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History

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.

When 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 pie.

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 loved it.

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 floor, while
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 black.

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," and disappeared.

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.

We 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.


I 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 July.

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 six.

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.

The 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."

I 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" looking for.

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.

It 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 vacation.

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


For additional information or to make reservations write or call:

Kristin Hutchins - Ridgewood Cottages, Inc. | PO Box 665, #3 Hutchins Lane |  Southwest Harbor, Maine 04679

Phone 207-244-9687 | Email us at:

Southwest Harbor / Tremont Chamber of CommerceEnvironmental Leader 2016Acadia National Park Centenial

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