Thursday, November 05, 2015

Easement come, easement go

You can take the girl out of Main South, but you just can’t take the Main South out of the girl.

Thus, I am ever-enchanted by the fortunes and foibles of my “betters”, i.e., the starchy old Yankees who employed the likes of my great-grandmothers. Those antecedents were good, hard-working farm girls and, having bid the Old Sod a fond slán agat, they were fortunate to land on the shores of Amerikay in Boston. Where their “betters” were just de-lighted to scoop them up, call them Mary whatever their names were, and hire them to make their beds, light their lights, and peel their praties for them.

I actually think that only one of those great-grandmothers – County Mayo’s Margaret Joyce – worked as a servant girl. Still, I’ve always been interested in thems that hired the girls off the boat.

Many of those local grandees summered elsewhere. For Charles Eliot, president of Harvard University (yes, that Harvard), “scion of a wealthy Brahmin family with impeccable lineage dating to before the founding of the nation”, the place to summer was Mount Desert Island, up in Maine. While he was later joined by Rockefellers, Astors, and Morgans, Eliot more or less “discovered” Mount Desert and built a pile there called The Ancestral.

Fast forward a century, and the blood no longer runs quite so uniformly blue.

And, unlike those of us who managed to improve on the lot of our immigrant foremothers and forefathers, the Eliots have fallen a tad bit off.

Thus, somewhere back in time, Charles Eliot’s descendants sold The Ancestral to the Jay family, as in John Jay.
The Eliots managed to hang on to a nearby property, The Coffeepot (a house, by the way, not a diner: they haven’t fallen that far). And they managed to hang on to the rights – whether via deeded easement or custom, it’s not clear – to use the wharf and beach of The Ancestral, even though it was now someone else’s Ancestral.

In 2007, the property was sold to a Maryland parvenu, Mitchell Rales, for $5.5M. He tore The Ancestral down, and replaced it with a more modern, 34-room pile.

And after a while, he apparently got sick of the Eliots hanging out on his property.

Rales contends in a lawsuit that easements Eliot and his descendants created when they sold parcels of the original estate do not entitle Eliot’s surviving relatives or others to gain access to his beach for “sunbathing, gathering, picnicking, using the wharf, storing boats, and engaging in other inappropriate activity.”

Rales cites as particularly offending a Sunday, Aug. 16 barbecue on the beach this year. He alleges that the six defendants — including Eliot family members and other nearby property owners — were “wrongfully holding parties” on his property.

“These wrongful parties have included loud music, fireworks, crowds, nighttime activities, alcohol, and other offensive acts and disturbances,” according to the lawsuit, first reported by the Mount Desert Islander. (Source: The Boston Globe)

“Nighttime activities…alcohol…other offensive acts…disturbances…” Isn’t this the sort of behavior that the old-money set used to accuse the nouveau riche of?

The tsk, tsk tide has certainly turned. (And just what were those other offensive acts? Inquiring, low-class minds want to know.)

Quite naturally, folks on Mount Desert have taken sides. Some support Rales. After all, it’s his property, and if you want to hang on in perpetuity to something, you may want to actually hang on to it in perpetuity, and not sell it off and expect to keep the goodies that come with it. Others support the Eliot spawn, a tribe which includes:

Sara Pierce, a great-great-granddaughter of Charles W. Eliot, [who] said [in a statement], “Our family has enjoyed the beach and used the pier for fishing, swimming, boating, and quiet enjoyment for more than 100 years. We hope to continue to enjoy the waterfront for another 100 years.”

Well, I guess one family’s quiet enjoyment is another family’s offensive acts and disturbances.

It will be interesting to see what’s actually spelled out in the deed that Rales holds to the place. If there are no rights of passage easements for the latter-day Eliots, they may have to suffer a rite of passage and pursue their nighttime activities on the porch of The Coffeepot.

Poor babies…

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