The Patriarch of Perkins Cove
Ogunquit says farewell to a local legend, ‘Barnacle Billy’ Tower.
Ogunquit’s Perkins Cove is a gift of nature molded by man. Among those who had a hand in making the village and harbor one of the loveliest in Maine was Billy Tower, who died July 16 at the age of 86.
The champion of Perkins Cove wielded his influence not with forceful arguments or political strategizing, but with an affable and generous spirit. Billy Tower was, in the words of family friend Grant Hubbard, “honest, loyal, fair, and humble.” If he believed in something, people generally agreed it was a good idea. “When he said something, people listened,” Hubbard says.
Tower is best known as the founder of Barnacle Billy’s restaurant, a favorite of the thousands of tourists who flood Ogunquit every summer and of President George H.W. Bush, who has a summer home in nearby Kennebunkport. Bush typically arrived by boat, often in the company of world leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev; wife Barbara, not much of a boater, came by car. Billy treated them the way he did everyone else who came to dine — like family.
“He would say hello to everyone at every single table,” says longtime friend Richard Perkins. “He was there every day right up until he died.”
Tower’s impact on Perkins Cove predates Barnacle Billy’s by several decades. He quit school to become a fisherman, establishing a reputation as a go-getter. He was still a teenager when he was appointed harbormaster, the youngest ever to serve Ogunquit. In the late 1930s, Tower traveled to Washington, D.C., to successfully advocate for the dredging of Perkins Cove, a project that transformed what was then a narrow tidal inlet into a boat-filled harbor, which in turn spurred development in the village.
“People had so much respect for Billy because of the way he ran his business,” says Village Food Market owner John Cavaretta. “The quality of the food, the cleanliness of the lobster pound, the beautiful gardens.” Tower often walked to work, carrying a pail to hold the cigarette butts and other litter he picked up on Ogunquit’s famous Marginal Way.
“He did so much to preserve the beauty of Perkins Cove,” Cavaretta says, “and he was just the most pleasant person I ever met.” — V.M.W.
Photo Michael Nathaniel Meyer