LUBEC, Maine — As Wanda Corey renovated a small building on Lubec’s Main Street this fall and winter, she thought she was moving forward, looking ahead at the town’s future.
Instead, she discovered she was firmly in its past.
As floorboards were pulled up, walls knocked down and debris cleaned, Corey discovered a small treasure-trove of historic items — glass and wooden buttons, letters mailed in 1904, button-up shoes from the 1800s and handmade tools.
The building has been empty for years, Corey said, but was once the home of Lubec Water and Light.
“I’ve asked around, and no one seems to remember what the building was used for before that,” she said.
What she knew immediately, however, was that the small, wooden two-story structure she is turning into a restaurant was prominently placed on Main Street with spectacular views. From the front, the working waterfront is visible: lobster boats and scallop draggers plying Johnson Bay, the breakwater and the town pier. From the rear, it is Canada, Roosevelt International Park and lighthouse, the arching Roosevelt Memorial Bridge and the channel full of seals, eagles and other wildlife.
“I went to the Board of Selectmen, who had acquired the building for lack of back taxes, and made an offer and begged. Then I crossed my fingers,” she said. “It was so important to me that I put the building back on the tax rolls.
“I thought the building was from the 1940s,” Corey added. “But it really is from around 1850 to 1860.”
Renovations began last summer, and items quickly began appearing, she said.
“We found shoes, leather shoes that button up on the ankle. We found lots of buttons. Some were glass, others were wood, and some appeared to be made of bone.”
Corey found a buttonhook, a sewing needle once used to sew and mend lobster bait bags, and dozens of wooden spools of thread. Even the vintage light bulbs were still in their sockets.
There also was a letter mailed in 1906 to Mrs. Samuel Dalzell from a friend on Swan’s Island asking Dalzell to send her some sheet music.
Although she has given away many of the items she discovered, Corey did sell one vintage find on eBay’s auction site. It was a bamboo and paper hand fan that advertised The Best Line, CB&Q Railroad, which offered “fast vestibuled trains.”
“I keep thinking about these items and how they should belong to a family member,” Corey said. “That’s why I was so happy to sell the fan to a man in California whose grandfather once worked on that railroad.”
Corey plans to open her restaurant next summer. She said she is still contemplating a name for her new business but would like it to reflect the light, the sea and the building’s history.
“There is life here in Lubec,” she said. “So many people are starting to invest here.”
Main Street, once a cannery row, is filled with colorful shops and galleries. Locally made items are offered at one shop, while wine and cheese are sold at another. There is a fine yarn and wool shop, a chocolatier, a restaurant and an inn.
“And yet this is still very much a working waterfront,” Corey said. “That appeals to a lot of people.”
With the fishing industry struggling, however, Corey said Lubec needs to look more to its popularity with tourists.
“It is a spectacularly beautiful place. And the more we have to offer — including our history — the more people will come.”