NORWAY — The Western Foothills Land Trust has purchased the historic John Roberts House and five-acre lot on the edge of the Roberts Farm Reserve on Pikes Hill.

“It’s at the entrance to the preserve. It seemed important to our board to purchase it,” board member Lee Dassler said.

The four-room, two-story, wood-frame house, built in 1823, was bought from local historian Peter Lenz on Dec. 8.
Lenz bought the house from a descendant of John Roberts who lived in Massachusetts and died in 2002.

Dassler said the one-room-deep house, with its center chimney and hipped roof, is an unusual architectural form for its period and location. Built by Henry Pike in 1823, the home’s most prestigious resident was John A. Roberts, Maine’s commissioner of agriculture from 1913-1918. The main house doesn’t have plumbing, electricity or heat, but Dassler said an ell that burned down in 2004 housed all the modern amenities that Lenz used when he lived there.

Preservation carpenter and contractor Peter Toohey of Harrison has been hired to secure the house for the winter. This will give the trust time to establish a communitywide committee to look into and plan for the property’s future use, Dassler said.

A number of options are available to the trust, including keeping the land and selling the house; saving the house and restoring it to a seasonal museum; rebuilding the ell and installing modern amenities; or rehabbing the house and putting the Land Trust offices upstairs and public rooms downstairs.

“There’s a whole range of possibilities,” Dassler said.

Dassler said the beauty of the house is that it’s simply a shell. “We don’t have to worry about four generations of bad heating systems. Now you can do it (put in systems) right,” she said. There is a central fireplace with a fairly new fire box on the first floor, she added.

In a statement released this week by the trust, Dassler said, “The purchase of the farmhouse lot reflects a major step for the Trust, yet one in keeping with activities of other land trusts in Maine. As Megan Shore, former land trust program manager at the Maine Coast Heritage Trust wrote in … the current edition of the Land Trust Alliance’s Saving Land magazine: ‘… land trusts are stepping beyond the established boundaries of what land conservation is. They are being deliberate in thinking about how to make their conservation work even more meaningful to the communities they serve.'”

The Western Foothills Land Trust aims to preserve native ecosystems, watersheds, farm and forest lands, and scenic landscapes in Western Maine. This is the first time it has chosen to preserve an improved parcel. According to information from the trust, the Roberts Farm was considered “too important a structure for the community to lose by neglect.”

The trust currently protects approximately 1,889 acres with conservation easements in its 10-town service area and owns eight properties totaling 1,774 acres.

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