It’s the time of year for yard sales, and items from a Cape Elizabeth landmark will be included among those that shoppers will peruse this weekend in hopes of finding a treasure for pennies on the dollar.

But the furniture, books, wooden toys, pottery, kitchen appliances and other knickknacks from Beckett’s Castle won’t be stacked out in front of the 1874 stone Gothic on Singles Road. The goods are being sold online by an auction and consignment company called Everything But the House, which is based in Los Angeles.

Bidding for all the items starts at $1.

Before making plans to move into the house, which sits on a bluff overlooking the water and features a three-story tower, note that the name of the auction company applies here – Beckett’s Castle itself is not for sale.

The online auction (at starts at 2 a.m. Sunday, said Brittany Sykes, spokeswoman for the auction company, and will run until about 6 p.m. Thursday. Sykes said the site’s rules allow a bidder whose offer is topped in the closing moments of the auction some extra time to try to outbid the interloper and snag that must-have piece of crockery or one of those accent pillows cut from Persian rugs, so the ending time is a little squishy.

Sykes said she was prohibited from disclosing anything about the owner of the goods. According to Cape Elizabeth town records, the property – valued at about $1.4 million – is owned by Nancy Harvey, but attempts to contact her Friday were not successful.


The 400 or so items for sale run the gamut, from a 1941 first edition of “Little Town on the Prairie” (yes, town, not house) by Laura Ingalls Wilder, to paintings, furniture and something called a “19th-century ‘Illustrated Domestic Bible.’ ” Even boxes of family correspondence are up for bid. Sykes said the site will feature photos of everything up for auction, with a brief description and full disclosure of any defects. It’s not clear whether any of the items belonged to Sylvester Blackmore Beckett, who oversaw construction of the building from 1871-74 and then spent summers there until his death at age 70 in 1882.

Earle Shettleworth, the now-retired Maine state historian, said the house and its original owner both loom large in local history, so he will be intrigued to see if any of Beckett’s belongings have survived the years to make it to the internet-age garage sale.

Beckett “was a major figure in mid-19th-century Portland history,” he said.

Beckett was a lawyer and a poet who also compiled and edited the Portland directory, a compilation of the city’s businesses and inhabitants that was the go-to source for information in an age long before “Google it” became a thing.

He said a key feature of the directories were “beautifully engraved, fold-out maps of the city” that even today are a good source for historians to use to track the development of Portland.

As for the house, it represents the forefront of a trend, said Shettleworth, who in 1974 wrote up the report on the house that got the structure on the National Register of Historic Places. It was included on the list for its architecture and its position in the movement toward summer houses for the rich and famous.


There are a few examples of summer homes built before the Civil War, Shettleworth said, but Beckett’s Castle was really at the forefront of a movement of middle- and upper-class city-dwellers to get out to the fresh air during the summer just after the conflict ended. Cities, Portland included, were places where diseases spread rapidly in the summer, he said, so the upper crust began to look for ways to spend the warm months of the year elsewhere.

A decade or so after Beckett started summering in Cape Elizabeth, Shettleworth said, the trend really took off. Doctors, lawyers and business owners got together to buy Delano Farm, a stone’s throw from Beckett’s place, and John Calvin Stevens designed his shingle-style “cottages” for them and their families. Thus Delano Park, ground zero of Cape Elizabeth’s development as an exclusive summer colony, was born, he said.

Beckett also invited artists to join him in the “country,” and they painted scenes of the shore, Shettleworth said. He said Beckett’s Castle itself was also featured by many of the artists, so the summer place is relatively well-known, both in Maine and around the country, from those oil-on-canvas depictions.

Beckett’s Castle is well-known for one other reason – it’s often cited as one of the state’s more notorious haunted houses, where Beckett himself still supposedly resides as a mischievous blue ball of light that delights in snatching the covers off freshly made beds.

Shettleworth said he never spent the night in the castle and is unable to verify those stories.


10:55 a.m. July 2: This story was updated to correct the name of the auction house. It is Everything But The House.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at:

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