This view from the interior of the barn looking out to the fields includes, hanging in the doorway, the rope swing made famous in E.B. White’s 1952 children’s classic, “Charlotte’s Web.” Photo by Mark Fleming for Yankee Magazine

It happened again Wednesday morning. Mary Gallant looked out of her 1795 farmhouse and saw a stranger in her driveway, taking photos.

lllustration by Garth Williams from E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web,” used with permission from HarperCollins.

Gallant and her husband, Robert, have gotten used to such intrusions on their privacy over the past three decades. They are the owners of beloved Maine author E.B. White’s saltwater farm on Allen Cove in the Hancock County town of North Brooklin, a home they have reluctantly put on the market for $3.7 million.

“E.B. White would turn over in his grave if he knew how many people stop here,” Gallant said. “But to me, that’s absolutely wonderful that he is so alive to the world.”

White, who wrote the children’s classics “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little,” bought the 44-acre property overlooking Blue Hill Bay with his wife, Katharine, in 1933. He lived there until his death in 1985.

The Gallants, who also own a home in South Carolina, purchased it shortly after White’s death, and have lived half of each year there ever since. They are now in their 80s and plan to live full time in their single-level home in South Carolina.

The couple has tried to be respectful of White’s memory – and the history of the house – by updating the kitchen and refinishing the floors but otherwise leaving its character alone.

“They have not gentrified it,” said Martha Dischinger of Downeast Properties in Blue Hill. “They’ve not gone in and done weird things. They have made all the right improvements.”

The barn that was the setting for “Charlotte’s Web,” the beloved children’s book about a pig named Wilbur and his friendship with Charlotte the spider, is still there, including the famous rope swing whose motion was mimicked in White’s writing.

The 44-acre property once owned by E.B. White in North Brooklin includes a house, guest house and one famous barn, seen in this view from the pond. Photo by Mark Fleming for Yankee Magazine

A DIFFICULT DECISION TO SELL

Mary Gallant, a master gardener, has brought back Katharine White’s gardens, growing flowers and a wide variety of vegetables, including carrots, lettuces, kale, Swiss chard, turnips, onions and garlic. Katharine White was known in her own right, as an editor at The New Yorker magazine from 1925 to 1960, and for her columns on gardening. E.B. White wrote for the magazine for decades.

Gallant said her husband was an English major who studied “The Elements of Style,” the style guide written by William Strunk and updated by White, which no self-respecting writer would be without. She said they also read “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little” to their own children. So when they moved into the farmhouse, they were already fans. Gallant said it was a “very difficult” decision to sell.

“We have just loved every inch of this place and saw it as an E.B. White shrine, in a way,” she said. “We’ve made it our own, but very much in his honor.”

Every year, the Gallants have allowed a Maine schoolteacher to bring a class to the farm. Mary Gallant told Yankee magazine how the children sit on bales of hay in the barn, listening to a recording of White reading from “Charlotte’s Web.”

“They swing on the same rope swing that they knew Fern had; they sit on the milking stool where Fern had sat,” she told the magazine. “I wanted them to grow up remembering this day.”

The exterior of the barn at the saltwater farm in North Brooklin. Photo by Mark Fleming for Yankee Magazine

Gallant described to the Portland Press Herald the “hysterical” thank-you notes she gets from the children every year. “One of them said, ‘You let us go through your house and you didn’t even make us pay,’ ” she said, laughing. “And one little boy said, ‘I like the house. I like the barn. I like the shore. I hope you like this letter. I done my best.’

“They’re just so charming,” she said. “Children ask all the right questions.”

Gallant said her jaw dropped once when an elementary school student said to her, “Don’t you think Charlotte was Katharine White and Wilbur was E.B. White?”

“Nobody had ever mentioned that before, and it’s just so perfect,” she said. “So I have benefited personally from having these children come, and I hope they will grow up to read more E.B. White.”

PRIVACY, UNEXPECTED VISITORS

Children, writers and other fans of E.B. White often just show up at the house and sometimes ask for a tour. White would have hated such intrusions, Gallant said, noting that he always left home on his birthday to avoid reporters. People at the local general store always knew where he was, she said, but they protected his privacy and never gave anyone directions to the house.

Gallant and her husband value their privacy as well, but when it comes to dealing with unexpected visitors, they have been unexpectedly generous. Gallant said that by remaining open and polite, they have “met some fascinating people” and “not a single rude person, ever.”

“E.B. White would turn over in his grave if he knew how many people stop here,” Mary Gallant says of her home, where the author lived and worked. Photo by Mark Fleming for Yankee Magazine

An undated photo of E.B. White and his dog Minnie. White Literary LLC photo via Wikipedia

“One time a woman knocked on the door and she was from Australia,” Gallant recalled. “She said she had her 6-year-old daughter with her, and she said today is her birthday and all she wanted to do was see where Charlotte and Wilbur lived. And you know, that could have been a bunch of hokum, but it worked.”

There has already been plenty of serious interest in the property, from people all over the country, Dischinger said. Not everyone can afford it, “but everyone wants to see it: ‘Oh, my children read the book, can I please come through?’ ”

That’s not going to happen. There will be no open houses or showings for lookie-loos who are just fantasizing about what it would be like to live there. Showings, Dischinger said, are a big deal that take three hours as she escorts potential buyers from the house to the guest house, barn, shore, dock and beach.

The Gallants, when thinking about who might follow in their footsteps as caretakers of the property, would “of course” love for it to be a family. They want it to be someone who will live there for more than just two weeks a year. Mary Gallant hopes it’s someone who likes gardening.

“And,” she said, “I’d love for it to be an E.B. White fan.”

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

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