Elroy Gregory's Sebago home was destroyed in a fire eight months ago. Three generations of his family had lived in the 100+-year-old farmhouse, and it was the only home he had ever known. Gregory (76) was not insured and lost nearly everything in the fire. His prospects were bleak indeed, but that all changed as his neighbors and friends in the community pitched in this spring, summer, and fall to help. As Gregory approaches Thanksgiving he has a new house where the old one stood. As soon as he and volunteers put the finishing touches on it, he will be able to move in, snug and warm. He truly has much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
For more than 200 years Mainers have had a tradition of helping their neighbors in their times of need. Before the ashes had cooled the entire community pitched in with an outpouring of support and donations. In May, less than two months after the fire, they gathered for an old-fashioned house raising and built him a new 32' x 24' home (as reported in the May 20, 1004 Press Herald). Since then the flow of donated materials and labor has continued, and the house is now nearly finished.
Bruce & Lynn Knowlton coordinated the initial weekend house raising which included over 60 people. This fall Diana Allen has been coordinating efforts to complete the new house. Allen worked with Gregory to identify what needed to be done to finish the exterior and interior of the one-story Cape. She reconnected with local churches and civic groups that had offered help last Spring, as well as organizations like PROP and the State Street Church Youth Group which both organized work days.
She told me that she was gratified at the willingness of people and firms to continue to help in donating their time and materials to complete the job started in May. Companies like the House of Lights in Scarborough and Rich Aluminum in Portland didn't hesitate to donate all the light fixtures and the vinyl siding.
"I've known Elroy for years, and was very impressed by all the work that everyone did to build him a new home," Allen said. "I wanted to help make sure that he would be able to move in before winter came." Gregory has been staying in a loaned trailer on his property.
I met with Allen at the new house last week, as she went over plans with Gregory for his new kitchen. The three of us opened up the boxes of kitchen cabinets that were given by Indisco in Scarborough, and set them in the corner of the large kitchen-dining room-living room. The cabinets didn't arrive any too soon.
All summer Gregory has been washing at a sink set on sawhorses in the driveway (he really hasn't been cooking), but when the temperature dipped to 20o the other night his water lines froze. The next day Joe Booth, and other PROP employees volunteering for the day, were over and installed the cabinets and a new double kitchen sink in the house so that the cooking and washing can now be inside where it is warm, as soon as the plumbing is finished.
Since the house raising in May everything has come together nicely. Where there were only studs for walls, now the interior is paneled in pine boards (but they aren't from the Gregory farm), and volunteers have carefully put two or more coats of polyurethane to finish the walls and ceilings. Gregory and his brother Donald have done much of the carpentry themselves, and a table saw dominates the big room downstairs. A shower and plumbing connections are only partially installed in the bathroom, and a gas stove in the kitchen area is waiting to be hooked up. As soon as the wiring and plumbing are completed, John Abrams will come over to sand and finish the wide pine boards that Gregory has laid for floors in his new home. A wood stove in the cellar warms the entire house, fueled by firewood that Gregory cuts and splits himself.
I was also very impressed at the way that Gregory has reacted to the steady stream of volunteers who have been showing up on his doorstep all summer to help out. When I first met him this spring I found him reserved, very much like the shy sophomore who was voted "most bashful boy" by the student body at Potter Academy. He was described in "The Wreath", the 1945 yearbook, as:
And is never, never bad."
He has certainly grown out of that shyness, however, and interrelates to his visitors, joking and talking with them, with the best of them. He has found a number of new friends as a result of the fire and the subsequent rebuilding.
When the article on the house raising was published in May we included a long list of firms, groups and individuals who had contributed their time and materials to that point. In addition there were several fund-raisers by organizations around town. The list of volunteers continues to grow as Gregory gets closer to moving in. If you or your group would like to contribute time or materials, please check with Diana Allen to see what is needed. She can be reached at (207) 772-2922.
If all goes as planned, Gregory will be able to move into his new home by early December. Once that is done, an open house is being planned to allow everyone in the community who has had a hand, no matter how large or small, to see what wonderful things a community can do when they put their mind to it and work together.
The entire community has every reason to be proud of what they have done, as much as Elroy Gregory has every reason to thank his friends and neighbors this Thanksgiving for all that they have done.
Last updated December 19, 2004
Copyright © 2004, Allen Crabtree
Copyright © 2004, Allen Crabtree
This article was edited and published in the Neighbors Section of the Portland Press Herald on November 25, 2004 under the title "Fire victim has much to be thankful for".