Looks like it’s been there forever: a two-story log cabin on five acres, overlooking 217 feet of waterfront stretching out in front of it and made from the very white spruce trees that surround it, almost blending in its environment if not for the bright color of its shiny varnish in the thick forest.
The cabin that now sits on an island in one of the many lakes in the Rangeley area is the realization of Connecticut resident Evie Wright’s longtime dream. And while it wasn’t exactly a nightmare for his builders, the island setting and the fact that Wright wanted the cabin to be built with timber from the earth gave his two local builders a host of challenges.
The trip to the island takes about 10 minutes and on a mid-September day was pleasant apart from the cold winds and the occasional banging of the pontoon boat against the waves. The return trip was not so pleasant, with the spray from the waves crashing under the boat blowing relentlessly on board, similar to the thick drizzle before a storm. It was a clear example of only one of the challenges.
Wright’s family has owned land in Maine for generations and spent many summers here growing up. Looking to buy her own property, she decided to move back here to be closer to her family’s seasonal camp, where she would bring her three children. But the area’s growing popularity prompted her to seek her own piece of land with a little less traffic.
The island property was a good fit. She has neighbors – around 20 camps in total on the island – but they stay sporadically and also enjoy their privacy most of the time. Wright noted that they’ve been known to get together for barbecues once in a while, adding “A lot of them play music.”
After buying the property in 2011, Wright built a boathouse that would serve as her temporary home until she could put the cabin under construction. She met Frank Dellavalle, an entrepreneur and resident of Oquossoc, in town during the annual Rangeley Strawberry Festival in 2014.
“I heard she wanted a log cabin, so I talked to her and didn’t hear from her for years,” Dellavalle said. When Wright started planning her project in 2018 after her boathouse was completed, she called him. When Dellavalle visited the island, he recognized the site she had purchased as an ideal location for a unique home.
“She was the one who chose him,” Dellavalle said. “She wanted to have an elevated view of the water and the height of the land.” Since there won’t be a landline phone in the cabin and cell reception is poor, Wright’s kids flashed their headlights at her from Height of Land to signal their impending arrival so she could pick them up on the continent.
Dellavalle is used to building traditional log cabins, building four through his company, FDellavalle Carpentry & Caretaking, before building Wright’s, including one for himself.
“(At) Frank’s camp (at Moosehead Lake) he cut all the wood here at Rangeley, skinned it and had it put together and numbered and labeled, then took it apart and had it transported to Moosehead. He actually built it here and then reassembled it on site,” said Kurt Koestner, a fellow builder who has worked with Dellavalle for the past four years.
“Like the logs of Lincoln,” Dellavalle said.
“There were too many people here in Rangeley, so I thought I’d get out of here and have a place to run to. I had a lot of time but (not a lot) of money. (Time) is all you need,” Dellavalle said of his own cabin desire.
Construction of Wright’s cabin began in 2019 as they spent this summer cutting down trees on the island to make room for the foundation, which rests in part on several large rocks found in the area. Dellavalle and Koestner returned the next two summers to cut the trees down to size and let them dry out, as the moisture they retained made them too heavy to work with.
The shafts, most of which reached 60 feet in length or more, were then moved through a system of pulleys rigged by Dellavalle, stacked, numbered and used as needed. Construction was completed by Dellavalle and Koestner, along with Wright, who removed logs and removed moss to make way for construction. The remaining tree stumps were used by Wright as planters for the flowers.
Cutting, stripping and transforming the trees was just one of the challenges. Another made repeated trips on Wright’s pontoon boat to transport materials from the mainland to the island. Surprisingly, of the hundreds of round trips, only one shovel fell victim to the choppy lake conditions.
“Every time something broke, that was another trip. You have to think outside the box and say, ‘What do we have for DC?’ Is the generator DC powered? was quite inventive. There were so many challenges,” Dellavalle said.
The cabin is 23 feet by 24 feet, with an 8 foot porch that juts out to the lake. About 50 yards to his right is the boathouse where Wright stores tools and kayaks. Wright said she planned to dig a well. Below the cabin are the works of a large solar-powered composting toilet.
“I went over budget, but I wanted what I wanted. It had a lot to do with the cost of materials. (For example) each of the 32 wooden planks on the top floor were $96 each and they didn’t even deliver them. I didn’t want sawn wood. I didn’t want what everyone else had,” Wright said. Total expenses for the entire project came to around $100,000, exceeding its original budget by almost $50,000.
“That’s my goal and I have time. There is no penalty for not completing it this year,” she said. Aside from the roof, the entire exterior of the house was made from the trees on the property.
“It makes it more of a story,” Dellavalle said of the use of trees. “If we had tried to pull it from somewhere else it would have cost a lot more and that way it’s authentic, that’s the way to go. That’s what the earth gives you.
“When I said I wanted to do it, I had no idea what was going to have to go into it. I learned a lot,” Wright said. “I’m so thankful that Frank persevered, because I wanted to get more involved I’m probably more troublesome than (helping), but I want to say that I helped.
“You did it,” Koestner said. “Because every day, on the way back to shore, she offered a happy hour. We always had a beer for the return.
Dellavalle designed the cabin as he went, modeling it after his in Moosehead without using blueprints. His vision turned out to be exactly what Wright wanted; a traditional old fashioned hut.
The interior of the cabin will remain intact until Dellavalle and Wright return to install flooring and add furniture. The interior of the cabin is hollow and cavernous, with only a mattress on the floor and a dog-eared Clive Cussler novel next to it. In the corner there is a crib from when his daughter visited with her 6-month-old son in August.
When Wright returns next summer, she plans to install finished floors, a shower, a gas stove and a solar refrigerator. She is eager to welcome her family, although the unfinished state of the cabin has not deterred them.
“My family loves coming here. My mom is going out for her birthday week. She came this year when she turned 78. I have pictures of her burning brush and removing dragon teeth from the sides of trees with a hatchet,” Wright said.