For Rent - near Bar Harbor - six cottages
by Meredith Hutchins
The first cottage we built was an A-frame, constructed of matched
pine. We set it on a wooded acre lot on Freeman Ridge in Southwest
Harbor. We've forgotten where the design came from, but we do remember
that, 30 years ago, it was considered objectionably avant-garde.
One merchant asked if it were really true that Kenneth was planning
to put up an A-frame. And the owner of the village service station
was heard to say, "What's that boy building now?"
That boy was my husband. He was close to 30 years old at the time
and he wasn't building a cottage for our summer vacations. We did
not "summer" in Maine, or anywhere else, for that matter.
The cottage was built to rent. We hoped the enterprise would pay
expenses with enough left over to finish our own house.
the cottage was finished, the plumbing and electricity in, and the
furniture bought and arranged, we gave a little party to celebrate.
It was probably our first, since most of our income heretofore had
gone for lumber, shingles, and nails. I was so distracted by the
novelty of the occasion that I forgot to put any sugar in the blueberry
But, no matter, we rented the cottage for six weeks and were optimistic
we'd do even better next season.
Kenneth said it was the time to build again, I was not 100 percent
enthusiastic, but he was convinced that rental cottages were a good
business for anyone living near Acadia National Park. Besides he
liked building them.
Since we had land, but no cash to buy materials, we put the A-frame
on the market and sold it to a couple from New York. Now we could
build two more cottages.
We found a place for them part way up a wooded ridge. The first
cottage was another A-frame. One large room served as the kitchen/living/dining
area. Kitchen equipment included a small electric stove and refrigerator,
and we placed the dining table next to a large window so that people
could see out into the green woods while they ate.
In the living area the couch and an ugly, but comfortable, recliner
faced the Franklin fireplace. There were two bedrooms, plus a loft
reached by a circular staircase for which Kenneth devised a curved
iron railing attached to the wood treads with links of chain. Children
The second cottage, a salt-box, sat across the graveled drive from
the A-frame. Two sets of sliding-glass doors opened from its living
area onto a deck. The bathroom and one bedroom were on the ground
the upstairs consisted of a divided loft.
Creating two cottages from the proceeds of one made for a tight
budget. We bought new mattresses and springs but Kenneth built the
bed frames. My mother gave me a rocking chair, assorted dishes,
and some lamps acquired with S&H green stamps. I found chairs
and bureaus at secondhand shops and hid their sins by painting them
We had to scramble to equip both cottages before tenants arrived.
On the day people were due at the second cottage, just as we were
wondering what we might have forgotten, we happened to glance up
above the table to realize we had neglected to install a light.
It was a Saturday forenoon, the hardware store would close shortly,
and our electrician was sure to have escaped for the weekend on
his boat. I was about to ask why we had gotten into this rental
business, when Kenneth said, "I'll have to rig something up,"
He returned half an hour later toting a socket, a lampshade, a
long cord and a six foot curved piece of driftwood. He nailed the
driftwood to the wall so that it hung out over the table. This homemade
chandelier functioned for 15 years without a hitch.
The records I kept for that summer are long gone, but it must have
been a successful season because Kenneth spent much of the next
winter cutting and hauling cedar logs to build cottage #3.
had plenty of trees, so the logs cost next to nothing, just the
price of gasoline and chainsaw repairs, but with no tractor, he
had to haul each log to the building site himself.
This third cottage was constructed so that the main building was
separate from the bedrooms and bath, which were reached by a covered
walkway, eventually widened into a deck. Kenneth came up with the
design because he had a limited number of 20-foot logs and this
was the best way he could think of to use the short ones.
never met the log cottage's first tenants, who were a couple on
their honeymoon. But while tidying up the kitchen after they had
gone, I opened the refrigerator to find a bowl filled with cut-up
pieces of fruit - strawberries, peaches, grapes, melon, pears ...
I had never seen anything more appetizing and was trying to repress
a hope that the honeymooners were too far away to come back, when
I spied a note, "We didn't get a chance to eat this salad,"
it said. "We hope you enjoy it."
And enjoy it we did, right down to the last spoonful of sweet red
juice in the bottom of the bowl. Although they never came to stay
at the log cottage again, a "Finkelstein salad" has become
as necessary to our summers as a lobster picnic on the Fourth of
Our third daughter was born the year the log cottage was complete.
Three daughters and three cottages seemed enough to care for, so
we spent the next eight years tending to business and working on
our own house.
I handled the advertising. I would run small classified ads that
began "Near Bar Harbor ... "
At first, we did not even have a brochure. I answered each inquiry
individually, until an artist friend took pity on me and designed
one. It took a number of years to use up the first printing. More
than half our tenants were repeat customers, and the second-largest
group was made up of their friends and acquaintances.
During our early years in business, I worried that prospective
customers would expect the cottages to be fitted out with all the
conveniences they had at home. But after people who came back year
after year assured me they preferred vacations without a telephone
and television. I relaxed.
