When Lightning Strikes Back

Upstairs, they added dormers and skylights. Downstairs, they ripped out the addition and extended the central foyer by 12 feet for extra living space and a larger kitchen. The back porch was enclosed for a dining area with insulated windows overlooking the water.

Nearing the end of her work, Ms. Doermann went to inspect the house. All that remained were final decisions on the interior paint colors and spots to be patched on the siding and roof. Lightning rods lay on the living room floor, ready to be installed.

And so they remained the next day, when lightning hit. “If the barn had caught, the fire would have spread to the whole town,” Mr. Cogan said. The bucket brigade saved it and the century-old one-room schoolhouse next door, but not Chapin House. The top floor was incinerated and water ruined the rest.


Fannie Allen owns Chapin House with her husband, George Cogan. Credit Stacey Cramp for The New York Times

The couple discussed remodeling again. “But nobody could guarantee that we would get rid of the burnt smell,” Mr. Cogan said. Anyway, it would have been just as costly to salvage the remains as to knock them down and rebuild. This time, they started from scratch.

The couple decided the 2,500-square-foot replacement home would be a replica of the destroyed one. “Context was important,” Ms. Allen said. A modern building would have clashed with the nearby gabled stone town hall and 19th-century Congregational church. So a new Chapin House rose on the old stone foundation.

To save time, even mainlanders on the construction team lived on Isle au Haut on and off from August 2009 through June 2010.“During the winter, it was hard enough to get materials to the island and get waste off it,” Ms. Doermann said, never mind the workers. The mail boat that ferried between the mainland and town dock could transport small loads, but large barges were needed for lumber and Dumpsters and were often delayed by tides and weather.


A replacement for an original square stained-glass window came from Portland, Ore. Credit Stacey Cramp for The New York Times

“Perhaps that’s why islanders don’t get rid of things and reuse what’s there,” Ms. Doermann said. “Many houses have pieces from other houses because of that ingrained mentality of recycling.”

Indeed, Bill Stevens, the roads commissioner-turned-contractor who did the septic site work, gathered Chapin House’s charred but usable frame and windows to build a painting studio for his wife.

Ms. Doermann turned her energies to reclamation, as well. Pine beams from a Boston warehouse were milled for the new house’s main-level flooring (now with radiant heat), while the hand-hewn floorboards upstairs came from a Nova Scotia barn.

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