Farewell to May Sarton’s “House by the Sea”

In York, the excavator comes for a writer’s beloved home.

Wild Knoll, the 1916 Colonial Revival in York that May Sarton would call home for the last 22 years of her life.
Photo on table, Rich Beauchesne | Courtesy of Seacoastonline.com
By Bridget M. Burns

In her 1977 memoir The House by the Sea, May Sarton described her first visit to the 1916 Colonial Revival in York that she would call home for the last 22 years of her life. “Once I stood on that wide flagstone terrace,” she wrote, “and looked out over that immensely gentle field to a shining, still blue expanse, the decision was out of my hands.”

The house she called Wild Knoll was demolished this winter, dismantled over three days in November, to the disappointment of some of Sarton’s readers and admirers. The author of 16 books of poetry, 19 novels, and 12 memoirs and published journals, Sarton, who died in 1995, was one of Maine’s most prolific literary figures. She rented Wild Knoll from friend and arts patron Mary-Leigh Smart, who lived next door and died in 2017, willing that her 47-acre property, called Surf Point, be converted to an artist colony after her death. The Surf Point Foundation, which began offering residencies to artists in 2019, met pushback from those who hoped to see Sarton’s home preserved, but executive director Yael Reinharz says the costs of repairing and maintaining the aging house were insurmountable.

“I think the initial feelings of many people were feelings of distress,” Reinharz says. But the modestly endowed foundation faced costs for structural repairs, a new septic system, and the replacement of windows, siding, insulation, and more.

Reinharz is confident the loss of Wild Knoll won’t affect the public’s remembrance of Sarton. “I think the people who know the most about her work are very well prepared to continue to foster that legacy,” she says. Meanwhile, the flagstone terrace remains, a spot where resident artists can look out over the blue expanse, as Sarton once did.