Sippican Cottage

Close this search box.
Picture of sippicancottage


A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Interestingly, ‘Unified Field Theory of Neglect’ Is the Name of My Left Banke Tribute Band. But I Digress

My house, just as I found it. The bad news was that Winter was coming

You know, I’ve been talking about this sewer line fix for three weeks or so. One of the reasons I found the whole thing so durn interesting is because the exploration and repair of one problem solved a zillion other problems I’d been turning over in my mind. This busted sewer pipe really was the key to life, the universe, and everything — at least everything to do with my house.

My house cost less than $25,000 when I bought it. I wasn’t expecting a rose garden. As it turned out, I got a lupin garden, but that’s a story for another day. There was a lot wrong with my house, and I knew it. I even knew that the sewer wasn’t likely to be first rate. There was a patch on the concrete floor around the sewer pipe. There’s always a reason why the floor has been patched around a sewer line. All the reasons are bad reasons.

I needed a house six years ago or so after catching the poverty. It was my own fault. I foolishly went to the early-bird special at the Honest Work Buffet, but Wall Street had gotten there before me and sneezed on the warming tray with the regular economy in it. Lyme Disease didn’t help any, either, although I still find ticks less loathsome than politicians.

I believe that a house is the chassis of a competent family. We were broke but it was important to keep us together in a house where we would have some control over our affairs. I looked for a house that was as cheap as the chrome on a Kia, but didn’t have anything wrong with it that I couldn’t understand or fix myself. Our house fit the bill. It had been abandoned, and the bank wanted to get rid of it, badly.

The house was owned by a local bank that held the note from the prior owners, a real rarity back when the real estate leverage world was desolating the landscape. People kept predicting that housing would fall an additional X percent, and then they’d buy. They didn’t realize that the big banks holding the leveraged debt had no interest in the real real estate. The financial institutions were being made whole by logrolling the government. The houses were abstractions to them, and only the paper was real. The local banker had his tit in the wringer over our house. I could reason with him. Either I could live in it, or he could. No one  in their right mind would want to live in my house.

I didn’t want an abstract house. I wanted one with real problems. Mission Accomplished. I tried in vain to make real estate agents understand that I wanted to buy a house nobody else wanted. They kept trying to show me houses that looked like Home Depot had exploded inside them. The current owners wanted me to pay for the privilege of ripping out all the silly stuff they had inexpertly selected and installed. What I really wanted was a neglected house. Neglect is easier to handle than active malice. That applies to real estate and elections, now that I think of it.

Our house had been neglected, that’s for sure. There was a hole in the back roof that I could stick my head through. The wiring was still partly knob and tube. It takes a long time to foreclose on a house, even if it’s abandoned, so all the pipes had frozen and burst while the bank went through all the legal steps to foreclose on an empty house. When we bought our home, it was essentially a poorly constructed shell of a house, not a dwelling.

That’s exactly what I wanted. I’ve stood in the middle of plenty of poorly constructed house shells. I’m certain some were poorly constructed, because I constructed ’em. A half-built house holds no terrors for me. It was a fully-built house that looked like a Kardashian picked everything out and cost a bunch of spondulicks that I had to avoid. I didn’t want to pay for someone else’s ceiling fans.

I didn’t. I bought this house for about five grand more than a plot of land costs around here. It’s funny, but the price of land never seems to change, no matter how much a house costs here. That’s because you can plop a trailer on a house lot in these parts, and no one will bat an eye. My big Victorian house had to compete on price with a house that gets built by a tow truck. The dirt underneath it had no opinion.

So, the roof had big holes, and the plumbing was totally gonzo. Anything might happen when you turned on a light switch, except light. There was no heating appliance in the house that functioned. Heating matters in western Maine. The back of the house was in danger of collapsing. The foundation underneath it was completely gone, and the weird props that had been installed to hold it up were only good at collecting cobwebs, which were the only things actually holding up the building, I think.

These all sound like separate problems. I thought any one of them could be handled by a successful convenience store robbery and some elbow grease. I was wrong. I’ve been banging on this house for nigh on six years now, and until this whole sewer line debacle, I had no idea that there was a central theme to these problems.

