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Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES in ME » MAINE (all topics) » The Other Maine
A Home in Northern Aroostook County
The Other Maine

Finding a House in The County

By Alex Seise | October 25, 2010

Previous Article in this Series

Alex Seise continues his adventures in Aroostook County, Maine as he searches for the perfect home.

“Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you,” the real estate agent said, cracking a slight smile as she craned her neck around from the driver’s seat of the sturdy pick-up truck. “Those two houses on South Perley Brook are a little...   Rough.”

In Need of Repair

The real estate agent wasn’t kidding. We rolled up the gravel driveway to a small abode missing a bona fide front door.   It was, as we called it, BYOF—Bring Your Own Flooring. These had been ripped out along with every other fixture and appliance. The backyard, as overgrown as the Allagash wilderness itself, was in desperate need of taming. The next house fared only marginally better with the floors and appliances intact but little else available to dazzle prospective buyers. In our home state of New Jersey, these houses - rather, shacks - would have been deemed unsellable and torn down.

Searching for a home in Northern Aroostook County certainly is a challenge. Unlike other areas of the country, you don’t just need to consider a house’s aesthetics; you need to think long and hard about its survivability. Temperatures creep below zero more often than not during the long winter months, and houses with minor drafts in the fall turn into large refrigerators during the winter. Insulation is critical, as is a strong, hardy furnace. Equally important is finding a house that has been kept up and maintained. In such an economically depressed area, it’s not always an easy task.

An Outdated Kitchen

Another issue that can’t be brushed aside in Aroostook County is the necessity of a garage. In climates that dip down as cold as this, car engines freeze up during the winter and batteries can become crippled virtually overnight without a block heater. The weight of extended exposure to mounds of snow can even put strain on a car’s roof if it isn’t cleaned off regularly. Garages are the best way to go, and much like the homes themselves, they need to be insulated to remain effective.

Of course, homes here have other quirks as well. The relatively wild landscape remains untamed in many basements where a steady trickle of water flows through. This is frowned upon elsewhere. But here, it’s a by-product of the large snow melts each spring and it signals the return of warmer weather. Some are even proud of their small subterranean rivers, though it can be challenging when trying to peddle a home to outsiders.

A Perfect View

Keeping all of the challenges of house hunting in Northern Maine in mind, we spent our last day looking at homes in Madawaska. With an economy dependent on the then-faltering Twin Rivers paper mill that spills across the Saint John River into Edmundston, New Brunswick, Madawaska is a town reared on Acadian pride and the hard labors of its inhabitants. The homes here tend to be much more affordable than those in other surrounding towns thanks to the fluctuating local economy and the visible signs of mill life. Trains carrying lumber and paper products rumble during the day, and the occasional whiff of pulp rides through the town when the wind blows a certain way.

Fortunately, we did find a house that day that met all of the criteria for a Northern Maine home. It had been entirely reinsulated a few years prior, and its garage had enough space for two cars. A dry basement and steep roof pitches capped it off, keeping both the cellar and the attic dry during the thaws. And, like almost every good house in Aroostook County should have, its view of the river and rolling hills is spectacular.

After seeing four more houses that afternoon, David, my partner, and I headed back toward the Aroostook Scenic Highway on our back to New Jersey. Somewhere between Ashland and the entrance to the Maine Turnpike, we decided to call that house in Madawaska, wedged high in the crown of Maine, our first home.

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