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A former medical provider was ready to switch gears to hospitality when she bought the Captain Nickels Inn, in Searsport.
Dawn Gintz purchased the former sea captain’s home, at 127 East Main St., for an undisclosed sum. John McCarthy of Legacy Properties Sotheby's International Realty brokered the deal.
“It’s a living piece of artwork for them,” said McCarthy. “We looked at a lot of properties. But she fell in love with this one the day we went through it. And it’s built like a battleship. I never saw anything so structurally strong.”
The inn, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1874 by Capt. A.V. Nickels as a gift to his bride, Elizabeth, according to the inn’s website.
The home sits on three acres on Penobscot Bay. Guest areas include two sitting rooms, a library, dining room, solarium with views of the sea, and large decks. The rooms are individually designed with period antiques. The rooms have names like “Port of Call Dublin” and “Port of Call Istanbul” and feature items specific to those cultures.
There’s also a summer cottage with a deck and fire pit, as well as expansive lawns.
Gintz worked for Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla., where she was a certified medical dosimetrist who designed radiation treatments for cancer patients. She retired in March.
Her daughter, Cassidy Gintz, 22, owned a pet-sitting business before moving to Searsport.
The pair had already spent several years looking for a bed-and-breakfast to buy.
“She looked online across the nation and even some outside the country,” Gintz explained. “Then I started traveling about a year ago to look at bed-and-breakfasts, too.”
Last September, Cassidy spotted the Captain Nickels Inn on Zillow.
“She sent it to me while I was in Washington State looking at a bed-and-breakfast,” recalled Gintz, who was struck by the property’s beauty but thought it would be too expensive. But she contacted McCarthy.
“One thing led to another,” she continued. “My daughter and I probably looked at it five times and we fell in love with it. And we fell in love with Maine and with the coast. The fact that this is on the water is an amazing thing to wake up to in the morning.”
Owning a bed-and-breakfast was a long-time dream and something that she and her daughter wanted to do together, she said.
“It’s one of those things where you’re visiting a bed-and-breakfast and you say, ‘Wouldn’t it be neat to do this?’” she said.
The two are now living in the innkeeper’s suite on the third floor of the inn. Cassidy makes the gourmet breakfasts for the inn. Gintz said her daughter deserves a great deal of the credit for the inn’s success during their first summer there.
“It has an amazing history,” Gintz said of the property. “Our plan is to put together a book. We feel that we’re just the stewards of this house. It’s been here 145 years.”
As far as she knows from her research so far, Capt. Nickels built a prior house in the center of Searsport, then went to sea, possibly in 1854.
“He was gone for so long that his family assumed he wasn’t coming back, so they sold his house,” she related.
It’s unclear how long he was gone. But when he finally returned, he built the house that today bears his name. The house was likely built in three sections starting with the front, which was completed in 1874. The couple added on as they had more children. The third section is a ballroom that Nickels added for Elizabeth.
Features throughout include original wood floors that bear the marks of time. There’s abundant ornate trim on the exterior. In the coming year, Gintz plans to paint the exterior in a way that highlights the trim.
The front of the house still has the original wood gutters. The ballroom can seat at least 50 guests. It has a tavern with a bar area that overlooks the water.
“The house is amazing,” said Gintz. “We give every guest a tour.”
It’s thought that the property has been a bed and breakfast for at least 30 years, she said.
“There was a period of time when it sat empty and it had gone to foreclosure,” she said.
Another bit of history is the property’s association with Everett "Shep" Hurd. Hurd owned Dakin Sporting Goods in Bangor in the first half of the 20th century, and was instrumental in the apprehension of the notorious Brady Gang, according to Maine Memory Network.
He bought the Searsport house with the reward money he received, said Gintz.
“We believe he lived here from the late 1930s to the 1950s or 1960s,” she said. “It’s my understanding that when he lived here the house and the gardens were magnificent.
Gintz and her daughter had their first guest the very day of the closing.
“We’ve had a really busy summer," she said. "We plan to stay open year-round, which is rare in this area.”
Their thought is to promote the business as the B&B of choice to business travelers through the year.
Renovation projects have included replacing most of the landscaping and reseeding the sprawling lawn, which extends to the water. Further plans include creating different sitting areas with flowering bushes. The Gintzes have repaired a number of roof leaks, renovated a bathroom, and replaced the kitchen and front deck flooring, among other projects.
“It’s been ongoing but it was all things we knew about,” she said. “We thought we were the people to do it.”