I have an unusual disposition. Some people call that being a jerk. I don’t like not understanding things. I notice things. Noticing things isn’t encouraged much anymore. See: Twitter. I must admit, however, that it was almost worth the very real fear of being unable to fix the sewer to finally figure out that there was a central theme to my house’s problems. For the first time since I bought it, my house made sense. I had come up with the Unified Field Theory of Neglect. I understood everything that had gone wrong for the last 75 years or so. It wasn’t a disconnected series of problems. The sewer line had wrecked my roof, and everything in between.

[to be continued]

14 Responses

  1. Nice looking house.
    Did you use a super wide angle lens when you took that picture or are all those posts leaning?
    Did you intend for the porch to drain to the middle like that?
    I love old houses. I don't live in one, mind you, but I love looking at them in pictures.
    You know they say they don't build them like that anymore. I once helped a friend do some work on a house built in 1908. I think the carpenter was missing two tools when he built it– a level and a tape measure. Other than that it was a cool house.
    Right after I got out of college, I lived in an old house. You knew it was old because they insulated it by pasting newspapers on the walls. It had the added benefit you could read the walls when you were bored.
    I like your house.

  2. Hi Brian- Thanks for reading and commenting.

    No, the lens isn't funky. The front porch is sinking slowly into the west. I'll have to fix that one of these days, too.

    The entire outside of our house, and the subfloors, are covered with newspapers from 1901, and 1910 (when a dormer was added in the back). They are perfectly readable when you uncover them. One newspaper article I read from 1910 complained that they were letting foreigners run in the Boston Marathon. By foreigners, they were referring to people from New York.

  3. I had to completely undo all the bad, bad remodeling somebody's brother did in the 70's, to my 1949 cottage. The bathroom had wall paper on top of fake paneling- and carpet…and, it gets worse. Throughout the house they had "patched" the cracks in the plaster with their hands. Almost like those hand casts you make as a child in Sunday school. I am still bitter about the loss of the original hardwood doors-with crystal doorknobs, no doubt. All replaced with crappy, ugly hollow core with fake bronze doorknobs. Why? I have no idea.
    Your experiences make mine seem like nothing. I am enjoying your journey.

  4. 1918 "four square" here (in the Middle West), only it started life as a two-roomer that was added onto multiple times until the last big addition (second story) sometime in the mid-1920s-30s. Load-bearing walls and foundations don't always line up, in other words.

    We moved in during a light snow 15 years ago. When we got around to stripping the chalky aluminum siding, I read all about the big push in Germany now that the Hun was on the retreat from the early 1920s version of Tyvek. An upstairs bedroom revealed the latest news from Germany again (next War) in the issues of Country Gentleman and Life we found under the cheap vinyl flooring in a vain attempt to level things up (we also lean West, young man). The last big remodel was in the 1970s, when every vertical surface was covered over with cheap mobile-home brown paneling, and every horizontal surface got brown shag carpet or a dropped ceiling.

    It was about 2009 or so before I had my epiphany and it all suddenly made sense. Almost all the Brown is gone now, and but I still have three bedrooms and a "three season" porch left to remuddle. A tornado that relocates your large machine shed a mile away will tend to delay things in that way.

    Thankfully, though, my plumbing "tangled web" was all on the supply side.

  5. I've been poor and I've been "rich" (top 1%) and then middle class, The poor involved sleeping on park benches.
    I was fortunate that the poor happened when I was young.

  6. Hah hah, harrumph, unaccustomed to public speaking as I am I will offer this
    explanation of your plight. Think: Grand Canyon, Yellowstone Park with Old Faithful, Sedona AZ, Stonehenge, ach the list goes on. All Power points, they form ever-changing grids of fifth wave harmony. So lucky you should be they weren't tritiary.

  7. "… the weird props that had been installed to hold it up were only good at collecting cobwebs, which were the only things actually holding up the building, I think." Did you thank the spiders for the structural help? I'm betting you did. You appreciate their work. Particularly because it was free.

