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Bad tenants leave landlords in the lurch

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copyright the Chronicle January 17, 2018


LOWELL — About 19 years ago Joe St. Onge started building his own little faux town. It was quite a vision.

He cut the wood off his land on the Pope Road in Lowell, got a portable sawmill to come in and saw the lumber, then he hired a local carpenter to put up the buildings.

Outside, the little “town” appears to have a general store, schoolhouse, church, fire and police station, a sweet shop, and more.

And there’s Hidden Country Restaurant, the only one of the structures that is what it purports to be. That log building was already there when Mr. St. Onge moved to Lowell 28 years ago, though it was originally a house.

He said in a recent interview that he’d had a diner in Massachusetts. Then he worked at Harvard and Northeastern University, and at a hospital in food service. And then a friend told him he had a restaurant for sale in Vermont.

“So I bought it. I came up here with my sons and wife,” Mr. St. Onge said. “Everybody thought I was crazy to open a restaurant in the middle of the woods.”

Aside from the restaurant, which is closed now, all those pretty little buildings are deceptive. On the inside, they’re homes of varying size and character. There’s also three trout ponds on the property, a miniature covered bridge, a blinking railroad sign, as well as a set of miniature houses set up just for decoration on the land.

The idea, Mr. St. Onge said while touring the property with a reporter, was that he’d rent out the houses, and the income would support him in his “autumn years.”

It hasn’t turned out that way.

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