Where bucolic, seaside fantasies and children's daydreams collide, the pastoral Maine property of beloved American author E.B. White is currently up for sale for $3.7 million. That's some farm!
Elwyn Brooks "E. B." White, author of such beloved children's classics as Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan, was born in Mount Vernon, New York but spent the majority of his life — including his writing years — on this farm in Brooklin, Maine, from the time he purchased the house with his wife Katharine in 1933 until he passed in October of 1985. The couple's son then sold the estate to Robert and Mary Gallant of South Carolina, who have summered there for the past 30 years.
"I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day." ~E.B. White
Upon viewing the dreamy Maine estate, one has to imagine this famous E.B. White quote was inspired by it:
"I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day."
In a sneak preview of the September/October issue of Yankee Magazine, editor Mel Allen shared a tour of the Maine farm, known locally as "The House at Allen Cove" — a 40-acre-plus saltwater farm on Blue Hill Bay, where views of Acadia National Park can be seen in the distance from the 200-year-old farmhouse and barns — but known by no name to the Whites themselves.
"People tried to encourage Mr. White to name the house, which he thought pretentious, but he [told his caretaker Harry that] if he had to, he would call it 'Two Big Chimneys and a Little One,'" Mary Gallant tells Allen.
For 30 years, the Gallants have been conscientious caretakers of White's legacy — as well as the property, the house, the barns, sheds, and boathouse, as well as hundreds of items the Whites left behind. While the Gallants have made a subtle addition here or there, "they have not gentrified it...they've not gone in and done weird things, they have made all the right improvements," says listing agent Martha Dischinger of Downeast Properties.
The barn that inspired Charlotte's Web still stands on the property, and Mary Gallant has welcomed school field trips each year to see the rope swing made famous in E.B. White's 1952 children's classic, in the hopes of inspiring a love for literature — as well as White's other works — as the children grew older.
"I'm sure you want to do the Charlotte's Web thing," Mary (Gallant) tells Allen, and quickly ushers [him] to the barn and sheds that once housed the Whites' hay, sheep, geese, chickens, pigs and (of course) spiders, and probably a rat or two.
[They] walk from room to room in what is possibly the most impressive and well-kept barn [the author] have ever seen. There is that rope swing, immortalized in Charlotte's Web as the one from which Fern and her brother launched themselves from the loft. Here's where Wilbur's trough would have been, Mary says, and "right here"—she points—"is the hole where I tell children Templeton the rat would scurry back and forth." Light pours into the barn from massive windows the Gallants found in a salvage yard. "We think we have changed the barn for the best," she says. Many of the improvements, she notes, had to do with "opening rooms up to more light."
Additionally, Gallant told the Portland Press Herald about the "hysterical" thank-you notes she gets from the children every year.
"One of them said, 'You let us go through your house and you didn't even make us pay,'" she said, laughing. "And one little boy said, 'I like the house. I like the barn. I like the shore. I hope you like this letter. I done my best.' They're just so charming. Children ask all the right questions."
Gallant said her jaw dropped once when an elementary school student said to her, "Don't you think Charlotte was Katharine White and Wilbur was E.B. White?"
"Nobody had ever mentioned that before, and it's just so perfect," she said. "So I have benefited personally from having these children come, and I hope they will grow up to read more E.B. White."
There has already been plenty of serious interest in the property, from people all over the country, according to listing agent Dischinger. "Not everyone can afford it, but everyone wants to see it: 'Oh, my children read the book, can I please come through?'"
That's not going to happen, she said. "There will be no open houses or showings for lookie-loos who are just fantasizing about what it would be like to live there." Showings are a big deal that take three hours or more, as she escorts potential buyers from the house to the guest house, barn, shore, dock, and beach.
Mary and Robert Gallant told Yankee Magazine that their 22-year-old grandson even pleaded, "Can't you wait until I can buy it one day?"
In addition to the children's books for which he was legendary, White was also a frequent contributor to The New Yorker magazine (where his wife Katharine was a revered editor in her own right) and the co-author of the end-all, be-all grammar and style guide for writers, The Elements of Style aka "Strunk & White".
There is so much classic New England farm fantasy afoot in the farmhouse itself, too: 12 rooms, six working fireplaces, three and a half bathrooms, 19th-century stenciling on the stairway walls, and so much more.
Original White family features to the house include the Whites' wood cookstove, the handmade work desk and bench built by E.B. White in the boathouse, which he used as a writing studio "on fine days" (and was featured on the cover the 1976 book The Writer's Image: Literary Portraits by Jill Krementz), a covetable vintage wooden standing ice box, and that famous rope swing in the barn, among other delights.
The couple is hoping for the property to find a home with a family who will live there "for more than two weeks a year" and continue the legacy as caretakers.
"And, I'd love for it to be an E.B. White fan," she said.
No real estate listing seems to be available for the property, but those with serious inquiries can contact agent Martha Dischinger of Downeast Properties.