Gnome home adds touch of playfulness to Presque Isle park

1 year ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — There’s a new tiny home in town, and it’s so unique it could only house something magical. 

Walkers on the Mary’s Mile path at Riverside Park in Presque Isle may have noticed the small structure, just off the sidewalk, where a maple tree once stood. 

The house is a gnome home, complete with a shingled roof, door and a stone stoop. For creator Barry Wright of Mapleton, it was a chance to encourage smiles while preserving the remains of the maple tree. It cost no money, took nothing from the environment and its sole purpose is to sow positivity.

“I wanted something that would have a positive vibe to it and [be] kind of a friendly, happy thing,” Wright said. “And gnomes are friendly little people who you wouldn’t mind having as neighbors.”

Gnomes arose from northern European legend as small dwarf-like beings who live in the earth or inhabit garden and forest spaces. Once depicted as ugly creatures, today they are mostly portrayed as humanlike and friendly little folk.

Maine is no stranger to tiny homes for magical beings. The Rangeley Lakes Trails Center has a children’s path that winds around several small gnome dwellings, called the Gnome Home Roam. And on Mackworth Island, just north of Portland, there is a fairy village where children are invited to add to the series of small woodland houses — provided they use only natural materials, of course.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — December 13, 2022 — Barry Wright of Presque Isle’s Recreation and Parks Department explains how he crafted this gnome home at Riverside Park. (Paula Brewer | The Star-Herald)

Wright taught middle school English, French and social studies for about 30 years in SAD 1. He has worked seasonally for 37 years with the Presque Isle Recreation and Parks Department, where his duties include pruning and maintaining trees at the city’s parks. He and his wife, Kim, who teaches fourth grade at Mapleton Elementary School, live in Mapleton.

When the maple tree died and had to be cut down, Wright didn’t want to just leave a stump. Inspiration struck when he learned a friend had built a gnome home. The one-mile path draws a lot of walkers, including children, so a tiny house geared toward the mythical woodland beings seemed only natural, he said. 

He researched designs online and discovered scads of them. He found one he liked, then sketched it to scale. 

Gathering building materials was easy. He found scrap material in the department’s wood shop, so the project literally cost nothing to build. The house stands about two and a half feet tall and took him about 10 hours to complete.

He wanted everything to be natural, so he made the roof out of plywood and covered it with cedar shingles. With a chisel and chainsaw, he notched and adjusted the stump so the roof would fit, then fashioned the door and window out of smaller wood pieces. 

“The day I was actually putting the roof on the stump, a mother and a little girl came by, and [the little girl] just squealed, ‘Oh, look at that, a little house.’ And she came over and she was so happy, so that was really what made it all worthwhile,” Wright said.

Wright thought about what to do to finish the window, and decided to paint a red heart on it. Some deep green paint under the roof and on the door, and it was done.

He’s heard nothing but positive feedback. Some are so enchanted with the tiny house that they leave small gnomes on the doorstep, which might disappear and be replaced with others, carrying on the gnome “activity” at the house for those who might observe it. 

As to whether more tiny houses will be built, Wright said trees do come down, but right now the Riverside Park dwelling is the recreation department’s only gnome home.  

For Wright, giving someone a smile as they pass the little house is what it’s all about. It comes down to the red heart on the window.

“It’s the idea of love, so when people look at it, they get a little more into their own heart,” he said.