When Bill Hammond was a younger, vigorous man, he built houses that were solid and strong, good places for families to set down their roots and create memories.
He easily climbed ladders to pound in nails and got down on his knees to lay tile. But the years crept up on him. Now, at 90, he spends a lot of time in his chair in his Frankfort home, kept there by his heart condition and the gout in his legs. But Hammond still builds houses — they’re just a bit smaller than they used to be.
“I still want to build,” he said. “So I’ve been building birdhouses and dollhouses.”
These miniature homes feature some of the same attention to detail that he had in a long career as a builder in both Connecticut and Maine, where he was born and where he moved back to 21 years ago. He and his wife, who was an antiques dealer, did not travel light. He said they came to Maine with several large truckloads packed full of her antiques and his tools. But they were undeterred, or at least he was.
“I didn’t retire until I was 69,” he said. “I came home one day and said ‘I’m going to Maine. I’m going with you or without you.’”
When asked what she decided, he grinned roguishly, eyes gleaming behind thick glasses.
“Oh, she came with me,” Hammond said.
They settled in a home he built with enough trees around to make him happy after years of decades of living in a more urban environment in Connecticut. Slowly, they unpacked the tools and antiques, and he made pine furniture and started building houses around Waldo County.
Photos on his wall show family and glimpses of some of the wild and scenic places in Maine where he has spent time. Thunder Hole, ice fishing on Moosehead Lake, the fast-flowing Allagash River — they’re all represented.
But times have changed. Hammond’s wife passed away some years ago, and his lameness means he doesn’t get to go ice fishing or exploring much these days. So he sits in front of the large log cabin dollhouse he’s working on and painstakingly makes tiny furniture for it with a set of small knives and tools. He points out the fire he’s painted in the living room fireplace, the door that opens and the bathtub that appears to be full of water. It’s easy to imagine a little girl or boy getting lost in a game of make-believe centered around this dollhouse, which bursts with rustic charm.
Hammond said it’ll take him two months to finish, time that’s well spent, as far as he’s concerned.
“I’ve got to build something,” he said. “It’s a challenge, and it keeps me alive. Keeps my mind off my sickness.”
His birdhouses are just as detailed as his dollhouses, with handmade shingles and an eye towards whimsy. Hammond looks for ideas all over the place. One of his dollhouses is modeled after the farmhouse in the 1970s TV show The Waltons, and some of his birdhouses were inspired by a catalogue he pulls out of a drawer. But the birdhouses in that catalogue are made of molded plastic, a far cry from his handmade wooden ones.
As soon as Hammond has a good idea, he makes a set of blueprints to scale and then he sets to work. He has sold some of his finished products to customers who have found him by word of mouth or, lately, through the pictures of doll and birdhouses his grandson has been sharing on social media when another has been finished. One birdhouse was sold that way around Christmas in just a few hours.
“He put it on the line in the middle of the morning and sold it by noon,” Hammond marveled, adding that he’s glad he can keep on telling people he’s a builder. “I’m still building houses.”
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