    Me, mine was built in 1893 as a wedding present for the couple by her parents (maybe the dowry, which sparks–or sporks–an odd thought: There were The Bowery Boys; why weren't there The Dowry Girls?) We're fixin' to get ready to sell and move out, but not going too far, so's I'll still be a-commentin'.

  8. 1940 Minimal Traditional w/added breezeway to small garage in Western NY (don’t call it Upstate) I’ve owned for going on 11 years.

    Just cosmetic BS, no major problems, less a new electric meter and related work professionally installed obviously, paid for a couple years ago.

    Still original furnace, have never touched it, not even a filter change since it doesn’t have one. Duct work covered in asbestos, can’t wait to have to change that.

    Currently tackling the kitchen. What started as a simple paint job as evolved into a full blown remodel. Like Ed, tore out the “cheap mobile-home brown paneling”. Might as well I said. Then, might as well replace the crappy linoleum floor since the paneling is off. The good news is I may, key word, have hardwood underneath all the 76 years of layers of whatnot, so…we’ll see. If not, onto installing Bamboo…and then beadboard.

    Then finish the bathroom…

    BTW, just painted my aluminum siding a couple years ago. You just have to scrub the oxidation off of it first then paint it just like wood. Looks great. Cost was four gallons of paint. Did I mention the roof is getting old…


  9. In the late '80s I bought a house built around 1900 near the Homestead Steelworks in Pittsburgh.
    Lots of knob and tube, RADiators that worked only when threatened by Pinkertons, a bathroom that rested on floor joists rotted from persistent leaks, and what my friends called a "Silence of the Lambs" basement.
    I worked on it for 5 years, re-roofing, re-pointing brick, re-wiring (hey, why is there a stepdown transformer on the phone line? oh), re-plumbing, etc. I still regard that house as one of my all-time favorites, because of all the sweat equity invested.
    Thanks for jumpstarting the bell current in my hippocampus to serve up that memory.

  10. I sense a Foundation Story getting closer!

    Planted a bunch of trees Saturday. Maybe they'll be lumber for finishing the house by that time! The joke of the trees was that I'd be 85 when they'd be about ready for harvest. The neighbor (who's log truck I bought) was supposed to hang on and haul them to the mill for me.
    At 116.


  11. thank you for the background on your home. I am a new reader from a link at Ace of Spades.

    Though I am not at all handy, it is nonetheless very interesting and entertaining to read of your adventures.


  12. You had Lyme's also? That was an interesting month or so, for me. There's a fair amount I don't remember, but my wife says I was pretty goofy for a time.

    I was thinking about y'all today, as I was standing in the basement parking garage of a condo building in Eagan, MN. I looked up at the sewer piping, and noticed all of the fittings joining the sections of pipe. They all had that metal fluting, and I wondered if they were Fernco.

    Tell the heir he has to write a new song: Subterranean Sewerpipe Blues.

  13. Dude! You got a Moron Link from Ace's place! That's a badge of honor. I hope more of them discover your cottage, and maybe even your furniture!

  14. When the electricians who rewired our 1894 sorta farmhouse first glanced at the maze of knobs, tubes and other rat's nests of wires,they were transfixed a moment. And then said, "Well, that's really something". That they spoke meant the wires only 'looked' like the Medusa, and they had not been turned into stone. The work was done a day or two at a time over several months. Near the end the owner showed me a hot wire with bare insulation he'd found, moments and millimeters away from touching a furnace duct. We've otherwise been fortunate; the furnace is two years old, and the roof only ten. We also ourselves did not have to remove the 38 Chryslers, Dodges and Plymouths the previous owned used to mulch the weeds on the 2.09 acres we have. (The view from satellite maps in actual size was 1" x 2". The house, barn, shop etc were visible. Finally I figured out what all the little white rectangles were. "Wife", I says, "Those are cars!". I'd always thought Fords were preferred as mulch, but, I'm just a guy who builds chairs. What do I know. Early into our arrival here, some small number of our now fellow townspeople and neighbors would say, somewhat surreptitiously, "We're really glad you bought this place", and tell us about the previous to the house's owner.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Thanks for commenting! Everyone's first comment is held for moderation.