Wednesday, Dec. 19 will mark a historic day for Southporters as Land for Southport’s Future has been tasked to close on the Ruth Gardner property. LFSF’s Nancy Prisk said if the nonprofit cannot bring an assurance of $800,000 to the realtor and selectmen by that date, then it will likely be gone: A private buyer is waiting in line. The town and LFSF agreed to purchase and sale contract in December 2017.
“The Gardner property is one of a kind … located on a public road, in a space that for generations has served as the ‘heart and soul of Southport Island,’ the place known to islanders as the one space that defines our sense of place,” said Prisk.
Lifelong Southport resident Linda Brewer recalled when each small neighborhood lining the outer edges of the island kept its own schoolhouse and post office, central points to the community then.
“But we don't have that anymore,” said Brewer. “In order to be a community, we really need a place or two or three where people can get together and get to know each other and hang out. All we really have now is the library … open three days a week, four in the summer.”
Gardner supported The Mothers Club and Benevolence Society in a big way. She would regularly host women’s groups which would raise money for causes, said Brewer. “So, Ruth’s was the place they would meet.”
LFSF’s goal in buying the property is to secure Gardner’s legacy of community and Southport’s sense of place, creating a space for the wider Boothbay region's community members and visitors to enjoy. What Southport stands to lose beyond a critical watershed and a potential of 3.5 acres of public land is the gift of community and wisdom Gardner shared with many others from her home and beyond, said Prisk.
Formed in 2015 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, LFSF now has over 175 local donor households, over 300 individual supporters toward the acquisition of the Gardner property. Upon closing, the property will be placed in a trust, a board of advisors will be formed to guide the board of directors, and a steering committee will be created to oversee the property’s upkeep, Prisk said.
Many local contractors have already advised LFSF the home can be rehabilitated in small increments as the foundation and structure are all sound. In its current state, if the Gardner house is bought by a private buyer looking to either establish a rental business or summer home, it will likely be leveled and replaced by a different structure, Prisk said.
“This is the one piece that has some kind of a public road in front of it, that has some value to community engagement in the entire island,” said Prisk. “The Gardner property is the last of what had been four places of traditional community engagement.”
The other three Prisk cited were the former Pratt’s General Store, South Beach, and the Cuckolds Lighthouse, all of which have been bought and developed in recent years.
The Gardner house, known to many as “the last place,” said Prisk, would simply stand as the meeting place for all those in need of one. What does Southport stand to lose if the Gardner house were to come down or be taken away?
Said Prisk, “It’s a loss of history.”
Said Brewer, “It’s a loss of possibility.”