NORTH VASSALBORO

January 16, 2012

Renovating with the ghosts

By Ben McCanna bmccanna@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

NORTH VASSALBORO -- Ray Breton says his house is haunted. And, many people agree with him.

click image to enlarge

Ray Breton is helping to redevelop North Vassalboro.

Staff photo by Ben McCanna

click image to enlarge

The Mill Agent’s House in North Vassalboro is haunted, says owner Ray Breton.

Staff photo by Ben McCanna

In the past two years, more than 1,500 people have sought ghost encounters in his sprawling 165-year-old home. They travel from as far away as Florida, Texas and Germany for tours and overnight stays.

It has been featured on a national TV show on A&E Biography's "My Ghost Story."

But, perhaps more surprising than a home full of roaming spirits, is Breton's reputation in the village of North Vassalboro: Rather than being dismissed as a crackpot, Breton is hailed by his neighbors for revitalizing downtown.

Breton, 55, is a thin, energetic man with a dark bushy mustache. He was born in Waterville, but moved with his family to Vassalboro when he was 11 years old.

North Vassalboro was once a thriving mill town, he said, and that history is apparent from Breton's Greek-revival house on Priest Hill Road.

The home, built in 1845, is known as the Mill Agent's House and its original owner ran the nearby Vassalboro Woolen Mill.

Today, Breton owns both properties, and says both are haunted.

In total, Breton owns nine buildings in downtown North Vassalboro. One of his most recent acquisitions is the mill, which he bought in an auction in September 2010 for $35,000. The mill comprises three buildings with a combined area of more than 160,000 square feet.

The mill is decrepit, but Breton is undaunted. Breton runs Ray Breton Remodeling and Custom Woodwork, a company that doesn't advertise, but is booked solid for several months, he said.

In the early days of owning the mill, Breton and his team installed about 600 panes of glass, renovated the mill's standalone office building and helped usher in five businesses, including a finance company and an indoor paintball arena.

April Sawtelle is a real estate broker in town. She said Breton has a long history of renewal projects.

"He's really cleaned up everything that he's purchased. He's definitely created much more curb appeal for downtown North Vassalboro. Everything is fresh and new," she said.

Breton said he never intended to transform the town. He bought the Mill Agent's House in 1995 and his influence slowly grew outward.

The impetus was his lawn.

"I have a beautiful lawn. I love my grounds. Even though it's a lot of work to mow, that's my relaxation," he said. "I can do all that (mowing), but it doesn't count if the building in front of me is trashy. I hate clutter. So, when the buildings around me came up for sale, I bought them, fixed them up and rented them out as office space."

Breton lives in an apartment at the back of the Mill Agent's House. He shares it with his Siamese cat, Boo, a stray that arrived on his doorstep on Halloween night in 2007. From his living room, he can see most of his properties, which have attracted real estate and insurance businesses and a medical practice.

Cindy Ferland is director of the Vassalboro Food Station Pantry south of town. She said Breton takes obvious pride in his surroundings.

"He's always all around town doing little things as if the town is part of his house or is part of him. It is part of him. He goes above and beyond," she said.

Ghosts of North Vassalboro

On a recent night, Breton stood next to a 100-foot-tall burr oak tree in his yard and explained that visitors to the Mill Agent's House should take precautions before going inside.

He rested his palms lightly against the coarse tree bark to demonstrate the technique of grounding.

(Continued on page 2)

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