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The Houses of Busman’s Harbor

In my post here on February 23, I told the story of how my new map of Busman’s Harbor, Maine, the setting for my Maine Clambake Mystery series, came about. You can read that post here. And you can see the full, final map on my website here.

This post is about how the illustrator, Rhys Davies, and I collaborated to create the buildings on the map.

I knew from the beginning which houses I wanted to include and the list was unchanging from the first document I sent to Rhys until the end of the project.

I had, simultaneously, very strong ideas about what these places looked like and no idea how to explain them to anyone else in a way they could be rendered physically. Some of the places had morphed or been given added details over the course of the series and some were like sitcom houses where my picture of the interiors did not line up easily with my picture of the facades.

The project sent me searching through Pinterest, real estate sites, architecture and home improvement websites, and a number of print books I’ve bought about Maine houses over the years. Though time-consuming, this was a pleasure. I love to look at houses. My books are so full of descriptions of buildings a member of my writers group once asked, “Is the narrator an architect?” She was making a point and I heard it.

Julia’s mother’s house

I began with Julia’s mother’s house, the place where Julia and her sister Livvie grew up.

I’ve described Julia’s mother’s house as “Perched at the peak of the hill that formed the residential part of Busman’s Harbor, the house was a solid foursquare with a cupola on top of its flat, mansard roof. It was painted deep yellow with dark green trim and you could see it from anywhere around, land or sea. I always thought it was like a bright beacon leading me home.”

One of the photos I sent to Rhys was of the Russian House at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The house in the above photo doesn’t have a mansard roof, and it’s not quite a foursquare but I felt it is very close to what I was going for. One important change, the double window on the second floor needed to be a triple window because I’d gone on and one about how Julia looks out the windows in her father’s office down to the pier and the Snowden Family Clambake ticket kiosk.

I also sent along a photo from the real Boothbay Harbor that was part of the inspiration. This building is an inn, not a house, but I felt it captured the idea of Julia’s mother’s house–high up on the harbor hill, a beacon of home for those out at sea.

Here is the final house.

The Snuggles Inn

The Snuggles Inn is a B&B across the street from Julia’s mother’s house owned by family friends and honorary great-aunts, Fee and Vee Snugg.  I’d described it often as a Victorian with gingerbread trim. It is based on two different houses in Boothbay Harbor, but my internet searching brought me to Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard where gingerbread trim lives in abundance.

Martha’s Vineyard, MA, USA – September 17, 2014: New England House (Cottage) in Trinity Park (Campground area), Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard, on a beautiful autumn day. Martha’s Vineyard is an island located south of Cape Cod in Massachusetts and is famous as an affluent summer colony. Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS lens. HDR photorealistic image.

I wasn’t sure I’d ever mentioned the color, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t blue. Here’s the final from the map.

The Snowden Family Clambake Ticket Kiosk

The ticket kiosk is a free-standing building that sits out on the concrete town pier. This one took a lot of Googling, mainly because it was hard to figure out what I was looking for. I thought it might look something like this.

Here’s the final. It doesn’t look like it’s on concrete, but I decided that was okay.

Quentin Tupper’s house

Quentin Tupper’s house is new construction. I’ve written, “The house was massive, a three-story wall of dark grey granite, with huge windows all along the front, looking out to the wild North Atlantic and our island.” Lots of people in town call it a monstrosity, but some people, including Julia, like it.

I’ve described it as looking like it was thrust up out of the rocks it sits on. Julia teasingly calls it Quentin’s Fortress of Solitude.

This one also led to an insane level of Googling and oogling some pretty amazing houses.

Here’s where we ended up. Rhys and I discussed adding a third story, but decided the illustration would be too big and loom-y for the scale of the map.

Gus’s Restaurant

This is how I’ve described Gus’s. “Gus’s restaurant had an old gas pump with a round top out front, like something out of an Edward Hopper painting. Inside, you climbed down a long set of stairs into the main room where you found a candlepin-bowling lane on your left and a lunch counter on your right. In back was a dining room with the best view of Busman’s Harbor anywhere.”

This is the actual inspiration, sadly gone now.

However, I moved the restaurant and added a second story where Julia’s apartment is, so I also did a drawing. Here’s the sketch.

Here’s the final, which I love, especially the Easter egg of the gas pump on the top left.

The Lighthouses

I’ve described the lighthouses frequently as the Jacquie II, the tour boat that brings guests to and from Morrow Island for the clambakes, makes its trips back and forth in the books.

Dinkum’s Light is on a small island in Busman’s Harbor. It is like the real life Burnt Island Light in Boothbay Harbor.

B Lee Mannino, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s the final.

Herrickson Point Lighthouse has a starring role in Steamed Open. It is more elaborate than Dinkum’s Light with a two-story keeper’s cottage. It is based on the Hendricks Head Lighthouse.

Ted Kerwin, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

And the final.

The Dining Pavilion

The dining pavilion on Morrow Island is where the Snowden Family Clambake serves half their guests. (The rest sit at picnic tables scattered around the grounds.) It’s actually a warren of buildings, open at the center, filled with picnic tables, with a gift shop, bar and small kitchen attached.

It’s bigger than the one at the real Cabbage Island Clambake, but in the same architectural genre.

It took a bit to get to the final, since my fictional one is more open, but here it is.


The hardest structure by far was Windsholme. It took the most searching and the most iterations between Rhys and me. I’ve written about some of the inspirations for Windsholme before.

There were two reasons it was hard. 1) I’ve never had a specific building in mind while I described it, but rather pieces of various buildings, and 2) the description has, admittedly, wandered.

When Brenda Erickson created the image for my bookmarks and banner before the first book in the series, Clammed Up, was even published, I was fairly crazed and had no idea what I was doing. I grabbed a super-impressive house I’d been to from the right era, Edith Wharton’s The Mount, and ran with it. Here’s the result, which I’ve always loved.

But over time it became clear to me that Windsholme had a big front porch. The mansion got built out as the books went on, especially in Iced Under and Sealed Off. Also, I was learning a lot more about Maine Shingle-style houses from the time of the Morrow family mansion. But the one thing that had always been true, was that I described it as straight and strong, braced again the strong wind and weather of the Atlantic.

So, after much, much searching and fretting, I went with a photo of Blaine House, the Maine Governor’s mansion.

Albany NY at the English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In the end no place was perfect, nor could it be. Rhys removed the cupolas and added dormers for the third floor where important scenes in Clammed Up took place. And he added that front porch.

The houses were in many ways harder than the map, and I think they may be for readers, too. Everyone builds structures in their heads when they read about fictional places, so if you’ve followed the series, you’ll have your own ideas.

Readers: Well, what do you think? If you’ve read any of the books, are the buildings as you imagined them? Are any closer or further from your conception?

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