Of course, I did make sure, even in the beginning when we had to
keep to a strict budget, that each kitchen was stocked with a large
kettle for cooking lobsters, plus sufficient pots and dishes for
We also tried to describe the location accurately and took care
not to imply that the cottages are situated at the water's edge,
although considering the demand for oceanfront property, we often
wished we could.
By 1978, Kenneth felt the urge to build again. Shaped like an octagon,
cottage #4 sat on a ledge up the hill from the others. It was comfortable
and compact, with the bedrooms and bath on the same floor as the
living area and deck.
The fifth cottage, built for the 1983 season, featured a living
area shaped like a ship's prow, where two picture windows came together
to form an obtuse angle. It became the most popular cottage of all,
partly because of its seclusion and partly, I think, because the
windows face east toward the morning sun.
I thought five cottages were enough, but Kenneth said no, there
was room for one more. He promised it would be the last and built
it from western red cedar on the side of the hill.
It had three levels, with two bedrooms on the lowest level, a bedroom
and bath on the middle level, and the living area and deck on top.
In one comer of the living room, a turret with a built-in settee
formed the piece de resistance.
From the roof of the turret we hung a small chandelier, which had
come from someone's summer cottage. The owner's New York decorator
had said it was the ugliest thing he ever saw and it had to go.
Oh well, one person's chandelier ....
With six cottages and four times as many cottage rental businesses
in operation as when we began, we increased our advertising. We
now get stacks of letters during the winter, and by June most days
are punctuated with calls from people under the illusion they can
still reserve their cottage in Maine for a week in August.
telephone calls are likely to come from people who know what they
want and have little trouble making up their minds. Some quite rightly,
are relieved to learn that our cottages are not roadside cabins,
all exactly alike, and lined up facing the highway. Others, who
have never been to Maine, need reassurance that the state is not
just a primitive outpost of civilization.
They ask about the black flies; they want to know how long it will
take to drive here and which road they should take. Their questions
sometimes remind me of the Peter Sellers monologue, in which he
describes a place as "difficult to get into and even harder
to get out of."
Although telephone calls produce more reservations, the letters
and postcards are more numerous. They range from those typed on
executive letterheads with long lists of partners and inventive
logos to postcards and lined notebook paper saying, "Please
send me your brochure."
once received an inquiry which began, "Please give us the most
remote cottage available, as we are looking to really getting away
from everything." I would have liked to oblige, but I think
Acadia National Park in the summertime was not what they were "really"
Another party, who surely found accommodations elsewhere (at triple
the rent) wanted a "house on the beach with five bedrooms,
two or three baths, and a living room large enough for us to foregather
- and perhaps a deck."
Periodically, my mail is brightened with pink notepaper, picture
postcards, and advertising memos. I recall one that began, "Please
excuse the pharmaceutical stationery." Another writer introduced
himself by saying, "I have a small tool manufacturing business
and it is doing rather well."
From time to time, as if expecting to hear a tale of woe, people
will ask us about the problems we encounter. I am sorry to disappoint
them, but we have very little woe to relate.
is true that some tenants keep house more diligently than others,
although we've seldom rented to people who are downright destructive.
In fact, most people usually go to great lengths to be responsible,
apologizing when a $12 toaster gives up the ghost or replacing a
drinking glass bought for 10 cents at a yard sale.
Of course, it would be difficult to forget the Saturday we cleaned
the A-frame after it had been occupied by three young men for the
month of June. We did not expect they would be particular in their
housekeeping, nor were they, but, when we found bits of lobster
meat scattered about the bathroom, we rather wished they'd invited
us to their parties, too.
We have also been the recipients of a bounced check now and then,
which has entailed some extra correspondence, but only once did
we end up getting stiffed for the rent. Another time, I was reluctantly
gearing up to be outraged over the loss of two blankets, when I
got a telephone call from the tenant in question. She informed me
her brother-in-law had packed them by mistake and she was shipping
them back via U.P.S.
But such details are nothing when set beside the people we have
met and the friends we have made. Some of them have introduced us
to their own special places on the Maine coast, places we were too
busy to discover on our own. Some even invite us to dinner, an act
of astonishing generosity, it seems to me, from people who are on
Financially speaking, income from the business rises with inflation
and is only marginally affected by recession. A step up from camping,
housekeeping cottages please people who want more space and less
weather. Conversely, they represent an acceptable alternative to
those who would really rather be waited on but can't afford to eat
every meal out.
Last, but not least, they have helped send three daughters to college,
with enough left over some years for Kenneth and me to play at being
tourists ourselves. We like best to vacation in March, during mud
season, when even two Puritans like us can enjoy drinking daiquiris
on the deck of a tropical cottage, especially since the view and
the rent are so elevated that they stifle any interest whatsoever
in its maintenance and repair.
Originally published in
The Bar Harbor Times, April 14, 1994
Drawings by Carol Hall