The broker listed our house as being built in the 1860s, but even then, we thought it went back further. I’ve since seen maps from the mid-1830s showing a footprint for a house like ours, which seems right, confirmed in an 1855 map of town.
We know it was here before 1886, as the charred rafters affirm, reflecting the great fire that destroyed the downtown. (One historian had primed us to look for that touch.)
The 1855 map even shows this as the Estate of J. Shackford, a member of a prolific local family that originated in Dover before scattering to Portsmouth and Newburyport, Massachusetts, and then resettling up here quite successfully.
But to everyone we’ve met, it’s the Baskerville House.
I love the literary allusion, of course, to Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of the Baskervilles (and the fact it takes place largely in Devonshire, which plays into so much of my history of Dover). Hound/house are, of course, nearly homonyms. Beyond that, there’s also the fact that Baskerville was a basic serif typeface back in the letterpress days when I entered journalism. It’s an old style that largely didn’t make the leap to digital, though I see it has recently joined my Windows options. (Not so for my beloved Caslon of the same era.)
What we liked about the place, besides its location and TLC potential, was the fact it felt good inside. Close-your-eyes, even when the room’s chilly. I’ve certainly felt comfortable in extended solitude and all the writing that’s come within it.
Something that struck me after moving to New England was how often people – even highly rational professionals – calmly asked new homeowners if their place had ghosts. I’m not kidding. And Maine seemed especially prone to that.
Nobody’s asked us, though. Instead, they confirmed that ours always felt good to them, too.
The Baskerville at the heart of this story is Anna, a retired Black nurse who came to Eastport in 1999 to live with her son and daughter-in-law, also named Anna.
From what I’m told, she was stout, had red hair, and loved to sing – especially in all of the churches, where she was always welcome. And she, too, found this place hard to heat but stayed in it, after her son remarried and moved to the other end of town.
When I said no ghosts but the place feels good, others piped up that’s likely Anna’s presence or spirit. I’ve known similar imprints elsewhere, especially in old Quaker meetinghouses.
Naturally, we want to know more about her.
One story I heard was about her introduction to the town. She had a longstanding fear of deep water, and because her new residence was only a block from the ocean, the family arranged for her to arrive after dark and get used to the house first. Maybe they figured they could deal with any trauma better in the morning.
So, as I’m told, when Anna awoke and opened the blinds and saw the expanse of water, she inhaled and, as she proclaimed later, “I knew I was home.”
Yes, we know the feeling, too. And we still want to know more.
In the meantime, we’re trying to keep our renovations in line with what we hope she would have approved. There are good reasons to respect the past.
What do you know about the place where you’re living?