NN History, March 2008 to June 2009
Step One: Buy an Old Building,Renovate It (Yikes!) and Prepare to Launch a New Concept

This story could have started in a different town and with a different building. In taking the leap toward launching The Naturalist's Notebook (which didn't have a name yet), we first considered a converted former gas station in the Maine town of Ellsworth. We decided against that (wisely) and in early 2008 saw this 1895 former realty office/antique shop/restaurant/not-sure-what-else for sale in Seal Harbor, Maine. It was a live-work space (apartment upstairs) and sat just a few hundred yards from both the ocean and an entrance to Acadia National Park. We liked its quirky charm and figured that the fixing-up process wouldn't be too bad. So began an adventure.

The renovation took almost a year. The final pieces weren't finished until a few weeks after we opened The Naturalist's Notebook in late June 2009. The first slide show below gives you a glimpse of the ricketiness of the building, which was insulated with one layer of newspaper and turn-of-the-century advertising posters, had roof framing that could have been pushed over by hand (see the daylight coming through the roof in one shot?), and in the end—surprise!—essentially needed to be completely reconstructed while it was still standing. Our crew, led by Jim Hardison and Elliott Moon of Acadia Painting, did an amazing job not only with the work but also with maintaining their cheerful humor through bitter winter conditions and the constant discovery that more repairs were needed. (Did we mention that the front of the building had to be propped up, jacked up and stabilized? Or that in heavy rainstorms water flowed down Main Street straight into the basement? Or that even though it had housed a restaurant—note the giant commercial stove and and the airplane-engine-like fan that dominated the back room— it had never been connected to the town sewer system? All the waste water and sewage had run into an old clay pipe in the ground. We had to dig up an asphalt parking lot behind the building to address that little problem, having already torn up the front sidewalk and Main Street for other issues.)

Fortunately, in the end—and you'll see this in the photos too—16 Main Street in Seal Harbor turned out even better than we had hoped. All three of its floors, including the once-unusable basement and a new, large, tree-shaded  "drawing room" deck out back for outdoor activities, became a beautiful and appropriate home for the Notebook's exploration of nature, science and the frontier of knowledge. And, as would be true of every aspect of creating The Naturalist'sNotebook in the years to come, we learned more than we could have imagined by taking on the challenge.  

Step Two: Test the Building with a Pre-Opening Event Involving Schools, Teachers and Kids

Here's how the building looked in late May 2009 when, a few weeks before opening the Notebook, we put on a nature art show with students and teachers from all of the elementary schools and the high school on Maine's Mount Desert Island. The show was curated by high-school senior Jessica Rothenheber (the show was her senior project, on which Pamelia was mentoring her) and recent Middlebury College graduates Anne Mittnacht and Pat Johnson (who were helping us launch the Notebook that summer):