Dennysville is a long way from the Hamptons, the wealthy Long Island, New York, enclave known for its summer residents — high-profile celebrities, Wall Street financiers and politicians.
That’s precisely why, in 2002, Southampton native Jonathan Jaques relocated from there to the Washington County village, population 342. That, and the fact that he and his wife, Melinda, were able to purchase the Lincoln House, a former inn built in 1787 and one of the oldest buildings still standing in Washington County, for a pittance — compared with the multimillion-dollar homes in the Hamptons, that is.
“You just couldn’t beat the price,” said Jaques, now 80. “Southampton was getting too big. It was time to go. And I like the people in Maine. What you see is what you get.”
The couple don’t operate the building as an inn anymore. But within its walls lies something much better than your typical bed and breakfast. Much rarer, and certainly much stranger. As Jaques says, it’s “the most absurd bar in the world”: The Hansom House, only open on weekends during the summer, and for the occasional potluck dinner in the winter.
Technically, in Dennysville, it’s the Hansom House 2.0. For more than 30 years, Jaques and his bar, the original Hansom House, were fixtures in the Hamptons nightlife scene. Jaques purchased the original building, a former hotel in Southampton, on April Fool’s Day in 1966, and renovated it into a weird, wild oasis for artists, students, hippies, freaks and townies.
The New York Times praised its “Alice in Wonderland” aesthetic. The clientele was straight out of a Tom Waits song. Andy Warhol visited a few times. And, according to Jaques, local cops raided it on a near-weekly basis throughout the 1970s.
Every corner of the place was packed with antiques, or as Jaques more succinctly calls it: junk. The old adage that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure rings true for Jaques, who considers his more than 50 years of collecting odd items an ongoing art project.
“Junk isn’t the stuff that makes you money or keeps you warm,” he said. “It’s the stuff that makes life worthwhile.”
After decades of fighting with local code enforcement, however, and dismayed by the changing demographics of Southampton, Jonathan and Melinda moved to Maine, where he immediately got to work recreating the idiosyncratic vibe of the original Hansom House at his new house — a process that took nearly six years and was completed in 2008.
According to its listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the Lincoln House was built in 1787 by Theodore Lincoln, son of Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, who was George Washington’s second in command at the Battle of Yorktown. Theodore Lincoln oversaw the American settlement of the area, long occupied by the Passamaquoddy people, as well as the development of its lumber trade. Over the decades, many notable guests stayed at the house, including John James Audubon, who stayed there while he was studying the birds of Maritime Canada in the 1830s.
Jonathan and Melinda always intended to keep the overall condition of the Lincoln House as period-specific as possible, and haven’t changed much of anything in the rest of the building. The bar area, however, is another matter.
Some things from the Southampton bar were impossible to bring to Dennysville, like the massive rock waterfall Jaques built on the front lawn of the property, but lots of things did make it to Maine, like the antique horse-drawn Hansom cab for which the bar is named.
Most notably, he brought the five-panel stained glass window, which Jaques made by hand over the course of 13 years while he was still in Long Island. “My Trip Through Southampton on a Starry Night” is now installed as the back wall of the great room, and as the sun starts to sink below the Denny’s River, it illuminates the brilliant blues, purples and reds.
“That was the beginning and the end of my career doing stained glass, once that was done,” Jaques said.
Jaques built the great room, an addition onto the original woodshed, where the stained glass window resides, as well as a hanging installation set on a grid that Jaques can raise or lower with a winch. The installation is composed of Jaques’ beloved “junk”: everything from weird dolls and toys to an array of bird decoys and wooden fish. Bike wheels, beer steins, old cameras, masks, maps, suits of armor, mannequins, replicas of Egyptian sculptures and whale vertebrae — it’s hard to take it all in in just one go.
“I built it as a sculpture, so when you come here, you’re actually in the environment,” he said. “You’re part of the sculpture. It doesn’t function without people.”
Jaques hasn’t lost his need to build, create or tinker, more than 50 years after his lifelong art project began. Though work on the bar itself was completed in 2008, he’s got lots of other projects in the works, like the network of trails he and Melinda have built in the acres behind the house. His goal for most of his life has been to be able to afford the freedom to do what he wants.
“I can’t stand business, even though I was in business all those years. I like building things,” Jaques said. “I always had a policy that if the bills are paid at the end of the month, I’m free.”
Since 2008, Jaques has opened the Hansom House on weekends in the summer to bar patrons. On a good night, 60 people might come. He doesn’t advertise and doesn’t have any social media, so his clientele is built entirely on word of mouth. The bar menu is simple — beer, wine and traditional cocktails, plus espresso drinks and a small food menu. Sometimes there’s live music in the bar, or outside on the lawn or in the gazebo just outside the house.
In 2020, however, the bar did not open due to the coronavirus pandemic (“Not worth the risk,” Jaques said). But he’s looking forward to a 2021 summer season, provided everything is safe by then.
“I’m not here to make any money, really,” said Jaques. “Some people don’t get it, and that’s fine. The people that come here want to be here, and as long as people leave here with a smile on their face, I’m happy.”