LIBERTY, Maine — Sometimes, the modern world feels too fast paced, too angry, too stressful, just plain too much.
When those feelings come upon Linda Breslin of Winslow, she has the perfect antidote: an island camp on Lake St. George in Liberty that is a throwback to a time gone by. At the camp, a former harness shop from 1897 that was rolled over the ice to its current home in 1905, the ambiance is strictly turn of the century.
There’s a cast iron cookstove, candles for light and no lack of reading material — one wall is lined, floor to ceiling, with hardcover books that are more than 100 years old.
And when Breslin and her friends want to kick up their heels to a little music, they turn to her wind-up Victrola phonograph and collection of old records.
Clockwise from left: After winding it up, Linda Breslin listens to music play from her Victrola phonograph; With no phone at her camp, this board next to the front door is for any messages; Breslin kicks back on the couch in the living area of her camp. (Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN)
Breslin, 78 and a retired psychiatric social worker and hospital administrator, has no intention of changing or modernizing the rustic camp she loves.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
“The rule is, nothing can change,” she said. “I think that you never really own a place. You’re like a caretaker for the time that you dwell in it. It’s history. I want to leave it for the next person, and I can tell them about the people who came before and made these contributions.”
She and her husband, Jim Breslin, learned about the camp by chance in 1969. The couple were traveling in Holland, and happened to meet someone in Amsterdam who talked about their friends who had just bought a camp on a lake in Maine and needed help paying their taxes.
The Breslins ended up renting the camp for a month each summer, paying just $25 a week. For Linda Breslin, a Brooklyn native whose thick New York accent hasn’t diminished over the 30 years she has lived full time in Maine, it was the kind of place she had always dreamed about.
“I always felt I was meant to be in the country,” she said. “When I found this place, it was like, ‘This is it. This is what I’ve always wanted.’”
The couple, who had wanted to buy the camp as soon as they started spending time there, finally did so in 1982, sharing the cost with other friends who have a 25 percent stake.
For Jim and Linda Breslin, and their son J.B., camp became a year-round escape. They spent summers here, and even in the winter, would fly to Maine to take part in an ice harvest started by another island family. Linda Breslin loved the idea of using winter ice from the lake for summertime refrigeration. Once, at the airport in New Jersey, they explained their plans to curious fellow travelers.
“They said, ‘You know, we have electricity now. And refrigeration,’” Breslin said with a laugh.
In the summers, they enjoyed the easy camaraderie with other island families and were avid participants in an ever more elaborate island-wide outhouse decorating contest.
“What can I say — I win every year,” Linda Breslin said.
Clockwise from left: Linda makes hot tea while at her camp on Thursday; Photographs from the early 1900s hang on the walls next to shelves of old books; Breslin heads down the trail from her cabin to dock to take her boat over to the mainland. (Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik / BDN)
After purchasing the camp, the Breslins looked for jobs in Maine so they could move here full time. They finally did so in 1990, when Linda Breslin was hired to be the director of the Augusta Mental Health Institute. They lived full time on the lake for several months that first summer while they searched for a year-round home.
Spending more time on Lake St. George, Linda Breslin got involved with the Citizens Association of Liberty Lakes, a nonprofit that aims to maintain and improve the water quality of the town’s lakes. She spent 21 years as president of the group before stepping down this year, working to educate people around erosion, invasive plants and better development strategies.
“You’re extending the life of a lake by taking care of these problems,” she said.
You could say that extending the life of things is a passion for Breslin. Inside the camp, she proudly points out favorite features, including the antique cook stove that had been restored by Bryant Stove Works in Thorndike, and the tracings of fish caught in the lake more than a century ago, which are outlined on the wooden walls.
“Everybody puts their fish on the wall. That’s the tradition,” she said. “Along with the witnesses, the weight and the date.”
She loves to demonstrate the Victrola to island children who are more familiar with iPhones and streaming music.
“They don’t even know what vinyl is, and they see me winding this up,” she said, adding that when the music comes out of the old-fashioned box, it’s like magic.
It’s the same way that staying true to the old-fashioned nature of the camp is like magic for Breslin.
When she touches the satin-smooth wood of the stair rail to the upstairs bedrooms, stained dark by time, she can’t help but imagine the hands of the others who had come to the camp over the decades.
“I think about all the people that touched it, too, and I feel connected to them,” she said.