NORTH VASSALBORO — Ray Breton says his house is haunted. And, many people agree with him.

In the past two years, more than 1,500 people have sought ghost encounters in his sprawling 165-year-old home. They travel from as far away as Florida, Texas and Germany for tours and overnight stays.

It has been featured on a national TV show on A&E Biography’s “My Ghost Story.”

But, perhaps more surprising than a home full of roaming spirits, is Breton’s reputation in the village of North Vassalboro: Rather than being dismissed as a crackpot, Breton is hailed by his neighbors for revitalizing downtown.

Breton, 55, is a thin, energetic man with a dark bushy mustache. He was born in Waterville, but moved with his family to Vassalboro when he was 11 years old.

North Vassalboro was once a thriving mill town, he said, and that history is apparent from Breton’s Greek-revival house on Priest Hill Road.

The home, built in 1845, is known as the Mill Agent’s House and its original owner ran the nearby Vassalboro Woolen Mill.

Today, Breton owns both properties, and says both are haunted.

In total, Breton owns nine buildings in downtown North Vassalboro. One of his most recent acquisitions is the mill, which he bought in an auction in September 2010 for $35,000. The mill comprises three buildings with a combined area of more than 160,000 square feet.

The mill is decrepit, but Breton is undaunted. Breton runs Ray Breton Remodeling and Custom Woodwork, a company that doesn’t advertise, but is booked solid for several months, he said.

In the early days of owning the mill, Breton and his team installed about 600 panes of glass, renovated the mill’s standalone office building and helped usher in five businesses, including a finance company and an indoor paintball arena.

April Sawtelle is a real estate broker in town. She said Breton has a long history of renewal projects.

“He’s really cleaned up everything that he’s purchased. He’s definitely created much more curb appeal for downtown North Vassalboro. Everything is fresh and new,” she said.

Breton said he never intended to transform the town. He bought the Mill Agent’s House in 1995 and his influence slowly grew outward.

The impetus was his lawn.

“I have a beautiful lawn. I love my grounds. Even though it’s a lot of work to mow, that’s my relaxation,” he said. “I can do all that (mowing), but it doesn’t count if the building in front of me is trashy. I hate clutter. So, when the buildings around me came up for sale, I bought them, fixed them up and rented them out as office space.”

Breton lives in an apartment at the back of the Mill Agent’s House. He shares it with his Siamese cat, Boo, a stray that arrived on his doorstep on Halloween night in 2007. From his living room, he can see most of his properties, which have attracted real estate and insurance businesses and a medical practice.

Cindy Ferland is director of the Vassalboro Food Station Pantry south of town. She said Breton takes obvious pride in his surroundings.

“He’s always all around town doing little things as if the town is part of his house or is part of him. It is part of him. He goes above and beyond,” she said.

Ghosts of North Vassalboro

On a recent night, Breton stood next to a 100-foot-tall burr oak tree in his yard and explained that visitors to the Mill Agent’s House should take precautions before going inside.

He rested his palms lightly against the coarse tree bark to demonstrate the technique of grounding.

“This draws the negative energy out of you,” he said. “It cleans the slate before you enter a house with so much activity.”

It also helps prevent ghosts from following people home, Breton said.

“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” he said.

After the grounding ritual, Breton walked to the front entrance and unlocked the door.

He explained that the house had been divided into six apartments over the decades. Apartment 1 is the most spiritually active, he said. The ghosts of 18 children reside within.

The door swung open with a creak to reveal bright hardwood floors strewn with toy cars and dolls. Paranormal investigators leave toys for the ghosts, he said.

“Usually, the investigators will tell them, ‘You can have the toys if you move them for us; if you do something with them.’ All of a sudden the dolls are moving, the cars are going across the floor and the balls are rolling,” he said.

The Captain

Ghosts of children aren’t the only specters in the house. There are also ghosts of two women in separate apartments and a man who appears throughout the home. Investigators have named the man the Captain.

Jennifer Goodrich, 31, an accountant who lives in Greenville, lived in three different apartments at the Mill Agent’s House in five years.

She saw items get knocked over and sensed presences, she said. She was also one of the first people to see the Captain.

One day, Goodrich was in the basement doing laundry when she suddenly felt she was being watched. She turned around and saw an apparition.

“The Captain appeared before me,” she recalled. “He was across the room. He was dressed in navy blue with gold buttons. He had a big beard and a hat. And he was looking right at me.”

The next few seconds felt like an eternity, she said.

“Then I ran back upstairs and into my apartment,” she said.

Goodrich said she didn’t offer a detailed description of the apparition to anyone until several weeks later when paranormal group described an encounter with same ghost.

“They described exactly what I saw,” she said. “I’m not a crazy person, I swear.”

Goodwill for town

Cindy Ferland said tours of Breton’s home have generated goodwill in town. Breton asks his visitors to make donations to the Vassalboro Food Station Pantry. Breton raised more than $1,000 in 2010, she said.

“He’s a very generous, big-hearted guy,” she said.

April Sawtelle said the attention the town has received from ghost hunters has been positive.

“Ray’s brought a lot of publicity to our town through the (TV) shows,” she said. “I think that alone gives us a lot of recognition up this way. People are talking about Vassalboro all over the place.”

Linda Ellis runs a stained glass studio in the mill. Over the past year, she has seen paranormal activity groups tour the mill with Breton. She said Breton is on the level.

“He’s a perfectly normal man. Perfectly sane. He’s very smart,” she said. “Everywhere he goes, people just flock to him. Everybody just loves him. He’s a very well-loved man in town.”

Breton said not everyone is so understanding, however.

“You gotta pick your friends,” he said. “If you don’t, they might look at you like you’re crazy.”

Ben McCanna — 861-9239

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