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Love for ‘nature’s beauty and majesty’ drives family’s desire to conserve Great Island woods

Originally published by the Harpswell Anchor

Four out of the five Tondreau siblings. From left Rod, Claire, Greg and Beth. The eldest, not in the photo, is Nancy.

A family’s decision to forgo a payday from developers and instead offer their Great Island woodlands to the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust at a $1.1 million discount stems from a commitment to conservation and a generational connection to the land.

“Virgin pine forest and coastal land are no longer in production, animal and fish habitat is being lost or compromised at an alarming rate, and there’s increasing pressure on fresh water sources,” said Roderick L. “Rod” Tondreau Jr., who owns the land with his four siblings. “Beyond that, there is nothing so restorative or awe-inspiring as being in the midst of nature’s beauty and majesty.”

The Tondreau family and the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust signed a purchase-and-sale agreement on Sept. 1. The land trust has two years to raise the $500,000 purchase price — less than a third of the appraised value, $1.6 million.

The property encompasses 57-plus acres of woods across Harpswell Islands Road from Harpswell Community School, with more than a half-mile of shorefront on Mill Cove and Orr’s Cove, both inlets of Quahog Bay. The land trust values the property especially because it wants to protect the vulnerable bay from the effects of development.

The Tondreau family’s history in Harpswell dates back more than 100 years, according to a family history by Priscilla A. Rowe. Her father, Adjutor E. Tondreau, emigrated from Quebec to Brunswick with his family in the early 1890s, a time when many French Canadians came to Maine for work in textile mills.

As boys, Adjutor and an older brother, Omer, earned money as shoeshiners at the Brunswick train station. Distinguishing themselves through hard work, they advanced at the station and eventually came to own a successful grocery business.

Adjutor and Bernadette Tondreau with their first child, Roderick.

After a fire in 1926, they built a two-story brick structure at the corner of Maine Street and Bank Street. Ninety-five years later, the Tondreau Block houses Bombay Mahal, The Little Dog Coffee Shop and other businesses.

Adjutor would often deliver groceries to the Huntoon family on their saltwater farm in Harpswell, at the end of a point that extends for a mile into Quahog Bay. Around 1917, he would buy 20 acres there with three of his brothers and two brothers-in-law. That mile-long point would later come to share the family name.

Over the years, the family accumulated more land on the point and in the surrounding area. Adjutor died in 1964 at the age of 82. A daughter-in-law, Anna M. Tondreau, bought the 57-acre lot in 1996, after negotiations to develop the land stalled.

Anna was having a cottage built nearby and wanted to keep the area quiet for her husband, Dr. Roderick L. Tondreau, who had Alzheimer’s disease. The elder Roderick Tondreau died in 1999, followed by Anna in 2018. Their children inherited the land.

In the 25 years since Anna’s purchase of the land, it has remained undisturbed. The only structure on the land was a cottage near the corner of Harpswell Islands Road and Tondreau Point Road, which Anna had torn down in 2003. Also along Harpswell Islands Road is an old artesian well made of brick, now dry and covered to prevent falls.

The current owners of the land spent childhood vacations with their grandparents, Adjutor and Bernadette Tondreau, at their cottage on the point.

“We would swim or fish off the dock, or rent a boat for the day from Pinkham Point,” Rod Tondreau said in an email. “On Tondreau Point’s western shore, Orr’s Cove was virtually empty of recreational boats. There was no Great Island Boat Yard, no marina and there were very few moorings.”

Roderick and Anna Tondreau with daughters Beth (left) and Nancy.

They remember the property their mother would buy many years later as “magical, virgin forest” and want to keep it that way. Rod lives in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, but spends part of each summer at the cottage his mother built. His brother, Greg, also has property in town.

“Playing a part in preserving any land is a greater and more lasting legacy than we could have imagined for ourselves, let alone preserving this special tract in particular,” Rod said. “As hikers, it’s a joy to make the land accessible for others to enjoy — the way we have enjoyed open spaces and trails that other people’s gifts of land have made possible.”