Billy Milliken warned his daughter’s boyfriend that, if he wanted Milliken’s blessing before proposing marriage, the couple would have to spend two days alone on his private island.
Instead, there’s an outdoor shower, a shanty of an outhouse and electricity produced by a “suitcase generator.” And seals — lots and lots of barking seals.
Then there was Milliken’s personal prohibition: no cellphones.
“They were going to spend some time out there on the island alone,” he said. “It was either going to make them or break them.”
His daughter and her boyfriend survived and, with Milliken’s blessing, got married last year. He’s expecting a grandchild in July.
Now, all 1½ acres of the mettle-testing island can be yours. Milliken is selling Duck Ledges Island “in its entirety” for $339,000. It’s a spit of land in Wohoa Bay topped with the 540-square-foot cottage that Milliken built and not much else. For 15 years, the island has served as refuge, sanctuary, vacation home, gathering place and recreation spot whenever he wanted to hop in his boat and escape his office or home in nearby Jonesport. He loves the island for the awe it inspired when he was alone and the community it helped create when he brought others with him.
Over the past couple of years, however, Milliken hasn’t gone there as much as he felt he should — “an injustice to the island” — and now wants to pass along its charms.
But not to just anyone, which is kind of how he came to own Duck Ledges Island in the first place.
Milliken bought it in 2007 almost by accident. As a real estate agent, he was actually trying to sell the island for the previous owner. While heading there with a prospective buyer on Milliken’s boat — the only way to access the island — the guy started transferring a cache of weapons from one of two duffel bags he’d brought with him to an array of pockets on his person.
Milliken peeked in the guy’s second duffel bag while on the island — a sniper rifle. On the way back, the guy unloaded the weapons from his pockets to stash them back in the duffel, but not all of them. As they entered the marina, he bragged to Milliken that he could use one of his throwing stars to decapitate a duck that had come into view.
“He was just trying to be cool and liked,” Milliken said.
The owner, afraid that throwing-star guy was buying the island to kill a bunch of wildlife, balked at selling to him, even though he offered to pay the list price.
Then he tossed out a suggestion to Milliken: Why don’t you buy it?
He did — at a steal, Milliken noted, fully intending to flip the property for at least double what he paid. But then something happened that he did not expect. From 2007 to 2009, as he transformed a structure that had been moldering on the island for decades into the 540-square-foot cottage that stands today, Milliken fell in love with the island — with the solitude, the crashing waves, the barking seals, the water that stretched far away. And then there was the love it fostered when he brought people out for lobster bakes or campfire nights.
Money problems forced Milliken to sell the island after a couple of years. Like his predecessor, he rejected buyers whose intentions or attitudes he felt were unworthy of the island, like the man who made a respectable offer but complained about all the things it didn’t have. The man who passed Milliken’s test had spent time on a similar island as a kid and wanted to give that experience to others.
“He shared the same passion for the island we did, and that was important to us,” Milliken said.
The man rejected the traditional concept of a real estate purchase, opting instead to become “partners in ownership” with Milliken, who has continued maintaining the property for more than a decade.
“Through the years, we’ve shared the island with his friends, our friends, random people,” Milliken said. “We’ve never taken a dime for it. It’s really brought a lot of good for our hearts doing that.”
In 2019, he bought the island back but continued the shared stewardship.
Milliken has since devoted his efforts to another island he owns, an 11-acre property in Maine where he hopes to build a home in which he can live year-round — a project inspired by Duck Ledges. Since he no longer takes advantage of all the island has to offer, he wants to sell it to someone who can.
“I hope the future owner gets a fraction of the joy that I’ve had,” he said.
But it’s not for everybody, which is why, aside from paying him a few hundred thousand dollars, Milliken has another requirement for any would-be buyer: They have to stay at least one night on the island to see if they can hack it. That’s held up any possible sale since no one can go to the island from the last week in October through late May, not unless you want to die by freezing or getting hurt where no one can hear you scream for help, Milliken said. “It’s not going to be a good death.”
So he’s waiting until he can show people what they’d be getting into.
“Sometimes you think you’re Davy Crockett, but you’re really Betty Crocker,” he said.
The rewards are worth it, Milliken said. There are few distractions for those who follow the Milliken rule and leave their cellphones on the mainland, 1¼ miles away. In today’s world, there are so many “red herrings” that distract us, that keep us running from ourselves, he said.
“You will find yourself out there,” he said, adding, “There’s nowhere to hide.”
Milliken tried to describe the experience for those who have never been: He has been out there in the dark, the waves crashing, seals barking and night sky stretching until it drooped and surrounded him. He was just a tiny man on a tiny island in the middle of an ocean.
“It makes you feel small,” he said, “in the best kind of way.”