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I once knew a retired sea captain - Capt. Thomas Hutchins - who lived in a classic Maine cape. The house had been built by Capt. Brown’s great-grandfather - also a sea captain - and had been in his family for over a hundred and fifty years.
The fine old homestead sat on ten acres of land that sloped up and then down to a beautiful bay where and included 600-feet of bay frontage.
One of the odd things about the house, I thought, was that you couldn’t see the water from either the large dining room or the big comfortable parlor beside it. Both rooms had large windows with views of the back field. But the land sloped up toward the back effectively blocking any view of the water.
Being nosy, on one visit I remember asking Capt. Brown if there was a view of the water from any of the upstairs rooms and he simply said ‘No, there isn’t. There’s no view of the water from any window in the house!’
I was surprised by his answer so after a polite pause I felt I had to ask why he thought his great-grandfather would build a nice house on a big lot with water frontage and decide to put the house in probably the one spot where he’d have no view of the bay and the harbor.
Capt. Brown’s answer gave me a glimpse into the mind of his 19-century forebear when he said, probably reciting an old family argument passed down from father to son: “John, you have to understand that back then the harbor out there was full of all kinds of vessels, large and small, that were coming and going at all hours of the day and night, some hauling passengers, some hauling cargo, some hauling both. Capt. Brown added, today we have the Maine Turnpike to do all that hauling but back then it was all done by boats. My great-grandfather earned his living on ships and when he came home after a long voyage the last thing he wanted to do was look out onto a loud, busy harbor full of vessels. It’s probably the same reason, John, that people today don’t want to build a nice place with a view of a busy exit on the Maine Turnpike.
I thought Capt. Brown made a good case and then recalled other waterfront towns in Maine, towns like Thomaston, whose Main Street was lined with fine old sea captain’s houses that didn’t have a view of the harbor, either.
After a while Capt. Brown continued his explanation saying, Back in those days, John, if you wanted a nice place on the water you bought land on a lake. On a lake you had no loud cargo vessels coming and going and no 15-foot tides that go out and leave behind nothing but seaweed-covered rocks, deep mud and the smell of clam flats.’
My talk with Capt. Brown made me realize once again how the views and values on Maine real estate had changed in just my lifetime.
I remember as a kid hearing about small lots in our town on the water - deep water frontage - that were being offered for sale for hundreds of dollars. Back in the 1960s there was a house on a small lot near us that was offered to my father for $400.00 cash. Dad said he’d think about it.
Recently I was looking at the annual report of a town where my uncle used to own a 4-acre piece of land on the water (I know, I need a hobby). Anyway, according to the town’s assessors my uncle’s lot alone was now valued at well over a million dollars. He had sold it in 1963 for $16,000 and thought he had done well.
Come to think of it he’s never had much luck with Megabucks tickets either.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at mainestoryteller@yahoo.com or 899-1868.
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