By Eliza Worrick
Set back from the road on a side street in downtown Bar Harbor, my childhood home is small and unassuming – it was originally built in the 1890’s for the daughter of the homeowners to the left as a smaller replica of their house. Since my mom bought it almost 100 years later, the house and the street it sits on have shaped the person I am today.
From an early age, my brother and I were surrounded by playmates for almost our entire childhood. A family with two kids rented the house next door. Across the street lived two other families with children around our age. A few houses up the street, there were younger kids with whom I began my babysitting career. There were many summer evenings where you’d find us all playing a game of Wiffle ball in the street or winter days spent building snow forts in our backyards. I felt comfortable and safe popping into a neighbor kid’s house for a meal or a movie, and I know the feeling was mutual.
My house quickly became a place for my friends to gather because we could safely walk there from our middle school and it was close to the shops, restaurants, and public spaces we wanted to visit. Before I could legally work, my first “job” was reshelving books at the Jesup Library, which was a five minute walk up the street. Many of my childhood friends still think of the house as their second home and flock to it whenever they find themselves in Bar Harbor.
Like many who grew up here, I became less content with the things that the island offered and instead craved something bigger and more exciting as high school came to a close. That desire drew me out of state, first to Worcester, Massachusetts for college and grad school, then to Austin, Texas for city living in warmer weather. I relished the break from shoveling snow, but after a few years I began to feel a deep, irresistible tugging towards MDI. It became harder and harder to get back on the plane after visiting home.
I was permanently called back here in the summer of 2020 when my father died suddenly, and I moved into my childhood home with my mom to help her adjust to life on her own. Soon after moving back in, conversations over the fence led to friendships with the neighbors on either side of me. The neighbors to the right are a couple around my age who have rented the first floor of the home for several years while working at year-round establishments in town. The house to the left is home to three generations of the same family who used the property seasonally but moved up at the beginning of the pandemic and now live there year-round. We’ve all shared dinners out, dog walks around town, and building a 3rd birthday cake in the shape of a school bus. I couldn’t help but think of my childhood on the same street, except these friends and I had swapped PB&J’s on the porch for drinks around the firepit.
These relationships were not only important as I resettled in my neighborhood as an adult, but they were essential when the pandemic made human connection so much more difficult. Place and proximity allowed these friendships to develop. Had we not been able to chat from our backyards and porches, I’m not sure we ever would have crossed paths.
A community does not thrive without these kinds of neighborhoods, without children being able to walk to school safely, without the ability to chat with a neighbor across the fence, and without the threads of human connection that are built there. Besides the more practical reasons like existing utilities and zoning laws, it’s these kinds of irreplaceable connections and the close proximity to shops, schools, restaurants, and entertainment that make housing in town so appealing. Whenever possible, making village homes affordable must be a part of the solution to the island’s housing crisis. It builds character both individually and collectively, strengthening the community at every level.