the water from any window.
Clarence began by saying that that wasn’t the oddest thing old Captain Butler did in his long life. He didn’t elaborate on the particular theme but got back to the subject at hand.
He said people back then felt differently about the waterfront and the harbor the town was built on. In those days people went everywhere by boat and boats brought most of their food and necessities. People’s lives were ruled by tide tables and packet schedules. Harbors back then where loud, busy, smelly places where hundreds of people worked. From early morning to late at night there were ships coming and going.
Clarence said having a view of the bay back then would be like someone today wanting a view of a busy exit on the Maine Turnpike or a large, noisy truck depot. He said people back then were also sick of sailing since they had to sail almost everywhere they went.
He said the rock-bound land outside the harbor was even less desireable to people back the.
Clarence then went on to tell a story about someone in town who owed Captain Brown’s a debt of $25. To settle the debt the man offered to give Capt. Brown a piece of land that stretched along the oceanfront about two-thousand feet and was about 200 feet deep. At today’s prices the piece would easily be worth several million dollars but Capt. Brown said he wanted the money not the worthless piece of land.
You see, he said, back then land only had value if it could be used to grow food, graze livestock or provide firewood. This particular strip of land was rocky, windswept and barren and was therefore judged to be worthless, said Clarence. That’s why this debtor was willing to give it to Capt. Brown to settle a $25 debt.
"But Capt. Brown didn’t take the worthless piece of land," said Clarence, and, under similar circumstances he didn’t think anyone else in town would have taken it either.
Clarence said back then, when people wanted a nice place to relax they bought a camp that was usually located on a quiet lake. Lakes had no tides, no smelly clam flats, no bait shacks and never had large schooners loading and unloading at all hours of the day and night.
Getting back to today’s cost of waterfront, when you consider that over 70 percent of the earth’s surface is water you’d think every bit of land there was would have some view of a body of water. You’d think that land that had no water view at all would be so rare, so exceptional that it would sell for a premium price.
But people's feelings about land have changed before and - if times get rougher - could change again. Maybe that worthless piece of land you have may be worth a fortune some day. So don’t go offering it to the bank to pay off your credit card debt.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
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