House For Sale on Swan's Island | The Island With 351 Friends
Yankee Plus Dec 2015
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Yes, everyone who lives on Swan’s Island, Maine, knows everyone else. As to waterfront properties currently available out there, well, we found several–one for, no kidding, $65,000!
We were a half-hour early for the 9:00 a.m. ferry to Swan’s Island out of Bass Harbor (which is some 15 miles southwest of Bar Harbor). So we found ourselves chatting with the ticket lady, Colleen Hyland, who, we learned, besides selling ferry tickets, owns and operates the Harbor Watch Inn on Swan’s Island (swansisland.com). She, of course, knew the two real-estate agents, Belinda Doliber and Christal Applin, who were scheduled to meet us at the ferry landing at Atlantic, one of the three small villages on Swan’s Island. “They’ll show you some nice shorefront properties now available out there,” Colleen promised us.
At precisely 9:00 o’clock, the 16-car ferry pulled out of Bass Harbor. “In bad weather it takes a bit longer than the usual 30 to 40 minutes,” Captain Bob Morehouse told us. Obviously, Colleen had somehow informed him that we were “the Yankee Magazine Moseyer,” and he’d kindly invited us to join him and First Mate Jason Rantala up on the bridge for the trip across a large stretch of open water to Swan’s Island. We felt very privileged. Captain Morehouse explained that they work one week on, one off (when another crew comes on), making six trips a day during the summer, four trips a day during the off-season, and that they dock every night at Swan’s Island. “We’re available for any medical emergency that might arise on the island during the night,” he noted. And, sure, he knew Belinda and Christal. Of course.
And then there they were, waving and laughing, at the end of the pier as we glided in for a landing. They had to be Belinda and Christal, but how did they recognize us before we even introduced ourselves? (Probably because they personally knew everyone else in sight.)
Anyway, within minutes, we’d piled into Belinda’s car and were heading for the first shorefront property they wanted to show us. On the way, we learned that there are currently 351 year-round residents on Swan’s Island, lots more in the summer; 12 miles of paved roads; a general store; a school that goes through eighth grade (high-school students commute by ferry to Mount Desert); several restaurants, coffee shops, and “takeouts”; four churches; a new library; and, well, it’s obviously very much a going community. Belinda, although originally from Marblehead, Massachusetts, has been an island resident for 23 years, while her colleague, Christal, was born on Swan’s Island (as was her father) and even went to the island school.
“Swan’s Island is part of me and my family,” Christal said, adding that quite a few family members, including her father, lie in the island cemetery. Both Belinda and Christal are married to year-round lobstermen, but, like everyone else on Swan’s Island, lobstermen do other things, too–such as carpentry, plowing, caretaking for the summer folks, or whatever. They both agreed that lobsters were plentiful last year, but, they said, “the prices were lousy.”
We’d love to own the first property we visited. This 22-by-24-foot, five-room cottage has the most marvelously spacious wraparound deck within steps of Burnt Coat Harbor, with 1,000 feet of water frontage included. There’s also a separate garage, currently housing kayaks and rowboats. The $249,000 price includes no fewer than 10 acres of hilly woods, with, in season, an abundance of wild berries. Overall, a real gem.
On our drive to the second property on the agenda, we stopped at Mill Pond Park to admire another view of Burnt Coat Harbor, with Swan’s Island Village across the way. “My grandparents’ house is over there,” Christal said as we sat briefly at one of several picnic tables. “Now my brother owns it.”
As we approached the second property, a house and outbuildings with 195 feet of water frontage on what’s called Mill Pond (a saltwater section of, again, Burnt Coat Harbor), Belinda warned us that “nothing has ever left this place.” We soon understood what she meant: Lying on the ground all around several falling-down outbuildings were old lobster traps and tons of unidentifiable debris, next to a good-size two-story house that, sure, might provide shelter some rainy night if you were lost, but, no, it’s no longer livable as is. However! Remember that the 195 feet of frontage and the water view would be wonderful once a few thick bushes that have grown up between the house and the rocky shore were trimmed. And best of all is the price: just $65,000. (Somebody is going to grab themselves a nice bargain!)
To reach the third property, a six-room, three-story home recently built on high ground overlooking 293 feet of spectacular ocean frontage, we drove for several miles on the winding dirt byway known as Red Point Road. The price, $469,000, includes a bit more than three acres and all the amenities necessary in a year-round home: oil heat, a septic system, a well, modern appliances, and so forth. The interior is beautifully done, with lots of glass, high ceilings, and wooden beams, and the large wraparound deck overlooks the surf crashing on the rocks below, as well as nearby Long Island, home to the town of Frenchboro–truly, a view to die for.
The next place we visited was actually two properties combined. One is a traditional six-room, three-bedroom (1-1/2 baths) farmhouse with a view of the water (which could be improved with some trimming), a good well and septic system, hot-air heating, and nice landscaping on about an acre. The other is reached by walking across the street and onto a path (still on the property) leading down to the shore. There’s about 100 feet of water frontage. But the most dramatic and unusual feature of this combined property is situated down there on a large old dock: namely, a picturesque, extremely weathered, two-story shingled building, once used by fishermen but now empty. It looks across Mackerel Cove to the ferry landing in the distance. In fact, on our return ferry ride later that afternoon, we could easily spot it. That old building is a prominent landmark. Price for both properties combined: $430,000.
By this time, we were all hungry for lunch. So Belinda drove to a little takeout and store called the Carrying Place Market, where we purchased delicious sandwiches and proceeded to nearby Hockamock Head Light, from which one can take in the vastness of the open Atlantic Ocean. A wonderful place for our picnic.
After lunch we proceeded to inspect almost an acre of available land on both sides of Ferry Road, with 156 feet of water frontage on Mackerel Cove. We walked up through tall grass and bushes to the high ground, where we’d locate our new house. Nice view. Price: $127,000. Belinda said that she had several other pieces of waterfront land as well.
A bit later, as we were about to bid Belinda and Christal a fond farewell and board the ferry, Belinda handed us a sheet of general information about Swan’s Inland in which we found the following quote: “Swan’s Island is ideal for those who are skilled at entertaining themselves in fog or sunshine and who prefer an hour of beachcombing to an hour of bowling and a good book to a movie.”