That’s My Dump!

photo/Emily Guerin
photo/Emily Guerin

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word dump has three meanings: “a site for depositing rubbish or waste; a heap of rubbish left at a dump; an unpleasant or dreary place.”

Most of the unfortunate buildings profiled in this column meet only the third definition. But the subject this month, a garbage-filled house on the site of a defunct junkyard, is a dump in every sense of the word.

Driving north out of Brunswick on Route 1, the house is just barely visible through the trees along the road. You can’t see the piles of rusted gas tanks, tires, and ancient kitchen appliances that surround the collapsing structure. But a passing glance does reveal the caved-in roof and empty window frames — enough to indicate that no one has lived there for a long time.

The house is located on Bridle Road, but you’ll be disappointed if you go looking for a street sign with that name. I found it by turning into the entrance to Bath Iron Works’ Harding facility. A dirt road riddled with potholes curves around the far side of a warehouse there and back toward some power lines. Oil drums and cars with shattered windshields guide the way.

Up close, it’s clear the house has deteriorated well beyond the point of possible repair. The entryway has collapsed, and sheetrock has either fallen or been ripped from the interior walls. A tremendous amount of junk is piled in the basement: an old TV set, a stove, torn linoleum, and a pair of dirty white pumps. A faded copy of the Portland Press Herald dated May 11, 1970 rests on the floor.

The house has been empty since 1966, when Ernest Jewett Sr. passed away. His son, Ernest Jr., took over the junkyard, but couldn’t bring himself to move into his father’s house. Ernest Jr.’s daughter, Julie, who grew up picking blueberries in the fields behind the junkyard, said, “I don’t know if it was just too hard for my father to deal with [the house] or what, but it just stayed there and decayed over the years.”

The house may have declined, but Jewett Junkyard thrived back in the day. For years, a trailer painted with the words “Jewett’s Used Fish” lured travelers off Route 1 and down to Bridle Road to peruse the refurbished trash treasures.

“I have no idea why the sign said that,” said Don Lamson, who used to manage the B.I.W. Harding facility. “But it got people’s curiosity to go in there.”

Lamson also recalled seeing “billows of black smoke” coming from the property. “They used to burn rubber-coated cable to get the copper out of it,” he said.

Maine DEP workers at Jewett Junkyard in the late 1980s. photo/courtesy MDEP
Maine DEP workers at Jewett Junkyard in the late 1980s. photo/courtesy MDEP

In 1987, after an anonymous tipster reported the presence of electrical transformers at the junkyard, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) visited the site. In addition to the transformers, DEP inspectors added oil drums, piles of batteries, auto bodies and tires to their list of concerns.

The DEP feared the car batteries and transformers were leaking lead and PCBs into the groundwater. However, soil tests revealed the lead-contaminated area was very small and the concentration of PCBs was under the legal limit, so the site was downgraded to a low priority.

Although the DEP let Jewett off the hook, the town of Brunswick was not inclined to do the same. In 1996, the Town Council refused to renew his junkyard permit after they discovered the junk had spilled over into a public way — a different dirt road called Race Track Road.

Jewett Jr. had been living in a trailer at the junkyard until then, but moved out after he lost his permit. According to his daughter, an illness had reduced his mobility, so he checked into a veterans’ hospital, where he spent the remainder of his life.

In the meantime, Jewett’s friends hauled most of the junk off his property and sold it. Jewett’s daughter put the property on the market and is asking $348,000 for the 12 acres. Her realtor, Bob Adams, is hoping to find an industrial or commercial buyer.

Despite the contamination and mounds of half-buried waste, Adams said that in his opinion, it’s “a great site.

— Emily Guerin

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