November 19, 2018
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Crumbling Maine sea captain’s home still in midst of slow demolition

Nick McCrea | BDN
Nick McCrea | BDN
The owner of this historical Searsport home on Route 1 has been slowly demolishing the building as he works to salvage antiques and woodwork during the past two years. The town's code enforcement officer said he's disappointed with the progress so far this year, and may ask town leaders for permission to knock down the building after this summer.

More than two years after Searsport officials told the owner of an iconic, 150-plus-year-old home that he’d need to tear it down, the building is still standing — barely.

“I’m chipping away at it,” Doug Brown, the building’s owner, said Monday.

Brown, 67, of Belfast has been taking the building apart, seemingly plank by plank when the weather is good, since the summer of 2016. He’s salvaging antiques and intricate pieces of woodwork as he goes, storing them in a pair of trailers parked in the front yard. He says he’s selling the items to collectors and builders who want to repurpose them.

The house has been vacant and falling into disrepair for more than 20 years, according to city officials. Brown bought the building about 13 years ago.

Capt. Joseph Loomis Park built the house in the 1860s. Other seafaring families later moved in, adding elements to it, and upgrading the interior and exterior.

One of those additions — and one of Brown’s favorite features of the house — is a staircase made of cypress, a wood found in the southern part of the country that is popular among boatbuilders. Brown hopes to disassemble those stairs and sell them for reuse. He’s also salvaging cypress doors and trimwork.

Brown declined to say when he thought the demolition might be completed. He said he’s been hindered by Route 1 construction, and family loss and illness, adding that he’d “work diligently.” He said he plans to put the land on the market once the building is down.

“It’s a good location for business, auto retail yard, nursing home or campground,” Brown said.

In the spring of 2016, Randy Hall, Searsport’s code enforcement officer, sent notice to several owners of derelict properties in town, telling them they’d have to tear down their structures. Brown’s was the most prominent among them.

Its placement along a bustling stretch of Route 1 and striking Victorian appearance made it a popular subject for photographs and paintings made by locals and passers-by. In recent years, it has looked as if a stiff breeze or burrowing rodent might be enough to do in the house.

Hall said Monday he felt Brown had accomplished much more last summer than this summer, and that he’s been having trouble contacting him. A portion of the rear and one side of the building are gone, but the main section — including a pair of iconic turrets — are still standing.

Hall said he’s worried someone might get hurt trying to explore or by getting too close to the building, and at some point the town may have to take steps to eliminate the hazard.

To this point, Hall said he and Brown had a “gentlemen’s agreement” to allow Brown to ease his way through the salvage and demolition process rather than having municipal government go through the process of taking over the property to push the building’s destruction ahead.

But that agreement may expire if progress doesn’t speed up, Hall said, explaining he could ask town officials for permission to knock down the condemned building, possibly in the fall.

“I’ve been patient,” Hall said. “But I think it’s close to time that we stepped in.”

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.

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