How often have we heard the statement, “If these old houses could talk!” Have you ever wondered about the tales an old house could tell? Well, perhaps if we listen closely enough, they do talk to us. Stuart Hamlen wrote in 1949: “This old house once knew his children, this old house once knew a wife, now it trembles in the darkness when the lightening walks about.”

The old house at Greenlaw Corner in Northport had tales to tell, which many felt as they fought to preserve it. The house is totally unknown to the younger generation.

The house was built, probably shortly before 1900, by a noted carpenter of the day, Wilbert P. Greenlaw, who had been married in 1892 to Abbie Clark of Searsmont. Wilbert and Abbie were living in Searsmont in 1895 when their firstborn child died at birth. About this time, Wilbert began to build their dream house, where they would raise their children.

The shingles on the outside of the house were fancy-cut and painted in bright-colored hues. Upon entering the house through a hardwood door, there was an entryway to the sitting room, which was beautifully wallpapered. There were hardwood stairs with a staircase and banister. The elaborate fireplace was made from stones brought from other states, some from the South.

The polished hardwood floors were beautifully created by laying a square piece of wood from the center of the room around to the edges of the room, forming a unique parquet pattern.

From there, you stepped into a hall with shelves on either side, which was sort of a pantry, and then into the cheery, well-lit kitchen, which had a hand-pump with which to pump water into the long, cast-iron sink. The door to the shallow root cellar was in the kitchen. The kitchen was heated with a wood-fired cook stove.

The parlor was on the first floor into the tower. Spacious bedrooms were on the second floor, with the master bedroom being in the upstairs part of the tower.

The old house rang with the chatter and laughter of Wilbert and Abbie’s three children, Eulalia, Verna and Harold. They were often accompanied by their next-door cousins, Una and Vera.

Tragedy came quickly when Wilbert was stricken down with pneumonia and died at the age of 45 years. Abbie, now widowed, moved with her three children to Belfast, where she died six years later, at the age of 50.

The house was purchased by Wilbert’s brother, Dwight. It was briefly rented to a minister and his family by the name of Cross.

The house was empty for many years. The curtains could still be seen in the windows. A clothesline above the kitchen stove still held dish towels and other laundry items. The house was very plainly furnished. Dwight died in 1949, at which time the property came into the possession of his daughter, Vera, who farmed the land.

At some point, Vera put pigs into the house. The windows were broken, and for some years the tattered curtains fluttered in the breeze. The house sank deeper into disrepair. It sagged in the middle. The house, which was on what was then Route 137, was photographed by many people, including, in 1977, the National Geographic magazine, which reported that the house was in Penobscot County.

Vera passed away in 1981, aged 81 years. The old house was a beloved fixture on the corner to those in the neighborhood. There were rumors which became more elaborate around Halloween that the house was haunted.

There were postcards, printed in Italy and Germany, with a photo of the old house with the cattle in the yard, drinking from a cast-iron bathtub as a watering trough. A company in the Midwest sold posters depicting the old house, the local newspaper often printed a photo of the house, especially around Halloween. A talented lady in Belfast hooked a rug with a picture of the house, and an insurance company also used the image.

The Greenlaw property, long held by one family, was eventually sold to an out-of-stater. Many locals hold disdain for anyone from away. When the owner decided that the property was a liability and should be gone, he requested the Northport Fire Department to torch it.

Those who had grown up with the stately old house on the corner caused an uproar. They wrote letters to the editor of the local newspapers, asking for the house to be saved. Signs appeared in the yard reading, “Save this House,” and “Please Don’t Burn,” with a sign between them declaring that the property was ‘Posted,’ forbidding trespassers. Petitions circulated in the neighborhood to save the house.

In early August of 1986, with the Northport Fire Department in attendance, the old house went up in flames. It was reported, in jest, that a ghostly figure was seen floating from the window. This was not the end of the old house. At least one photographer advertised, “Wish you had taken a picture of the Greenlaw house? … I did!” with offers of pictures for Christmas, as well as other companies offering prints for a price. I was born and raised in the neighborhood and I had taken several pictures of the old house.

Edgar Guest wrote in 1936, “And now ‘tis beaten, worn and gray, sick with despair and sad to see; but as I turned away, I thought that the old house winked at me!”

As the days of our lives are numbered, so are the days of an old house that has weathered many storms and sheltered families from the cold. The old house is still in the hearts of us who grew up with her in our lives.

Stuart Hamlen finished his song, “This old house is getting feeble, this old house is needing paint; just like me, it’s tuckered out, I’m getting ready to meet the saints.”