LINCOLNVILLE, Maine — In the 1930s a dying boy bought 22 acres of property in Maine; on Saturday two members of the Lincolnville Select Board had to hike a mountain to decide whether the town should accept the cabins he built there.
Lincolnville recently received a letter from the family of that boy, who lived into his 80s, saying they would like to donate the land and properties to the town, so long as the town forgives about $1,000 in taxes for this year. Town officials took a hike up Garey Mountain with local conservationists and snowmobile club members to assess the situation and try to decide whether to accept the gift.
Edward “Eddie” Stephens was 14 when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, now known as Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“The doctor said, let the boy do what he wants. [His parents] said, ‘Eddie, what do you want?’ and he said, ‘I want to buy some land in Lincolnville,’” Diane O’Brien said Saturday, as she hiked the mountain toward Stephens’ property. O’Brien has written books about local history and was friends with the Stephens family.
Stephens had $100 in his bank account, so he took it out and purchased the 22 acres on Garey Mountain. With the deed in hand, Stephens recruited friends and started building his first cabin on top of the mountain in 1935.
“He had a romantic idea that he was a pioneer,” O’Brien said.
He and his horse, Lil, lived on the mountain in the summer and would return to Massachusetts in the winter.
“He would ride his horse down to the beach for the dances. He was a romantic character. He brought a lot of girls up here,” O’Brien said Saturday.
In his 20s Stephens married Ellamae.
“They would carry everything up here on their backs — and by this time they had two kids,” O’Brien said.
She begged Stephens to buy a Jeep, but he didn’t have the money. So, when the couple would hike up the mountain, she would stuff rocks into his bags. After this, Stephens gave in and bought an old Jeep, according to O’Brien.
In the 1970s Stephens retired from his work at a printing company in Massachusetts and was able to spend more time at the cabin.
As the group closed in on the cabin Saturday they noticed part of a saw hanging from a chain on a tree. This was Stephens’ doorbell. As they passed, O’Brien hit it with a stick.
After Ellamae died and as Stephens got older, his friends worried about him living alone on the mountain. He had a CB radio for communication, O’Brien said.
When Stephens was about 85, he bought a four-wheeler for easier access up the mountain, she said.
“He would tear through here,” said O’Brien, who used to ride with him. “I thought I would die. It was really scary.”
But O’Brien would share meals with him because, “it’s lonely to eat lunch alone.”
After about 45 minutes of walking through shaded forest Saturday, the group reached the first sunny spot on Garey Mountain and a brown shingled cabin in a sea of ferns. One after another, they filed in past the tiger skin hanging over the entryway to see Stephens’ cabin, which aside from a bit of damage looked as if no one ever left.
The cabin was one of a handful of buildings including a cabin for his grandchildren, a garage for the Jeep and a shed.
All of these, if the town accepts the gift, would become liabilities, officials said. The town would have to find an insurance agency to agree to insure the abandoned buildings.
One option would be for the town to tear down the buildings and keep the land. The land abuts Camden Hills State Park, and if some trees were cut there would be a view of the ocean from the summit.
Another matter town officials must consider is the stipulation of the gift: forgiving almost $1,000 in taxes.
Cathy Hardy, a member of the Select Board who hiked Saturday, said she would love to see the town accept the gift, even if it eventually gave the land to the local land trust for conservation.
Rosey Gerry, the chairman of the Select Board, led the group down the mountain and said one reason for the hike was to start discussions with volunteer groups such as the snowmobile club to see whether they would help with any work the town might do if it accepts the gift. This could include repairing the buildings or tearing them down.
“There is a lot to talk about. It sounds like a gift, but there is a lot to think about,” Gerry said.
Discussions about the land and buildings will continue at the next Lincolnville Select Board meeting at 6 p.m. Aug. 9.