The historic McGlashan-Nickerson house, located in Calais, near the Saint Croix Island International Historic Site, 2017. Courtesy of the National Park Service

Want to live for free in a sprawling historic home next to an international landmark? All you have to do is make some repairs and be willing to move to the Canadian border.

It’s not as easy a sell as the National Park Service had hoped. It’s been trying to find someone who fits the bill since October with no luck and is banking on an open house Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., to change that.

The tile fireplace located in the den of the McGlashan-Nickerson house. The National Park Service must find a lessee by October 2021 or the house will face demolition. Courtesy of the National Park Service

The McGlashan-Nickerson house – a two-story, 5,400-square-foot home that sits on 1.5 acres in the Red Beach section of Calais – was built in 1883 for a shareholder of the Maine Red Granite Co. One of the only structures in the village that features many elements of the Italianate style, the home consists of a long ell leading to a 750-square-foot carriage barn. The first floor has Italianate-style molding, panel doors and tiled fireplaces. The basement is unfinished with a concrete floor and a red granite foundation.

The National Park Service purchased it in 2000 and used it for administrative offices for the nearby Saint Croix Island International Historic Site until 2014, when it built a new visitor’s center for the landmark, one of the first European settlements in North America.

The Park Service has been searching for a new tenant since then without success, so it changed its tactic last fall by partnering with Maine Preservation and putting out a request for proposals for someone to lease the property for free for up to 60 years in exchange for making needed renovations, which include roof and furnace replacement, radon and asbestos treatment, and window and siding repair. They hope to tap into the homesteading trend, said Maine Preservation executive director Greg Paxton.

“It really offers a great and unique opportunity for someone to live right beside a visitor center for an international historic site and also have the benefit of living in an historic house,” he said.

The house has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since June 1990 for its historical and architectural significance to the area. If they can’t find someone to lease it by October 2021, the building will be demolished.

“It has a historical association with the industrial activity at Red Beach, which is largely inconspicuous now,” said Kirk Mohney, who wrote the original national register nomination for the house and is now the director and state historic preservation officer for the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, which is working with the Park Service to save the house.

In the 1800s, Red Beach was a flourishing village within Calais centered on the Maine Red Granite Co. and the Red Beach Plaster Co., which are now virtually nonexistent. The house is one of the few surviving structures from that time.

The entry hall and central staircase at the McGlashan-Nickerson house near Calais. The National Park Service is holding an open house Thursday. Courtesy of the National Park Service

The house is located at 76 St. Croix Drive and shares a driveway with another house listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 1854 Gothic Revival Joshua Pettegrove House, one of the only houses in Maine with grounds designed by the founder of American landscape architecture, Andrew Jackson Downing.

“We are eager to find someone who would be very interested in restoring it and using it, maintaining it in exchange for a negotiated lease for up to 60 years,” said Meg Scheid, manager of the Saint Croix Island site. “We would love to find a lessee who could help keep the house standing, and, in all honesty, take the responsibility away from this little international historic site whose budget is very small.”

The government estimated the cost of repairs at over $1 million, but Maine Preservation used an outside contractor to get another estimate, which came in at around $250,000, Paxton said.

Mohney, of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, suspects the lack of applicants might be due to the amount of work needed to restore and maintain the property or the property’s remote location in Washington County.

“This house merits the effort the park service is giving it to find a new steward,” Mohney said. “We really hope someone steps forward. It would be a shame to lose the building.”


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