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Mount Desert Island: Shaped by Nature

More on the Old Ell

During World War II, following the deaths of both John C. and Emily N. Savage, the Old Ell came into the ownership of their only daughter, Mary Louise "Mame" Savage (1910-1997), while the big barn, several other properties, including Hilltop House, and about 30 acres of vacant land in Asticou spanning from Route 3 across from the Inn to northward as far as Forest Hill Cemetery, came into the joint ownership of Mame and her two surviving brothers, Richard M. “Dick” Savage (1908-1985) and Ralph William Savage (1913-2003).

During the mid-20th century from about 1941-1953, the Old Ell became a permanent home for Mame as well summer living quarters for her brother Richard and his growing family – his wife Ernestine and three children: Marcia, Richard M. II, and John A. Prior to World War II and the deaths of her parents, Mame Savage worked as a nurse’s aid and children’s nurse for almost 10 years at North Shore Baby Hospital in Salem, Massachusetts and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Asticou Garage Under Construction 1939
Asticou Garage Under Construction 1939Item Contributed by
Northeast Harbor Library

After her mother died in 1941, Mame moved back to Maine and into the Old Ell full-time, despite its somewhat primitive amenities. The house, which was perched only on granite cornerstones and blocks had no central heat, just a large cook stove with copper hot water tank in the kitchen. Running water was a seasonal affair through above-ground pipes; in the winter one needed to fetch fresh water by taking buckets down to the brook next to the house and there was a nearby outhouse used in the coldest months.

Mame’s brother Richard and his wife Ernestine were both school teachers and taught in schools away from Mount Desert Island in Maine and California between the years 1943 and 1953. Richard eventually sold the main family home Hilltop House to help fund his college and post-graduate education and the college education of his brother Ralph.

As previously mentioned, around 1939, the big barn was dismantled and its components used to frame the construction of a 13-stall automobile garage built by Richard and Ralph and used for a summer taxi, chauffer, and storage business they operated called Asticou Garage.

Later on in the early 1950s, Richard would build a ranch-style home next to this garage at 8 Asticou Way informally named "The Red House" (because of its red aluminum siding installed in the 1960s) on the former site of the big barn and he and his family moved in and began to live in Asticou on a year-round basis.

Meanwhile, the Old Ell finally became more right-sized for its occupants during the 1950s. Mame was an independent character who never married, remaining single her whole life, and the house was a comfortable, albeit compact layout, for a single person.

Mary L. Savage In Front of the Old Ell August 1961
Mary L. Savage In Front of the Old Ell August 1961Item Contributed by
Northeast Harbor Library

In the late 1950s, Richard, who was an industrial arts teacher, helped winterize his sister’s home. At this time, the Old Ell saw its most recent, and perhaps final move. A dry and deep concrete foundation was dug and built for the house to the north along Rye Field Lane, and the house moved onto the foundation, insulated and sided. Winterized year-round plumbing was added, central forced hot air heat installed, and the Old Ell was a simple but comfortable year-round home for Mame until the early 1990s when her old age necessitated moving out of the Old Ell and down the road into her niece Marcia Savage’s home.

Marcia Savage (1943-2001), the daughter of Richard and Ernestine, lived in the Red House down the lane on Asticou Way as Mame’s nearest neighbor. Marcia later inherited the Old Ell from her Aunt Mame and renovated the house in 1994, converting it into a summer rental. This metamorphosis of the Old Ell from permanent residence into seasonal summer rental cottage lasted through the summer of 2010.

Old Ell, Asticou, Northeast Harbor Maine July 2007
Old Ell, Asticou, Northeast Harbor Maine July 2007Item Contributed by
Northeast Harbor Library

Sam Savage McGee inherited the Old Ell from his mother Marcia in 2003 and continued to rent the Old Ell out seasonally as his mother had done. Finally, in Spring 2011, Sam and his spouse Jennifer Judd-McGee and two children embarked on a major expansion of the Old Ell by adding a new two-story wing. This addition, completed in Fall 2012, increased the square footage of living space from 850 square feet to 2,100 square feet.

During the renovation and expansion, a variety of construction techniques used by previous generations on the old part of the house were revealed. Much of the framing consisted of hand-hewn 6"x6" timbers with wooden pegs. One can imagine A.C. Savage and/or his neighbors fashioning those logs sometime in late 1854 or early 1855 in time to build around them a new home to move into by September 1855. This framing technique probably helped the small structure stay intact through three moves. Boston newspapers from 1878 were used as underlayment for the old kitchen floor. Sailcloth and old mailing labels addressed to A.C. Savage were used as "insulation" in the eave walls. Houses can tell us stories and walls can really talk when one peels back the layers!

Old Ell, Asticou, Northeast Harbor Maine April 2013
Old Ell, Asticou, Northeast Harbor Maine April 2013Item Contributed by
Northeast Harbor Library

The Old Ell is now a year-round home sheltering a family of four and its sixth generation of Savage family descendants. Sam McGee developed a special friendship with his great Aunt Mame growing up, including a shared love of music, photography, and dogs.

Aunt Mame's house was a welcoming and nurturing place of fun and escape for two generations of Savage family children and their friends who had the privilege of coming through Mame's door. The Old Ell under Mame's custody and management was a safe place to learn a musical instrument, play a game, make friends with animals such as dogs, cats, and goats, or learn photography, bee-keeping, or proper broadcasting techniques talking to local fishermen on the Citizen’s Band radio. Kids were welcome to join Mame for casual meals too: much to the delight of young visitors, the menu consisted largely of instant flavored oatmeal, Cup o' Soup, and Tang instant breakfast drink, or powdered hot cocoa.

In honor of Mame's spirit of fun manifested largely through her love of music, the expansion of the Old Ell in 2011 has incorporated in its design a special place for the family piano Mame's mother bought for her in Bar Harbor in 1915 to encourage her early musical talent. As with many of the other long-standing dwellings and structures in Asticou, it will be interesting to trace the journey and uses of the Old Ell and hear what sounds and melodies present and future occupants will broadcast from the old family piano in the coming decades.