Maine Preservationists tour Clare McDermott’s property on Sumner Bean Road. Rose Lincoln, Bethel Citizen

ALBANY — “I have a soft spot for the Plain Jane homes that were built modestly and have a very simple kind of energy to them. That’s what we want to preserve.” said Clare McDermott of the 1840 cape cod style ‘utilitarian’ home she and husband, Bryan Spencer, bought in the fall of 2020.

On Tuesday, Nov. 15, McDermott met with Brad Miller, Tara Kelly and Jonathan Hall of Maine Preservation in Yarmouth, to gain insight and ideas about her home. The three visited other historical buildings in Bethel on the same day, (see corresponding story). Maine Preservation was founded in 1972 to, “promote and preserve historic places, strengthening the cultural and economic vitality of Maine’s communities.”

McDermott’s house was the last stop of the day. Earlier they visited the two historical society homes and Gehring Mansion on Broad Street, and a former Grange Hall in West Bethel. They also met with Jessie Perkins at the Chamber of Commerce and with Lloyd Sweetser at the Town Office.

“One of the reasons I wanted to talk with them (Maine Preservation), is it’s hard to hire people. It’s hard for me to tell what’s original detail and what would be appropriate to put back in. We don’t want to be super strict about making it just so. At the same time, if there is an opportunity to preserve what it looked like 200 years ago, then we’d love to do that,” said McDermott.

The group talked in her cozy kitchen scented with the smell of hot apple cider. They recommended she search for old photos to see, for instance, where the house was originally placed. Hall suggested removing some of the vinyl siding for clues. “You let the building inform your decisions. Typically we would recommend wood,” he said of the exterior.

“I’m working on trying to create a historic homeowner tax credit that would cover 25% of your rehabilitation expenses between $5,000 and $250,000,” said Tara Kelly, executive director. “We’re hearing from homeowner after homeowner and we know they have these programs in other states. We’re hoping to address this into the legislature this year”


Around the perimeter of the property, off Vernon Street by Long Mountain, in Albany Township, are apple trees from the original homestead. There are also hazelnuts, raspberries and a crab apple tree. The couple hopes to plant blueberry bushes, too.

They use no utilities, so are off the grid. They heat and power the refrigerator with propane, use solar energy for electric and a well for their water. The previous owner upgraded the solar and installed everything else. Learning how it all worked was challenging for the couple.

The people who owned the house 20 years ago, prior to the off-grid owners, purportedly powered by windmill and used candles for electricity. “So you’re continuing the lineage,” quipped Miller. Responded McDermott, “It makes you feel more secure. If things go terribly wrong we know we’ll be here.”

The house is the Sumner Bean homestead on Sumner Bean Road, so likely was owned by Sumner Bean, but McDermott said they haven’t done any research to verify this, yet.

One of the interesting details of the house are the three dormers, all narrower than usual, with the sole front dormer off-center. “It’s not typical,” confirms Miller of the front dormer. Hall says, “It’s really rare to find a pure building that is the same as it was when it was built. There are always little curiosities. It could be something as simple as someone wanted the dormer to add light to a sewing space.”

The ground up newspaper in the attic worries McDermott partly because of the ‘carnival of rodents’ that nest there and also because it could be a fire hazard. Hall eases her fire worries, saying the newspaper is most likely flame retardant. McDermott still worries,  “I’m dying to get it out of there because there is a big animal living up there, possibly in the weasel family,”


“This is where I get stuck, I feel like I can’t just call the insulation guy and say get rid of this stuff.” Hall suggests asking for proposals. “We’ll tell you the questions to ask,” says Kelly. “If you can slow down, take your time, its a huge advantage,” said Hall

In the basement, McDermott was concerned about the  water leaking through the fieldstones. The preservationists suggested grading outside, first. McDermott didn’t want to use a dehumidifier, since they are off grid and the electricity usage would be high. Instead, Hall suggested opening windows, running a fan and eventually buying a heat pump water heater because of it’s efficiency and because it takes moisture out of the air. “It will take humidity out of the air?” asked McDermott, surprised. With climate change, planning for an increase in precipitation is another concern, said Miller.

McDermott says from the very first time they visited the house, she was entranced.  “I looked out the kitchen window. It looks like a painting. That barn against the back is so stark,” she said.

As the sun set, and the crew headed toward the door and back toward the coast, McDermott said, “I really appreciate your stopping by with your wealth of information.”


Maine Preservationists tour Clare McDermott’s property on Sumner Bean Road. Rose Lincoln, Bethel Citizen


Maine Preservationists tour Clare McDermott’s property on Sumner Bean Road. Rose Lincoln, Bethel Citizen

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