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I once knew a retired sea captain - Captain Thurland Sprague - who lived in a classic Maine cape. The house had been built by Captain Sprague’s great-grandfather - also a sea captain - and had been in his family for over a hundred years.
The fine old family house sat on ten acres of land that ran down to a beautiful bay where there was 300-feet of water 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 living room 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 Captain Sprague if there was a view of the water from any of the upstairs rooms and he simply said “No, 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 asked why he thought his great-grandfather would build a nice house on a big lot with water frontage and decide to put it in probably the one spot where he'd have no view of the bay and the harbor.
Captain Sprague said: “John, you have to understand that back then that 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. Today we have the Maine Turnpike to do all that hauling. Back then it was all done by vessels.”
“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 Captain Sprague made a good case. I 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 seem to have a view of the harbor, either.
After a while Captain Sprague continued his explanation saying, “In those days, John, if you wanted a nice place on the water you bought land on a lake, where you had no loud cargo vessels coming and going and no 12-foot tides to go out and leave behind nothing but seaweed and barnacle-covered rocks, mud and the smell of clam flats.'
My talk with Captain Sprague 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 $20,000 and thought he had done well.
Uncle Rob never had much luck buying Mega Bucks tickets either.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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