ROCKPORT — Six years after the owners first defaulted, Rockport has taken possession of a classic 19th century “connected” farmhouse and is poised to sell it to the highest bidder.

The owners first defaulted in 2016 and have not paid taxes since. The property taxes are now in arrears to the tune of $20,426, not counting legal and other fees, according to town officials.

The select board learned of the seizure at its Jan. 9 meeting from town manager Jon Duke. It was expected.

 

The property is in arrears and was seized Rockport for about $20,400 in back taxes Photo by Jack M. Foley

“This is one that the board talked about for years and, frankly, the town has talked about for years,” he said.

Earlier in the day, town officials, including police, secured the building and put up no trespassing signs, Duke said.

It’s the second time in several years that the town has taken possession. The first time a bid came in, but the deal fizzled because the prospective owners though the cost of repairs would be too high, Duke told the Camden Herald last month, as the town readied a court case to evict a man living in the residence but not its owner who refused to move out.

 

This dog greeted visitors at a window in November and has since been removed from the property. Photo by Jack M. Foley

Due to COVID-19 delays and the town’s fear of liability, it had never actually taken possession before, although it has threatened to do so.

Taking a home for back taxes is a “thankless and sometimes wrenching last resort affair, and this is one of those cases,” Duke said at the time.

The Knox County Court Nov. 22 granted the town a writ of possession effective Dec. 22. Had the man not left he would have been subject to charges.

 

A large flock of healthy-looking chickens were removed from the property between November and January, Photo by Jack M. Foley

At the time, a visit by The Camden Herald found a flock of chickens, buckets of eggs and two dogs at the worn and clutter-strewn premises. The dogs were inside, the chickens were in the barn but could move back and forth to an outdoor coop. The dogs and chickens appeared well cared for. No one responded to repeated knocks on the front and back doors.

Duke told board members the house had been secured Jan. 9, that the man had left. He reminded the board that “the voters at town meeting said that you all can dispose of that property as you see fit in the best interests of the town, so that will be a decision that you all will need to make.”

Board member Kelley mentioned here had been talk of dogs in the house and asked if that was the case. A staff member said no dogs were in the house when it was secured.

The four-bedroom 1.5 bath has about 2,000 square feet of living space and is just north of Chickawaukie Pond. It has been the subject of numerous visits from town code enforcement officers over the years, according to Duke. An old pickup truck, an abandoned barbecue, stacks of old barn timbers and an RV sit outside. The barn sprouts two antennas. The property includes the house and about 4.5 acres.

The town in 2016 and again in 2017 sent delinquent notices to the owner of record, Bonnie Rae Grambow, and then to the owner’s son in Massachusetts, but to no avail, according to Rockport town attorney Amanda Method.

The once handsome farm residence is of the type referred to as a “connected” farm building, meaning the home and barn are attached. It is believed to have been built in 1860.

The 2004 book, “Big House, Little House, Back House, Barn: The Connected Farm Buildings of New England” by Thomas C. Hubka, published by the University Press of New England, says this about the structures:

An old RV was among the belongings left behind by past residents when the town took possession. Photo by Jack M. Foley

“Big house, little house, back house, barn― this rhythmic cadence was sung by nineteenth-century children as they played. It also portrays the four essential components of the farms where many of them lived. The stately and beautiful connected farm buildings made by nineteenth-century New Englanders stand today as a living expression of a rural culture, offering insights into the people who made them and their agricultural way of life. A visual delight as well as an engaging tribute to our nineteenth-century forebears, this book has become one of the standard works on regional farmsteads in America.”

Select board members Jan. 9 asked that a sign be placed on the property to solicit bids from passing motorists.