Summer by the Sea
A new book by Loretta Krupinski offers an artistic view of vacations along the Maine coast a century ago.
Images Courtesy Loretta Krupinski
Whether you choose to embark on a whale-watching expedition, help raise the sails on a windjammer, or power your own yacht somewhere along Maine’s three thousand miles of coastline, chances are good that you’ll take to the high seas sometime during your Maine summer vacation. What you may not realize is that long before today’s high-speed sailboats began cruising the Maine coast, people from south of the Piscataqua River (and even just inland Maine) were enjoying their time spent between Kittery and Calais. In Looking Astern: An Artist’s View of Maine’s Historic Working Waterfronts (Down East Books, Camden, Maine; hardcover; 128 pages; $29.95, DownEast.com), nationally recognized maritime artist Loretta Krupinski has researched the history behind Maine’s seaside communities, digging into everything from the Matinicus Island herring industry to the Boothbay summer colonies, and brings them to life through stunning paintings that practically drip with salty air.
A Summer Day on the Bay
Muscongus Bay, Maine, 1920. Oil, 16 inches by 20 inches
Maine’s bays, coves, and harbors have attracted recreational sailors ever since rusticators began arriving in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Fishermen, too, took up “day sailing” and enjoyed a good, stiff wind.
Yacht designers from away boosted local economies along the midcoast by commissioning the Harvey Gamage yard in South Bristol, the I.L. Snow yard in Rockland, Camden Shipbuilding and Marine Railway Company, and others to build the boats they designed. The Charles Morse Shipyard, in Thomaston, built five of renowned Boston yacht designer John G. Alden’s beautiful Malabar series of ten schooners, as well as thirty other Alden yachts.
Besides the Morse shipyard, Alden utilized the Adams, Hodgdon Brothers, Rice Brothers, and Goudy and Stevens yards in East Boothbay. It was at Bath Iron Works that the big luxury steam yachts were constructed, as were the America’s Cup yachts Defiance, in 1914, and Ranger, in 1937.
Ranger was financed by Harold S. Vanderbilt. The lead keel, cast in one piece, weighed 110 tons and took a week to cool. Ranger’s length overall was 135 feet, 87 feet on the waterline; her mast was 165 feet tall. In 1937, Ranger successfully defended the America’s Cup against England’s Endeavour II. Soon after Pearl Harbor, Ranger sacrificed her huge lead keel to the wartime furnaces.
Aside from the “millionaires’” yachts, smaller gentlemen’s boats were also built. In Woolwich, the F. F. Pendleton yard built boats ranging from forty to sixty feet in length.
There was only one true native Maine yacht design. Developed in the 1880s originally as a fishing boat, the Friendship sloop has an elliptical stern, a clipper bow, a gaff rig, and a wicked long bowsprit. Boatbuilders from Bremen, Bremen Long Island, Morse Island, Thomaston, and Cushing built many Friendship sloops, but the most renowned and prolific was Wilbur Morse of Friendship. Around 1915, as motorboats began to take over as fishing boats, these graceful sloops began a new life as cruising boats.
Starry, Starry Night at Seguin Island Light
Off Popham Beach, Maine, 1902. Oil, 18 inches by 27 inches
Reaching 180 feet above sea level, Seguin was the first lighthouse built on an island and only the second light to be built in Maine, after the Portland Head Light. President George Washington gave the order to build a wooden tower on the twenty-two-acre island in 1795.
Seguin Island, at the entrance to the Kennebec River, creates an interesting chop in the waters surrounding it when the changing tides clash with the river flow and the variable winds. The Native Americans gave Seguin its name, which translates to “the place where the sea vomits.” It is also one of the foggiest locations in the United States, with fog present more than 30 percent of the time. In 1907, the light station crew recorded 2,734 hours of fog.
Set in a heavily traveled area, Seguin has an especially powerful fixed white light that today can be seen from forty miles out at sea. In 1857, a new fifty-three-foot stone tower was built to house a first-order Fresnel lens that is nine feet high and the most powerful on the coast. It is the last operating first-order Fresnel lens north of Rhode Island.
With almost two hundred years of service, Seguin Light is not without its ghosts. In the 1800s, a keeper’s wife played the only tune she knew on the piano over and over and over, driving the keeper insane. He destroyed the piano and killed his wife and himself. It is said that the piano music can still be heard on calm nights. Other stories tell of the apparition of a young girl and mysterious sounds of coughing and doors opening and closing.
The Wiwurna at Squirrel Island Boothbay, Maine, 1887. Oil, 22 inches by 29 inches
A new industry began in Maine in the last quarter of the nineteenth century: tourism. The early summer visitors often came for extended stays, and were referred to as “rusticators” by the locals. They came to picnic, sail, fish, stroll along the shore, and relax in rocking chairs on the broad verandas of boardinghouses and hotels. Casinos (in those days, places to socialize and enjoy performances, not to gamble) and dance halls sprang up in many towns to offer a variety of entertainments.
In 1864, the Knox and Lincoln Railroad opened up a great deal of midcoast Maine. The train went from Woolwich, across the Kennebec River from Bath, to Boothbay, New Harbor, Friendship, Port Clyde, and, later, Rockland. Passengers coming from the south could travel by train from Portland to Bath, where the two passenger coaches were ferried across the river by boat to Woolwich. (The Carlton Bridge was not built until 1927.)
The rusticators also reached the midcoast by steamboat. Steamers came from Boston, Portland, and Bath to service towns at the tips of the peninsulas. Over time, some rusticators bought or built their own summer quarters and stayed for the entire season. Despite being called cottages, some of these private summer homes were large and elaborate.
One of the oldest Maine resort areas is the Boothbay region, where many people, including invalids, came for the “purity of air and bathing in the seawater.” In 1870, a group of summer sojourners formed the Squirrel Island Association to manage the development of a summer colony on that island off Boothbay Harbor. Cottages sprang up on the island, along with boardwalks, a church, a library, a casino, and a hotel.
The Wiwurna, owned by the Eastern Steamship Company, was homeported in Bath and serviced Boothbay, Southport, Squirrel Island, Heron Island, Christmas Cove, and farther along the coast to Damariscotta. She was built in 1884.
The arrival of the automobile in the early 1900s brought competition for the railroads and steamboats, and within thirty years, the passenger steamer services were discontinued.