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Cement Foundations (Literally)


Our cottage, built in 1951, is perched on top of a rock outcropping, or point, on the ocean in Frenchman Bay, barely 28 feet from the shore. A large rock ledge in front of the cottage serves as a staircase, allowing us to easily descend down to the water’s edge (without having to build a staircase).

Because we are on a point, we enjoy a panoramic view of the ocean and all of the water action. We see harbor seals, porpoise traveling in small pods, schools of jumping mackerel, comorants, seagulls, loons, raft ducks, herons, ospreys, and bald eagles. Last summer our neighbor witnessed a whale!

We see lobster boats, sailboats, pleasure boats, kayakers, a mussel farm, sweeping sunsets, early sunrise, exciting lightning storms, and mucho fireworks blasting off from other side of the bay from Ellsworth and Lamoine to Racoon Point and Gouldsboro.

When we bought our cottage the real estate agent referred to it as ‘camp.’ Essentially ‘camp’ meant that the cottage did not have a foundation. Even though the cottage looked to have a foundation, the structure was really just sitting on top of a three-row cinder block perimeter wall which, in turn, was only sitting on top of the ground.


By all intents and purposes the ‘camp' was a tear-down, and we were faced with a dilemma were we to buy the property. Should we keep the cottage and dig a foundation, or just tear down the cottage and rebuild it?

Creating a new foundation was risky because it meant jacking up the house; but, if we rebuilt we would have to move the new dwelling back 75 feet from the shore (off the point) in order to comply with current state regulations, which we did not want to do.

As a result we decided to save the cottage, and by that I literally mean save it, because the ‘camp’ was slowly sliding down the slope toward the ocean. Sploosh!

Over decades, topsoil pushed by water run-off flowing below ground along the top of rock ledge had moved the cottage, in its entirety, in the direction of the ocean.

We continue to believe that a huge oak stump in front of the house was the only thing anchoring the house and keeping it in its place.

On top of that, the northwest corner of the house had dropped 6 inches lower than the remainder of the house. If you placed an office chair in the southeast corner of the family room, it rolled to the northwest corner on its own. A marble did the same thing.

After peering into the crawlspace we learned that the previous owners had tried to fix the sinking corner problem by jacking up the floor timbers with cement.


We hired a contractor and proceeded to jack up the house, dig a trench underneath it, and pour a concrete wall foundation that goes three feet below the freeze line.


Using hydraulic jacks we were able to raise the northwest corner an extra 4 inches without breaking the windows.


Now the house will never budge (at least not until global warming raises the water level and the sea engulfs our house).


Then we gutted the house.


We buried a new septic tank in the side yard. It pumps the raw sewage up a hill to a leach field by the road. We hired a contractor to vault the ceilings and replace the picture windows in the family room. My husband rewired all of the electric and re-plumbed all of the pipes. He installed a point-of-use water heater in a closet. He hung the kitchen wall cabinets and placed the base cabinets. We hired a mason to build a fireplace in the kitchen using river rocks. We turned a large back workshop into two extra bedrooms. We nailed interlocking white pine siding on all of the walls, which we sanded and painted with polyurethane. The floor was laid. We graded the driveway and built a retaining wall along part of the shoreline where there was erosion.

The last 10 years have been quite an adventure. We have now had the cottage long enough for the new couch to get dirty and the white pine to yellow. We finished the work five years ago and are still going strong, except in relaxation instead of labor, that is.


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