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Wheel Watch – Once upon a time east of the Cheese House

By Brian Robbins

There was a time when, if you told somebody you were headed east of the Cheese House, they’d tell you be sure to grab a fish sandwich at Tall Barney’s.

None of that means much any more.

On a recent swing Downeast, I realized that two important landmarks from the past had faded away without me realizing it.

The building that used to be the Cheese House still stands alongside Rt. 3 in Trenton, Maine.  If you’ve ever driven down to Mount Desert Island, you’ve passed it; the unique round-walled shape might’ve caught your eye, but other than that, you probably wouldn’t give it a second glance.

But back in the heyday of the Cheese House – when it was painted a v-e-r-y cheese-like yellowish orange with a giant mouse perched on the (then) flat roof and a wedge cut out for the front door?  (I would’ve said it had Swiss cheese-style holes painted on at one point, as well.)  You didn’t need a sign: you’d take one look and say, “That’s a cheese house, right there” … even if you didn’t know it was the Cheese House.

I can’t tell you that I actually knew anyone who shopped at the Cheese House prior to its closing back in 1984.  It was a chain, I think – and I believe they offered cheeses of the gourmet variety, along with fancy wines.  Where I grew up, most of the cheese consumed came in a 5-lb block stamped “USDA” … and the wine of choice was Old Duke (white, I’m pretty sure).

The significance of the Cheese House in my world had nothing to do with cultured dairy products or wine bottles that you couldn’t open with your bare hand.

It was a landmark; a boundary; a portal.  When something was “east of the Cheese House” it was truly Downeast.

But it was more than a geographical thing: it was a mindset; a certain flavor of attitude; a viewpoint that couldn’t be had by peering over the shoulder of…

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