NORWAY — It took no time for people in and around Norway to sound the online alarm bells when the Gingerbread House on Main Street hit the real estate market last month.

Some were curious and surprised. Some were saddened, or optimistic.

On social media, ideas were tossed around for its future: maybe the house could be the prize in a fee-based contest where the entrant pitching the best proposal would win. A boarding house or affordable apartments. A restaurant or art gallery.

Many were suspicious, suggesting donors have been “scammed” while town officials were “lining their pockets” and committing “theft by deception.”

The prediction of some? The nonprofit established to save the building and now selling it, Norway Landmarks Preservation Society, is going to profit.

“Our job was to save the building,” Joan Beal, treasurer for NLPS’ board of directors, told the Advertiser Democrat, adding a dose of actuality to the chatter. “We never had a mind that NLPS would keep this building and carry on with it in some way. It was to save Norway’s streetscaping.

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“If someone can maintain it as a community building that would be great, but that was not the mission. If a business moves in, it will add to Main Street’s economy, they will be keeping the building up, and they will be paying taxes on it.”

What NLPS plans to do with the proceeds is establish a trust that other owners of historic properties in Norway can tap for preservation purposes.

But apparently assuming (and posting) the worst is more entertaining than reality.

The least they could have done was hire a “local” realtor, some groused. Side note: The agent has lived in Paris for more than half a century.

Then there are the village (let’s call them) mayors, who just cannot resist the temptation to insult their neighbors: “Wasn’t that a public park before the suitdummies (sic) took it over?” one clattered from their keyboard. “Great job self appointed (sic) smart people.”

Of course, there were also people who posted about the Gingerbread House who really know what has and is happening, Beal included.

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One citizen (the above-mentioned mayor) called for an “investigation and exposé” of the situation.

The Advertiser Democrat answered that call to investigate, going on a guided tour of the property, interviewing several directors on the board of NLPS, listing real estate agent Holly Bancroft Brown, and Brad Miller, director of programs and services for Maine Preservation.

Maine Preservation has been involved with the Gingerbread House for years. It provided grant funding that has helped bring the house to this point, and recently honored the renovation project with an Annual Honor Award, bestowed alongside a similar award for Norway’s historic preservation warrior, Andrea Burns.

The porch and chimneys of the Gingerbread House have all been rebuilt to meet building codes. The interior of the Norway building has been largely untouched for 130 years. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

This is a convenient place to mention Maine Preservation while also addressing some local concerns about the future of the house and the land it sits on.

Maine Preservation holds a historic easement on the exterior of the house, which means that the organization will oversee its appearance, colors, architecture and upkeep in the future, regardless of who may eventually purchase it.

“The historic easement means that no major changes can be made to the exterior,” explained Beal. “Maine Preservation will monitor that annually.”

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The exterior easement does not make it impossible for eventual new owners to update the house’s systems and use. For example, in the case where they may wish to install heat pumps for central heating and cooling, equipment can be situated on the backside of the house along with landscape cover to camouflage its modernization.

A public easement of the driveway will also exist in perpetuity, enabling pedestrians to continue using the footbridge crossing the Lake Pennesseewassee outlet.

The historic easement does not extend to the house’s interior, which largely dates back to a Victorian renovation done in the 1880s.

There is no insulation to speak of and the plaster is in a poor state. The entire building will need to be rewired to 21st century code and it has no plumbing or heating systems. While there is power, there are only three usable outlets — one on each floor.

The Gingerbread House will need hundreds of thousands of dollars more to make the three-story structure habitable and code compliant. That important detail is a consideration for any investor, but Holly Bancroft Brown, of Hearth & Key Realty, says it is not dampening inquiries and showings.

“There are some interesting people” that have inquired about the house, Brown says. “All with different ideas of what they would do with the properties.”

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Everyone she has had contact with so far wants to continue the mission of NLPS, keeping the building as original as possible while making it work for modern-day needs.

Asked if interest includes residential, nonprofit use, commercial, retail or hospitality, Brown said it has been all of the above.

“It’s a true mixed bag of what people are thinking of,” she laughed.

For those worried the town of Norway has given away Bob Butters Memorial Park, which sits on the same block as the Gingerbread House, rest assured this is not the case.

A view of Bob Butters Memorial Park, seen May 14 from the Gingerbread House turret in Norway. Contrary to rumor, the park was never given to Norway Landmarks Preservation Society. It belongs to the town of Norway and will remain a public community space. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

While a small portion of the Gingerbread House’s 0.28-acre lot was donated by the town years ago, the park remains the property of Norway and will continue to function as public space.

The house lot comprises other donations as well, including from the Maine Department of Transportation, the house’s previous owners (who also owned the Advertiser Democrat) and abutting neighbors.

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Touching on the financials of the house’s rehabilitation journey, NLPS is its current owner with a mission of architectural preservation. The volunteer-run organization was founded in 2011 to save the house from demolition and restore its exterior.

It operates as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. It has organized annual fundraising events and has solicited numerous private donations. It has received grants from Maine Preservation and the Davis Family Foundation, as well as corporate gifts from Norway Savings Bank, Aubuchon Hardware, Benjamin Moore Paints, along with others.

NLPS files annual tax returns and, despite social media suggestions to the contrary, has maintained a full and thorough accounting as required by law, according to Beal.

Some of the most generous individual donations to move and rehabilitate the Gingerbread House have come from the people committed to saving it, volunteers who in turn hired (and paid) local businesses and craftsmen over the last 13 years to help restore an icon of Norway’s historic village.

To assuage the fears that a handful of preservationists or town officials are going to personally cash in when the Gingerbread House is sold, the proceeds will remain with NLPS, said Beal. As its mission to save the Gingerbread House is realized, NLPS’s intent now is to expand it toward other Norway historic properties at risk.

“If someone needs to paint their building” NLPS could help with that, Beal said. “We’re looking at a trust fund that provides low- or no-interest loans to people who are working on historic properties.”

It would appear it is the community that may benefit from the sale of the Gingerbread House.

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