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Have you see the prices they're getting for waterfront property these days? Waterfront is always the most expensive land in a town, it being in such demand and all. If you can't afford waterfront, don't worry because the farther you can get from any body of water the cheaper the land gets.
That wasn't always the case here in Maine. In my hometown there 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 so odd as to 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. But then he didn't elaborate on that particular theme and 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 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. Having a view of the bay back then, Clarence said, 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 got sick of sailing since they had to sail almost everywhere they went.
Clarence said someone in town who owed Captain Butler a debt of $25 offered to give him a piece of land that stretched along the oceanfront about 2,000 feet and was about 200 feet deep. At today's prices the piece would easily be worth several million dollars. Captain Butler said he wanted the money not the worthless piece of land.
You see, back then land only had value if it could be used to grow food, graze livestock or cut wood. This particular strip of land was rocky, windswept and barren and was therefore worthless.
“But Captain Butler 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 that when people back then wanted to relax they went to their camp that was usually located on a quiet lake. Lakes had no tides, no smelly clam flats and never any schooners coming and going at all hours of the day and night.
Getting back to today's cost of waterfront, when you consider that more than 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 ideas on land have changed before and 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
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