The cabin that now sits on an island in one of the Rangeley area’s many lakes is the fulfillment of Connecticut resident Evie Wright’s longtime dream. And while it wasn’t exactly a nightmare for its builders, the island setting and the fact that Wright wanted the cabin built with wood from the land gave its two local builders a host of challenges.
The ride to the island takes about 10 minutes and on a mid-September day was pleasant aside from the cold winds and occasional bucking of the pontoon boat against the waves. The return trip was not as pleasant, with spray from waves crashing under the boat blowing aboard relentlessly, similar to the thick fuzz of drizzle before a storm. It was a clear example of just one of the challenges.
Wright’s family has held land in Maine for generations and she spent many summers here growing up. When looking to buy property of her own, she decided to return here to be close to her family’s seasonal camp, where she would bring her three children. But the area’s growing popularity drove her to seek her own patch of land with a little less traffic.
The island property was a good fit. She has neighbors — about 20 camps total on the island — but they stay sporadically and equally relish their privacy most of the time. Wright noted that they’re known to get together for barbecues once in a while, adding “A lot of them play music.”
After purchasing the property in 2011, Wright built a boathouse that would double as her temporary home until she could get the cabin under construction. She met Frank Dellavalle, a contractor and Oquossoc resident, in town at the annual Rangeley Strawberry Festival in 2014.
“I heard that she wanted a log cabin, so I talked to her and then never heard from her for years,” Dellavalle said. When Wright started to plan her project in 2018 after the completion of her boathouse, she gave him a call. When Dellavalle visited the island, he recognized the site she purchased as an ideal spot for a unique home.
“She’s the one who picked it out,” said Dellavale. “She wanted to have an elevated view of the water and the Height of Land.” Since there won’t be a landline at the cabin and cell reception is poor, Wright’s kids have flashed their headlights at her from Height of Land to signal their impending arrival so she can head out to pick them up on the mainland.
Dellavalle has a history of building traditional wood cabins, constructing four through his company, FDellavalle Carpentry & Caretaking, before building Wright’s, including one for himself.
“(At) Frank’s camp (in Moosehead Lake), he cut all the timber down here in Rangeley, peeled it, and had it put together, numbered and labeled everything, then disassembled it and had it hauled to Moosehead. He actually built it here and then reassembled it in place,” said Kurt Koestner, a fellow builder who has worked with Dellavale for the past four years.
“Like Lincoln logs,” Dellavale said.
“It was getting too busy here in Rangeley so I figured I’d get out of here and have a place to run away to. I had a lot of time but (not a lot) of money. (Time) is all you need ,” said Dellavalle of his own desire for a cabin.
Building Wright’s cabin started in 2019 as they spent that summer bringing down trees on the island to make room for the foundation, which rests in part on several large stones found in the area. Dellavalle and Koestner returned the trees next two summers to cut the to the proper size and let them dry, as the moisture they retained made them too heavy to work with.
The trees, most of which reached 60 feet in length or more, were then moved through a pulley system rigged by Dellavalle, stacked, numbered, and used as needed. Construction was completed by Dellavalle and Koestner, as well as Wright, who stripped logs and cleared moss to make room for construction. The remaining tree stumps were used by Wright as planters for flowers.
Cutting, stripping and processing the trees was just one challenge. Another was making repeat trips on Wright’s pontoon boat to haul materials from the mainland to the island. Amazingly, out of the hundreds of trips back and forth, only a shovel fell casualty to the lake’s choppy conditions.
“Every time something broke, it was another trip. You have to think outside the box and say ‘What do we have that’s DC power? Is the generator DC powered? It was pretty innovative. There were so many challenges,'” said Dellavalle.
The cabin stands at 23 feet by 24 feet, with an 8-foot porch jutting out toward the lake. Nearly 50 yards to its right is the boathouse where Wright stores tools and kayaks. Wright said she plans on digging a well. Beneath the cabin is the works for a large solar-powered composting toilet.
“I did go over my budget, but I wanted what I wanted. A lot of it had to do with the cost of materials. (For example) each of the 32 wood plans on the upstairs floor were $96 each and they didn’t even deliver them. I didn’t want milled lumber. I didn’t want what everyone else had,” Wright said. Total expenses for the entire project came to about $100,000, surpassing her original budget by nearly $50,000.
“It’s my goal, and I have time. There’s no penalty for not finishing it this year,” she said. Aside from the roof, the entire house exterior was made from the trees on the property.
“It makes it more of a story,” Dellavale said about using the trees. “If we tried pulling it from somewhere else it would have cost a lot more and this way it’s authentic, it’s the way to go. That’s what the land provides 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,” said Wright. “I’m so grateful that Frank stuck with it, because I wanted to be more involved. I’m probably more in the way than (helping), but I want to say that I helped.”
“You did,” said Koestner. “Because every day on the ride back to shore, she provided happy hour. We always got a beer for the ride back.”
Dellavale designed the cabin as he went along, modeling it after his own in Moosehead without the use of any blueprints. His vision happened to be just what Wright wanted; a traditional old-style cabin.
The cabin’s interior will remain untouched until Dellavale and Wright return to install flooring and add furniture. Inside the cabin is hollow and cavernous, with only a mattress on the floor and a dog-eared Clive Cussler novel beside it. In the corner there’s a crib from when her 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 solar fridge. She looks forward to hosting family, though the cabin’s unfinished state hasn’t deterred them.
“My family loves to come out here. My mother comes out for her birthday week. She came this year when she turned 78. I have pictures of her burning brush and taking the dragons’ teeth off the sides of the trees with a hatchet, Wright said.