OLD TOWN — A landmark that has stood like a sentinel for more than a century in a wooded lot just off the intersection of Bennoch Road and Spring Street is no longer overshadowing most of the surrounding trees.
The brick chimney measuring 8 feet in width at the base and stretching 90 feet into the sky had been standing for 140 years. It took less than 10 seconds for this last remaining significant part of the old lumber mill to become a dusty 5-foot mound of bricks and mortar Saturday afternoon on land purchased last January by long-time Old Town residents Ron and Judy Highbarger.
“We’ve had our eye on this land for a while, but I guess lots of people did,” said Ron Highbarger, who came to Maine from his native Kansas in 1964 as a U.S. Air Force KC-135 mechanic stationed at Dow Air Force Base in Bangor. “The realtor had 15 calls and messages from the time he posted the for-sale signs on the land to the time he drove to his office in Bangor last October.”
Highbarger was one of those 15 callers, but now he’s the one who owns it after paying what he considered a “surprisingly good price” of $101,000 from Prentiss & Carlisle Management Co., which was handling the sale of the entire parcel by the previous owners, the heirs of the Cassidy family estate.
The Highbargers have sold 5 acres and likely will sell another 10 before they’re done. They also would like to donate an island included in the parcel to the University of Maine for research purposes — which also will help them save on property taxes — but they soon will be putting their 44-foot-by-30-foot dream house on a bluff overlooking the chimney site and expect to move in by October 2011.
“We’ll use a lot of those bricks wherever and however we can for the house and the property,” said Highbarger, who will retire from his position as a fluid power specialist with the Leen Co. on Dec. 31.
It was an exciting moment for the Highbargers. The demolition — which went off at 1:45 p.m. but had been scheduled for noon — drew a crowd of about 100 onlookers.
“There’s a lot of history with this site,” said Judy Highbarger, an Old Town native. “It was a steam-driven sawmill built in 1870. It burned down in 1901 along with a lot of houses here on Spring Street. The chimney and a railroad bed were pretty much all that was left.”
The mill originally was built by George Lancaster for $60,000. John Cassidy bought it after the fire of 1901, and it was used by Old Town Canoe Co. to saw lumber between 1922 and 1925. It was idle until 1937, when the Hume Pipe company used it to manufacture concrete pipe.
The demolition work was done by Northern Blasting of Exeter. Owner David Eastman said about 30 pounds of dynamite was used to bring the chimney down.
“This is the first kind of project like this we’ve done,” Eastman said.
Several onlookers expressed disappointment at how quickly and quietly the chimney was destroyed, but that was music to the ears of Eastman and co-worker Joel Butler of Holden.
“The less excitement there is, the better it usually is for us,” Butler said with a chuckle.