MILLINOCKET, Maine — In its heyday, the two-story house at 138 Lincoln St. was average, a product of the assembly line that made most of the other houses on the block about 100 years ago, when the town paper mill employed thousands of workers who needed housing.
Now condemned, the three-bedroom home has never been in worse shape, and won’t be for much longer. Cellulose insulation, snow, plaster dust, nails, shards of glass and short strips of wood covered its floors. Its roof was almost entirely gone, and two large holes gaped in its dining room and kitchen.
But Grant Boynton saw past all that.
“Look at this flooring,” Boynton said Thursday, pointing to a section of the tan birch under the debris. “Not a knot in it. This stuff would sell for $500 a [10-by-10-foot] square if it was refinished. It came right from Sherman Mills Station. In its day, it must have been wicked good quality.
“They had wood everything back then,” Boynton added. “Everything was cheap, but it was all very high-quality compared to what you get today at Home Depot, and this stuff came in 10- to 15-foot pieces. What you get today in the stores is in 2- or 3-foot pieces and full of knots.”
A contractor and carpenter, Boynton is earning $3,000 razing the building, but unlike most wrecking-ball demolition experts, he is disassembling the house by hand to salvage every usable part of it. It’s his form of recycling, he said, and he expects to make twice his fee before he’s finished.
The Town Council chose Boynton for the job last month after the homeowner walked away from the property and town officials realized that it was a safety hazard that needed immediate leveling. They weren’t exactly sure how to proceed. Despite the town having very aged housing stock, with most neighborhoods not seeing new construction in decades, the house was the first that needed public demolition in at least eight years, Code Enforcement Officer Michael Noble said.
Officials considered having firefighters train there, but burning the house “really wasn’t an option,” Noble said. “It’s a condemned structure, so they [firefighters] couldn’t guarantee safety. There were also concerns about pent-up smoke bothering the neighbors.”
Boynton started the job Jan. 10. As of Thursday, he was about half-finished. He expects to be done by Feb. 10. He was dismayed when he first saw the house. It had four trailers of household trash and a lot of rotten food within it, he said.
“It was bad. There was a lot of rot in there because of the bad roof,” he said, “but what’s under cover is still pretty good.”
Besides the birch floors, the place has a lot of planking that will sell, and its siding already has sold for about $600, Boynton said.
Plus the place has its own eccentric bonuses. A stained-glass window sits near its staircase, a common feature to homes in the Katahdin and Lincoln Lakes region, Boynton said. And for some reason, previous occupants had loads of soap that he and his assistant grabbed.
“They must have been very clean people,” Boynton said.
Boynton said he admired the way the place was made. With nails driven by hand instead of nail guns, every support is placed to carry a maximum load, good for a winter climate. The horsehair plaster walls are thick and surprisingly durable, making Boynton think that the plaster industry must have once boomed like the manufacture of paper did in the early 1900s, by his estimate the time the house was built.
“It must have been a huge business,” he said. “Sometimes I hit a wall on a hollow spot and it feels like I am hitting a stud.”
He finds the design of the building interesting, but he’s not much into forensic analysis, thinking of himself more as a salvage expert than an architectural coroner.
“I plan on making a carport, woodshed and an addition to a bathroom out of this. I already have the clients lined up,” Boynton said, “so parts of the building will go on. They’re not going to die here.”