Every few years, my aunt and uncle would break up their Rangeley vacations with a trip to the Maine coast, so in 1961 they rented a cottage on a bay outside of Thomaston, Maine.  At first, Iwas disappointed that we weren’t going to Rangeley, but was certainly up for anything. They hadn’t disappointed me yet!  As most of you are aware, there are vast differences between the experience  of being in the mountains of Maine and that of the coastal areas.  There are also big differences between Maine’s southern coast, mid coast, and the northeastern “Down East” areas.
These differences are far more pronounced today; however, they were still evident in the early 1960’s.  I believe they are primarily based on the distance from major population centers in Boston and further south.  A huge concern of Boston suburbanites vacationing in Maine is, “How long does it take to get there?”
When some people ask me that question about Rangeley, and I reply, “Four to five hours, depending on traffic,” they are appalled.   They are comfortable with travelling to Lake Winnepesaukee or Kennebunkport, but that’s about it- especially when it comes to owning a vacation home.  My wife, Cindy, was also initially put off by the long trip to Rangeley on her first trip there in the early 1990’s. It didn’t take her long to understand that the trip was a small price to pay for the rewards of being there.  Winnepesaukee is now essentially suburban Boston on a big lake. The boating congestion on the water is unbelievable, with police boats seen everywhere. The adjacent towns have been heavily commercialized, sprinkled with every possible chain store and restaurant.
While they want a change of scenery, this breed of vacationers also want every comfort of their suburban life, and they have succeeded all too well in doing so.
Kennebunkport is another example.  Population pressures from Massachusetts and New York have turned this once sleepy coastal fishing village into a chic, if overcrowded, destination for the wealthy. During the summer, it can take forty five minutes to drive from one end of town to the other. Reservations at nice restaurants must be made weeks in advance, and lodging prices are such that one is tempted to say, “We only want to rent it, not buy it!”  Feel like taking a little drive to Ogunquit? Be prepared for bumper to bumper traffic to rival that of Boston’s Southeast Expressway.
I speak from experience, as I lived there off and on from the mid 1970’s to the late 1980’s,  while building and selling houses.  In 1977, one could buy direct oceanfront lots for as little as $40,000.  The same lot, if available today, would be $2 million!  Sure, the coastal views are as magnificent as ever; but go one block inland, and you could be in an affluent suburb of any major northeast city.

In 1985, I bought my last parcel in Kennebunkport, a half acre lot on Ocean Avenue with breathtaking unobstructed views, just down from the Bush Estate on Walker’s Point.  This lot had languished on the market, because it was one big chunk of granite in between two mansions.  I wasn’t afraid of blasting, so I went for it.  This house was supposed to be a keeper for me, and I hired the renowned architectural firm of Royal Barry Wills to design an appropriate house.  As construction progressed, a frequent visitor was none other than George Bush, then vice president. He was about as friendly and down to earth as a person could be, often stopping to chat with me in long conversations on every imaginable subject.   His Secret Service contingent requested that he not stay nearby while the blasting commenced, but he would have no part of it.   This was no easy task, blasting a cellar hole and utility trenches out of solid rock, as close as 50 feet to the abutting homes.  Maine Drilling and Blasting, which completed projects all over the northeastern U.S., did a masterful job, barely rattling a teacup in the process. They drilled multiple holes deep into the granite, then inserted sausagelike logs of plastic explosives, wired together in groups. The detonations produced only a muffled thud.  The foreman once yelled “catch!” as he threw me one of the explosives, to my horror!   The whole crew got a huge laugh out of that, (as did the Vice President)  knowing that the material was totally benign unless stuck with a firing pin, and detonated in a confined space.
Even after using untold tons of the blasted rock for fireplaces, chimneys and wall construction, I still had a big pile remaining. Mr. Bush asked me if he could buy some of the rock, which he needed to repair stone walls at their estate.  I told him he was welcome to take all he wanted at no charge, since he was helping me to get rid of it.   Satisfied with that little fib-  I sold all the rest of it- he shook hands and left.  A few hours later, the Vice President of the United States returned in a beat up pickup truck, himself at the wheel, with two Secret Service agents, and the three of them hand loaded the first of a few truckloads. Here was a man frequently cast as an elitist socialite by the media.  I fist met him after picking up  his son Jeb at Logan Airport, on my way up to Kennebunkport.
Jub was a real estate broker in Miami at that time, and I had been working with him on a project.  Arriving at their home, Jeb introduced me to his father, who was watching TV in a pair of boxer shorts. Mr.Bush got up to shake my hand and said, “Great to meet you, Keevin!  Grab yourself a beer in the fridge, and tell me about the house you will be building down the street!”  He was among the greatest of human beings, a man who had flown 58 combat missions in WW II’s Pacific Theater, with 126 carrier landings.  Whether or not one agreed with his politics, here was a hero who totally deserved the ultimate honor of having a Nimitz class aircraft carrier, the USS George H. W. Bush, named after him. May he rest in peace, and may others come along who can fill his shoes.
By 1988, Kennebunkport had already become overcrowded, especially with tourists clogging Ocean Avenue to gawk at the Bush estate, which only became much worse when he was elected president.  In less than fifteen years, this town had morphed from an authentic coastal Maine community into a high priced tourist trap. I received the proverbial “offer I couldn’t refuse” on my partially completed Ocean Avenue house, and my Kennebunkport years were over.  The house was recently resold for about $3.5 million, and provides the buyer with a mind boggling view and real estate tax bill to match.  I had had enough of the southern Maine coast and its congestion; it was now part of the suburban megalopolis. We were still enticed by a shorter drive from home, so we decided to look at the Portland area.
I wound up buying a beautiful four acre oceanfront lot on Great Diamond Island in Casco Bay, an easy ferry ride from Portland. This was in a development of about 125 homes and condos at a  former army fort. We were very close to all the conveniences and amenities that Portland had to offer, while enjoying a totally rural, peaceful setting on the island.  It was perfect, or so we thought.
We soon found out that there was major discontent there. Many of the property owners were engaged in an ongoing war with the managing partner of the development. In addition, the owners were factionalized into three groups, each having their own concerns. It became downright ugly, with some very nasty association meetings. Why would we want to endure this type of situation at a place where we sought harmony and relaxation?   Well, we didn’t, and I sold the lot.  We finally figured out that the Maine coast, perhaps excluding the really distant Down East portion, was not for us. It was time to take another look at Rangeley!


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