Saturday, March 07, 2015
During the first part of my life, I never believed in such things as destiny, for even a second. But, in 1989 I had an experience in which a series of totally unplanned, and unlikely, events conspired to result in a situation where I had to believe that some sort of higher power was at work, trying to tell me something. On that day, we bought our house in Southwest Harbor, ME, which we rented to Acadia National Park visitors for 20 good years. That day turned out to be life-changing, for the better.
We named the house Wesley Avenue Cottage. Our family took numerous family vacations here, having opportunity to visit at all times of the year: fall, winter, and spring, as well as summer. For me, perhaps the best part was coming up twice a year to open the house in the spring, and close the house in the fall. It was a lot of work, but considering the place and our reason for being there all of the work was fun. I always took time to do some hiking in Acadia and to visit the stores and restaurants of Ellsworth and Mount Desert Island. Having cause to be there twice a year (and sometimes more), was one of the great joys of my life. Due to illness we had to sell the house in 2010, but fortunately the new owners still rent to vacationers as Cedar Cottage.
Rewind to October 1989. One day I received a call from the Realtor who had helped us look at properties years before. She called to inform me that a house located directly across Wesley Avenue from the Hutchins' cottages (which we had rented for annually, for the previous ten years) was available for private sale. Maine real estate often changes hands this way, by word of mouth, with no broker listing. The price was under $100,000. Upon hearing this news, I immediately decided two things: first, that something had to be wrong with the place for it to be priced so low, and second that we had to see for ourselves.
This call came on the Friday of Columbus Day weekend. Columbus Day is a major holiday in New England where everything closes to make a long weekend for tourists who come out in droves to see the colored leaves. Saturday morning we hopped in the car and headed north. Along the way, our brakes started to make noise, and by the time we got to Augusta, Maine we had to seek service.
Maine State Capitol Building, Augusta (photo courtesy of State of Maine)
We got laughed out of the first place we stopped; they had no mechanics on Saturday and they were going to be closed on Monday. Then we tried the Sears Automotive Shop. We sat in the waiting room for a short while watching the almost comical ineptitude of the service staff, so we took our keys back and decided to seek service elsewhere. Next, we drove across the street to the Augusta Airport figuring to rent a car, but no, the airport was closed. I did manage to find a phone book in which I discovered that Augusta had a Volvo dealer. We drove there next.
It was about five past five as our car limped into the dealership just in time to see the last guy locking the doors. He turned out to be a great guy, as he took us in and set up service for our car on Monday, this being one of the only businesses in NE working on Columbus Day. Better yet, he gave us a loaner car to use for the weekend so that we could continue our journey. We got back on the road delighted by the turn of events at the Volvo dealer. We didn't realize it at the time, but this was the first of three signs that we received before we even looked at the house, indicating that we were meant to buy the house.
Photo Courtesy of Volvo
As we made our way toward Mount Desert Island, our worst fears about the holiday weekend were realized. There were nothing but "No Vacancy" signs on all of the inns and motels we passed. We arrived in Southwest Harbor and parked in the town lot next to the pay phone facing Main St. (these were the days before cell phones). It only took a few calls to confirm that there were no rooms available anywhere on Mount Desert Island or in any of the nearby towns along the coast going north or south from Ellsworth; everything was booked solid for the weekend. Even people we know in the area didn't offer to put us up.
It was about 10 p.m. and we were out of options. We were down to figuring out the best place to park in order to sleep in the car. As we pondered this question, we could see the Inn at Southwest diagonally across the street. We watched incredulously as a guy came out of the inn and took down the "No Vacancy" sign. We drove across the street and took the room (someone who had a reservation didn't show up). Although we were elated by this stroke of good fortune, it still didn't occur to us that this was sign #2, that the house deal was meant to be.
We had great night's sleep. The next morning I got up and looked out the window and what I saw stopped me cold. The Hutchins' cottages and the house we were there to see are both located in the woods at the top of Wesley Ave., a small residential street that comes down a hill and dead ends at Main Street. What I saw when I looked out of our room's second floor window was a view that looked directly up Wesley Ave. in the direction of our destination. A chill went down my spine as I realized that this was sign #3, that we were meant to buy this house.
Later that morning, we visited the house. It was a simple but attractive three bedroom contemporary home with loft and deck. It had an outbuilding that had a storage room on one side and a former chicken coop on the other that looked perfect for storing firewood. We looked hard but we could not find the flaw, so we decided on the spot to buy it. In reality, we could never afford to buy two houses. All of the consideration of buying Maine real estate was predicated on the premise that we would rent the house to vacationers on a weekly basis using the Hutchins' cottages rental terms as a model.
We spent the rest of this beautiful fall weekend hiking, shopping, and eating. Acadia is so gorgeous in the fall that you can understand the crush of tourists who come out every year at this time. Monday morning we drove back to the Volvo dealer in Augusta.
While we were waiting for our car we struck up a conversation with a school teacher from Central Maine who was also waiting for her car. Since neither car was going to be ready before lunch, and since we still had the loaner car, we invited her to join us for lunch. I looked in the phone book to find a good place. We drove about a mile up the road to a place called The Red Barn. Their specialty is fresh fried seafood. They also make a wicked seafood stew and a good lobster roll. The food here is so good and so incredibly low priced that we've been back many times over the years and have made this a regular stop on our Maine travels.
Photo Courtesy of The Red Barn, Augusta, ME
I returned to the house Memorial Day weekend of 2009 to spend a week jammed packed with cleaning, fixing, and organizing the house, hiking, eating, shopping, and listening to Maine Public Radio. When all was said and done, the house was ready for the 2009 rental season. I did some photography of the house and you can click here for a photo tour of Wesley Avenue Cottage.