Ellsworth’s whimsical building revives antique and art shop

With its turrets, giant circular windows, spiers and corrugated iron walls, the building at 444 Route 1A in Ellsworth has intrigued vacationers and local residents alike for years. Built around a barn from the 1920s, the fortress looks post-apocalyptic, reconstructed with strange materials and even stranger architectural designs.

After sitting empty for years, curious passers-by can now enter this unusual building.

The newly renovated building opened this summer as 1A Relics, a three-story antique and art boutique.

Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki

“The building is cool and it works for this business, really,” said Shelly Bradsell, who owns and operates the store with her husband Tom Bradsell. “As soon as we opened the doors, [business] was stable all summer. You know, I expected it to be busy, but not this busy.

More than 50 antique dealers, artisans and artists rent space in the boutique. And while most people who walk through the door are there to shop, they’re also curious about the building. “Who built this?” they ask. “And why?” After all, the inside of the building is just as weird as the outside.

“People come and they say, you should charge admission for a tour,” Shelly Bradsell said. “I’m like, ‘No, you’re just having fun.'”

The unusual structure was created by Terrence Pinkham, who bought the property in 1975 when he was 22 and had just graduated from what was then called Husson College in Bangor. At the time, the only building on the property was a 50-year-old barn.

Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki

“The barn by the side of the road,” Pinkham recalled in a recent phone interview. “It was 18 feet from the white line, so I lifted it up and moved it in 1976. The building weighed 77 tons.

Then Pinkham got to work adding 30 feet of building on one side of the barn and 50 feet on the other. Every year he added something more – a balcony here, a column there, using a wide variety of materials.

“These are just designs I had in mind,” Pinkham said.

Although Pinkham had the vision, he did not build the structure with his own hands. Instead, he hired artisans and artists to bring his designs to life. Inside, the building is filled with custom woodwork, stone, and tile. The interior is a hodgepodge of materials and designs that hint at the many hands that put it together. There are giant barrels built into the walls, walls of thick glass cubes, and a curved stone and brick walkway through a gleaming hardwood floor.

Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki

“I’ve traded and traded with everyone you could think of to do so over the years,” he said.

The building served as a garage and offices for Pinkham’s vintage automobile company, Moto-Car. It was also his family’s home.

For financial reasons, he lost the property in May 2014 when the building and the four acres surrounding it were sold at a foreclosure auction. After that, the structure sat empty as the new owner attempted to resell it.

“Like everyone who lives in this area and has passed by this building, I kept checking the price,” said Shelly Bradsell, who lives with her husband near Otis.

A nurse educator for 20 years, Shelly Bradsell was ready for a career change, and in the odd building she envisioned an antique store.

Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki

“It took my husband and I six months to decide whether or not to do this,” she said. “I’ve brought every entrepreneur under the sun here saying, ‘What’s my worst-case scenario?’ because it sat empty for six or seven years and basically fell into the ground.

Nonetheless, the Bradsells bought the building about a year ago for $135,000, and since then they’ve poured just as much money into it for needed renovations. In six months, they installed a new electrical system, new stairs, a second floor for about half of the building, a new roof, insulation, support beams, an emergency exit, walls and much more.

“That part of the building was really just a shell,” said Shelly Bradsell as she stood on the east side of the building, which was once a car showroom. “Nothing was over.”

Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki

Having already quit her job in healthcare, Shelly Bradsell worked alongside the contractor and workers during the renovation. And Tom Bradsell, who works as a disaster manager for a healthcare company, helped out whenever he could.

“There was no heat or water,” Shelly Bradsell said of the winter renovation. “Every day I was at Dunkin’ Donuts bringing my [coffee] cup and I was trying to warm up, and I looked tough. I had a hat, gloves, and this big orange puffy coat that was torn and feathers leaking out, and I was covered in plasterboard… They never said a word. They were so polite.

Many aspects of the building were not efficient, safe or up to code. For example, a trackless walkway ran along one side of the building, leading to a fire pole that ran down to the ground floor. So they ripped out the walkway and post, reusing much of the material to cover the unfinished walls.

“We tried to keep as much as we could because it was cool,” she said. “We reused a lot.”

Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki

In many cases, the Bradsells used their imaginations to add to the weirdness of the building’s interior. For example, above a door on the second floor was elaborate white trim and a small railing that reminded them of the balcony on which Muppet characters Statler and Waldorf stand in The Muppets Show. So they hung red fabric over the door for a curtain and found Statler and Waldorf replicas to create a scene that was a big hit with patrons.

Although the only staircase in the building is not up to code, the Bradsells have kept them intact. The wide steps, custom-built to be uneven with wavy curves, reminded them of a waterfall, so they lined them with bamboo and closed them off to foot traffic, using them for a display instead.

A few months before 1A Relics opened, the Bradsells put up a sign in the road announcing their need for antique dealers, artists and artisans to rent stalls in the shop. In no time, they filled all the space.

“They just poured in,” Shelly Bradsell said. “I have people here almost every week asking if I have any space available.”

Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki

The store has 56 sellers and a waiting list of over 40 more. To accommodate them, the Bradsells are currently working on renovating the building’s expansive basement, bringing retail space to nearly 10,000 square feet. They also toy with the idea of ​​building an auction house or nearby flea market.

“The things that sell here are amazing,” said Shelly Bradsell.

Local artwork and a wide variety of antiques add even more whimsy to the eerie building, and if guests choose — and pay — they can take a piece home.

For 1A Relic’s opening celebration, Shelly Bradsell said, her parents flew in from Canada. That day, they saw a customer buy a $950 jester statue and a replica Star Trek weapon.

“So [the customers] pay and they walk out – of course now their bill is well over $1000 – and my dad says, “What just happened?” said Shelly Bradsell with a laugh.

“I said, ‘Well, dad, they just bought a jester and a sword.'”

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