FRANKFORT, Maine — Even at just $65,000, it’s a tough sell, real estate agent Tara Roy admits.
The old Treat place on Route 1A in the heart of Frankfort village near the bridge that crosses the Marsh Stream is visually imposing and speaks to passers-by of the community’s past wealth. But it also shouts “money pit,” because of boarded windows, missing siding, peeling paint and the lack of such necessities as a heating system.
But the house, built in 1864 by shipwright and businessman Franklin Treat, is getting some help. The January/February issue of This Old House magazine, which is affiliated with the long-running Public Broadcasting System TV show of the same name, publicized the Treat house in its regular “Save This Old House” feature on the inside back page of the magazine.
The magazine included contact information for Roy, who works for Realty of Maine in Bangor, and a brief overview of what the house needs. It’s more than a little TLC, but, as the magazine notes, “The structure is sound.”
Roof repairs and new heating, plumbing and electrical systems top the list of work needed. A modern-style kitchen area has replaced an ell off the back; a new foundation and interior work is well under way there.
Roy explained during a tour of the house on Wednesday that a couple of efforts have been made to restore the building to its former glory. Local builder and historian Daniel Harrison bought the residence in 1988 and began renovations, but ended up selling it in 1994 to Virgil Nelson of Maysville, Ky. Nelson planned to retire to Maine in the old house, but, as Roy said, “Life got in the way of his plans.”
Nelson sold the house in 2006 to Gifford and Sharon Swanson of Frankfort ,who began their own renovations, but the couple lost the property to Nelson in a foreclosure last year, Roy said.
Under the heading, “Why save it?,” the magazine writes that the house “reflects a unique mix of Second Empire and Italianate details, including the original mansard roof, arched windows and porch embellishments, and elaborate plaster moldings.”
The house is about equidistant to Bangor and Belfast — about 16 miles. There are no zoning restrictions on the property, the magazine notes, “so a new owner could use the house as a shop, a studio or an office with living quarters — or simply restore it as a family home.”
And it’s got a rich history.
Franklin Treat’s initials are etched in both glass panels in the front door. Treat sold the home in 1874 to Louisa T. Peirce, according to the magazine. Her deceased husband was granite baron George Albert Peirce, whose great-nephew was Frankfort native Waldo Peirce.
Waldo Peirce, a renowned early 20th-century painter, hobnobbed in Paris in the 1920s with writers like James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway. He and Hemingway were lifelong fishing and drinking buddies.
At one point, the house was used to board quarry workers, according to a BDN story in 2006. An effort to sell the house then had an asking price of $199,000.
Frankfort was once a prosperous town, with as many as 1,000 Italian immigrants living and working on the shore of the Penobscot River, quarrying and shipping granite out for building projects in New York and Philadelphia.
A history of the town published in 1886 notes that one of the first settlers was a Joshua Treat. Treat family descendants still live in the area.
The 4,305-square-foot house has three bedrooms and one bathroom, 11 rooms in all, Roy said. Ceilings in the main part of the house are at least 10 feet high, and even higher in the kitchen addition. Some of the front rooms have marble fireplaces, one of which appeared to be intact. The plaster molding details also are in good shape in some of the rooms.
Unfortunately, the roof has been leaking, and evidence of water damage can be seen on ceilings and floors. And on climbing the curved staircase and entering the second floor hall, Roy had to shoo away a pigeon fluttering overhead.
The magazine staff contacted her about the house six months ago, she said, asking lots of questions before it was included in the issue. Since publication, Roy has been fielding inquiries from around the country, with many people asking an unanswerable question: “Once it’s restored, what’s it going to be worth?”
Roy believes a mixed use would be appropriate, perhaps professional offices or an artisan’s studio and showroom, along with a residential area.
“It’s just going to take the right person with a heart for restoring it,” she said.