Before reaching the driveway, we caught a glimpse of our destination through a break in the trees. It was there in a sunny clearing, just beyond a brook. It was a bigger, more impressive-looking house than we’d expected. And, except for trim, it was all clear-stained wood. Although we already knew it had been built just 19 years ago, it appeared to be a mid-18th-century saltbox, very similar to some of those you see in Old Sturbridge Village.
Well, as it turned out, that’s exactly what it’s supposed to look like. And the model generally followed by owner/builder Jeremiah L. Ferguson and his dad, Jeremiah M. Ferguson, during the three years it took the two of them to build it was the 1748 Richardson House parsonage, a saltbox, at Old Sturbridge Village.
Jeremiah L., his eighth-grade daughter, Emeline, and 10th-grade son, Jeremiah (of course!), who goes by his middle name, Moses, met us at a side door next to the three portals of the attached 2-1/2-story garage.
“Did you and your father really build this huge home yourselves?” was our first question. We’d surmised they’d maybe had it built by a contractor under their close supervision.
“Dad and I contracted for some of the cement work as well as a bit of the electric power stuff, but, yes, the two of us built it,” Jeremiah said. “Dad, then retired as an engineer, worked on it full time for three years, and I, working full time as an engineer in Brunswick, was there with him early mornings, late evenings, and every weekend.”
He said they enjoyed the process and the quality the two of them were able to produce. “We think alike,” he added, “so there were no arguments.” But he had to admit that neither of them much liked the huge amount of time such a project requires. We wondered to ourselves how the wives felt about that part of it, too, but since it became obvious that there was just Jeremiah and his two children there that day — no wife in evidence — we decided not to ask about it. Yet. (We’d learn everything before we left.)
While we were chatting, we made our way up some stairs; past a large living room with lots of windows designed in the pattern of the 1740s, a brick fireplace, and gorgeous red-oak flooring; and then into the kitchen, where we sat on stools at a large center island with four burners and the oven on one end. Along two walls were lovely dark-cherry cabinets, and there was plenty of Formica counter space. A brick hearth occupied one corner, ready for a woodstove hookup, and on the other side of a door leading into what was obviously the dining room, we noticed a small breakfast nook. For sure, nobody living in 1748 had ever seen such a beautiful kitchen. But, hey, nobody said this was supposed to be an exact replica of an Old Sturbridge Village house.
Over a cup of coffee we learned that not only were there three Jeremiahs in the current immediate family, two of whom were sitting opposite us, but at least one Jeremiah was in each of the past five generations of Fergusons, and before them, another five generations of Sweetsers, an earlier family branch. Many of the men on both sides were sea captains sailing out of Searsport and Belfast. Not surprisingly, throughout this house we could somehow feel that meticulous, cut-no-corners, do-it-right approach to life we’ve always associated with true Down Easters. For instance, according to Jeremiah, the house is situated 6 degrees east of due south to maximize sunlight coming into the rooms. Not 5 degrees or 4. Precisely 6.
Or take the position of the two chimneys. “They’re perfectly symmetrical and exactly — to the inch — the same distance from the center of the roof,” said Jeremiah proudly as we rose and prepared to go up the beautifully crafted front stairs (there are beautifully crafted back stairs, too) to the second floor.
“But before you go up,” said Jeremiah, taking our arm, “in order to understand how the chimneys were positioned, you must come down into the cellar. Then you need to see the attic.”
So down cellar we went. Our memory of the next several minutes consists of huge steel beams, massive cement work, gigantic timbers, and Jeremiah explaining why it was the way it was while we attempted to look interested — which we were — and mask our utter lack of understanding. Several minutes later we were in the attic, where, for instance, one block of supporting bricks was so dramatically cantilevered over to the “correct” position that a gigantic metal counterweight was required. All in the interest of having those chimneys “where they should be.” In other words, put two Maine engineers together on a project and it’s going to be done right.
We did eventually tour the second floor. Loved the master bedroom — huge with lots of windows, a three-quarter bath, a large walk-in closet, and a brick fireplace exactly like the one in the living room below. There was no doubt that Jeremiah L. was as proud of those two fireplaces he and his dad built as he was with the position of the chimneys.
“There’s no way either one will smoke for even a second,” he said, and went on to explain why. Something to do with angles, the precise depth and position of the flue … well, we became convinced both those fireplaces draw superbly.
While on the second floor, we also inspected Emeline’s bedroom, Jeremiah Moses’ bedroom, the large full bath (there’s a third bathroom downstairs), and what in 1748 would have been a cozy sewing room that is now the perfect place for the family computer. The back stairs curve around down to a fourth bedroom over the garage, truly large enough to be two bedrooms. And over that, on a third floor, is a large unfinished area that could be more bedrooms or maybe an office.
Upon our return to the first floor, as we started out the front entrance door to inspect the lawns, garden area, and sturdy metal dog pen (the property consists of a little over 2-1/2 acres), we noticed on a table next to the front stairs a framed photograph of a beautiful woman. It was then that we learned about the tragedy that ultimately led to Jeremiah’s decision to sell this beautiful house he and his dad built together. (He’s asking $448,000.) The photo was of Jeremiah’s first wife — Moses and Emeline’s mother — who passed away almost three years ago. Yes, she’d participated in the creation of the house — designing the kitchen, for instance, and contributing to many of the planning and decorating decisions.
She has been, of course, greatly mourned. But the happy news is that quite recently, Jeremiah got married again — to a lovely lady from Iowa. In fact, that’s why she wasn’t with us that day. She was in Iowa, waiting for Jeremiah, Moses, and Emeline to join her there in a week or so and start a new life. Jeremiah’s dad will remain in East Poland, Maine, but, who knows, maybe he’ll come out to Iowa to help his son — and this time, his grandson, too — build a new Jeremiah Ferguson house. “Yes,” Jeremiah smiled, “that’s certainly a possibility.”
After we said our good-byes, we drove east a couple miles to downtown Freeport, visited L.L. Bean and a couple factory outlet stores, and then headed out on Pine Street to South Freeport and one of our favorite Maine harbors. We sat on one of the wooden benches outside the restaurant on the dock and looked across the almost-empty harbor to the channel leading out to the open ocean. And in the peace and quiet of those few moments, we found ourselves contemplating the unexpected turns and surprises, good and bad, that life presents each one of us from time to time.
Like, do you suppose they’ll be the only Jeremiahs in the state of Iowa?
For more details, contact Stephen C. Drake at Coldwell Banker, Yarmouth, ME. 207-846-1600, ext. 1714; newenglandmoves.com