Patty and Allan Graves: A gift from the generations before to the generations to come
One in a series of profiles of people who played a key role in the first 35 years of the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust.
Sitting around a table in the family home just up the hill from Houghton Graves Park on Orr’s Island, Allan and Patty Graves want to make one thing perfectly clear:
“It’s important to note that the property was really the gift of the generations before us. Our names just happened to be on the deed.”
Only three acres in size, Houghton Graves Park is one of Harpswell Heritage Land Trust’s (HHLT) smallest preserves. But the tiny gem of a park in what passes for downtown Orr’s Island has deep roots in the community and was among the key acquisitions in HHLT’s first 35 years.
Patty and Allan, along with Allan’s relative, Russell Houghton, donated the park to HHLT in 2007. The family ownership of the property reaches back to 1763, when 30 acres of land were acquired by Allan’s ancestor, Michael Sinnett. Down through the years, the property was used for raising dairy cattle, horses and garden produce. The beach on Beal’s Cove on the western side of the park was used for clamming, harvesting seaweed and access to fishing grounds.
The family for many years also ran the “Royal Rest” bed and breakfast boarding house, where we are sitting today. It bears the name of Allan’s great, great-grandfather, Royal Sandford Graves, and once included a large barn and nearby cottages that no longer stand. Today, Patty and Allan, who live in Newtown, Conn., use the house as a summer getaway and ponder ways to make improvements without altering the basic nature of the place.
The basic nature of Houghton Graves Park is now preserved forever. You enter the property along a mowed path that runs by a marshy area filled with cattails. A short walk in the woods past a shaded picnic table leads to a cleared field with another picnic table and a path that descends to the shore of picturesque Beal’s Cove (which was recently featured on the cover of Down East magazine.)
“That cove is one of the great places in the world to skip stones,” said Allan. “And it’s great to know that kids will still be skipping stones there 100 years from now.”
Allan should know. Born in Massachusetts, he spent every summer visiting his relatives on Orr’s Island. His great aunt, Susie Graves Houghton, ran the Royal Rest while Susie’s daughter, Pauline, ran the Green Anchor gift shop, which once stood on the property. He was particularly close to Pauline’s brother, Russell Houghton, an excellent mechanic who made the military his career. “He was proud to pay his taxes and the land he grew up on was important to him,” Allan recalled.
Allan’s family moved from Massachusetts to Westport, Conn., when he was 14. His across-the-street neighbor was Patty Mraz, who turned out to be his future wife. The couple married in 1974. Allan initially attended the University of Maine and then transferred and graduated from Wentworth Institute in Boston. He has spent the last 40 years as a self-employed carpenter.
As the years passed, Allan said, Russell became concerned about the future of the family land. “He didn’t want to see the place change. He wanted the land to be open, not tied up in some private development,” Allan explained.
Patty and Allan were members of the Newtown Forest Association, their local land trust in Connecticut, and the couple had seen what could happen as a result of uncontrolled development. In early 2005, Patty reached out to Thomas “Spike” Haible, then executive director of HHLT. “Spike and Russell hit it off, which was great,” Patty said. “We were very glad HHLT was interested in the property. It was an active, solid group, young, but with an impressive number of members.”
The property was donated to HHLT two years later. The land trust and the Harpswell community are very happy to have it.
“Patty and Allan Graves, and the late Russell Houghton, exemplify the deep connection with the land and its history that leads many land owners to find ways to permanently conserve the natural character and habitat of their property,” said current HHLT Executive Director Reed Coles. “We and future generations will forever be grateful to Russell, Allan, and Patty for their generosity and commitment to preserving one of the many great things about our town.”
Allan and Patty are pleased to be a part of HHLT’s mission of preserving and protecting the natural and cultural resources of Harpswell. “Sustainability is No. 1 for us,” said Allan. “And making sure that kids have a place to get outside and maybe dig a clam and skip a stone.”