“Colonial House” has been in the works since spring.

MACHIASPORT (AP) – A made-for-television experiment designed to simulate history has been tucked away on a secluded Down East cove since late spring, with about two dozen participants trying to bring to life a 17th century European settlement on Indian land.

As onsite production was wrapping up last week, wannabe colonists who had grown weary of living in dirt-floored dwellings without plumbing and subsisting on meals often made from just five ingredients were looking forward to reacquainting themselves with some modern conveniences.

Just a little rest would do.

“I have never worked so hard in my life,” said Dave Verdecia, a firefighter from California who lived in the settlement with his wife Debbie and their three children.

The volunteers’ immersion into 1628 in Pilgrim-era America, known at times as Acadia to French explorers and Virginia to English settlers who actually contested control of the area chosen for the present day television shoot, lasted four months. The show, “Colonial House,” will air this spring.

The Old World community grew on a land tract of about 300 acres in a cluster of five houses, sheltering families and individuals assigned to various levels of the period’s social hierarchy.

“It hasn’t always been pretty,” said Don Wood, a carpenter from New York who acted as the settlement’s work foreman and took charge of the group’s small boat known as a shallop.

Local residents accustomed to seasonal infestations of black flies and tourists shrugged – with the occasional snort – when asked for their impressions during the weeks that the show-in-making was virtually sealed off.

“Their attitude was that they wanted to conduct the project in a way that there wouldn’t be a lot of contact with the town,” said Selectman Doug Campbell. “So we’ve just left them alone.”

That’s just what Thirteen/WNET New York had been hoping for after collaborating with Wall To Wall Television previously to produce “The 1900 House” and “Frontier House,” two other living history shows.

But Maine’s time-tested tolerance for summer people hasn’t always masked the amusement taken in the strange ways of big-city visitors.

“Like trying to grow corn,” said abutting neighbor Jay Wilkinson. “They took a blueberry field on the coast in a fog bank. Stuff like that sort of makes you wonder.”

Maine Marine Resources Commissioner George Lapointe said in setting up the settlement the producers “had some expectations” that proved hard to fulfill in “a spot that’s got very active 21st century reality.”

Topics of discussions included access to shellfish harvesting and the regular presence of local lobstermen, as well as general “good neighbor issues,” he said.

“There are issues of people earning their living and rights of free passage on the water. … In the end there was no special treatment given to them,” Lapointe said.

The land used for the colony is owned by the Passamaquoddy Indians and sits on the perimeter of Maine’s productive blueberry region about 60 miles up the coast from Ellsworth. A cool and wet summer kept the settlement frequently shrouded in clouds.

Settlement residents became accustomed to persistent dampness in their wool and linen clothing – one of any number of hardships inherent in their four-century leap backward.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily more work,” said Debbie Verdecia, displaying fresh laundry still far from clean, “it’s just so difficult.”

Growing food wasn’t easy – “The gardens have had modest success, I guess we might say,” said Don Heinz, a professor in religious studies from California who served as the community’s lay preacher and governor – and fishing was pretty much of a bust. Livestock – pigs, goats and chickens – were precious.

Still, few out-of-time concessions were made to comfort. Insect repellant was one, toothbrushes another.

“They’re really not noisy,” Wilkinson said from his tree farm next door. “One way or the other, it hasn’t really disrupted much except me.”

If the production struck him as a little naive and eccentric, he said, “Well, they’re New Yorkers. What do you expect?”


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