The Life and Times of a Maine Island- page 2 | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian
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Lunt Harbor, looking toward the mountains of Acadia National Park (Dean Lawrence Lunt)

The Life and Times of a Maine Island

An excerpt from a history of Frenchboro, Long Island, one of Maine's last remaining year-round island communities

Lunt Harbor opens toward Mount Desert Island with the Mount Desert hills looming ghostlike on the horizon. On summer nights, you can sit on a wharf and watch headlights from cars full of tourists as they climb to the peak of Cadillac Mountain, high above Acadia National Park.

The banks make sharply away from Lunt Harbor, providing a perch for mostly modest homes to sit in quiet observance of the daily goings and comings.

The island has just over one mile of paved road that starts at the ferry pier and runs around the cove to Lunt & Lunt Lobster Co., the island's only full-time business. Along the way, the road passes the Frenchboro Post Office, the Frenchboro Historical Society, Becky's Boutique, the Long Island Congregational Church and the Frenchboro Elementary School. The church and school were built in 1890 and 1907 respectively. There is no general store.

Leaving the harbor, paths and dirt roads wind through sometimes-pristine spruce forests, past bogs, lichen-covered ledges and small mossy patches where evergreen branches have given way to occasional glimpses of sunlight. There is little warning before these paths empty onto the island's granite shores, and suddenly the confining, sometimes claustrophobic woods give way to the mighty Atlantic.

The main trails are actually old logging roads. These dirt roads run to Eastern Beach, the Beaver Pond, Southern Cove and partway to Richs Head, the island's most distinguishing geographic feature and its easternmost point. The roundish Head, connected to the main island by a narrow neck of rocks, is exposed to the open sea.

Settled by William Rich and his family in the 1820s, Richs Head hosted the island's only other village for almost 80 years. It was abandoned by the turn of the century. Only the slight depressions of hand-dug cellars near former farmland suggest that three generations of pioneers lived, worked and raised families there.

I find it strangely sad to read about the historic deaths of the once common island communities, killed by progress and a changing way of life, during the 19th and early 20th century. Many have vanished without a trace. Some days, as I stand in my father's lobster boat and sail past the now deserted Placentia and Black Islands and even the summer colony of Great Gott Island in Blue Hill Bay, I am enveloped by a sense of melancholy.

On Black, I envision the railways that once carried granite from quarries to waiting vessels. I imagine old man Benjamin Dawes, an island pioneer in the early 1800s, ambling across the shore to his fishing boat. Or my great great great grandmother, Lydia Dawes, building castles as a child on the sandy beach along Black Island pool. Knowing a community once existed makes the island seem even older and more lifeless—like the once-bustling house on the corner that stands silent and empty, save for drawn curtains and dusty dishes stacked in cobwebbed cupboards. You just know that life will never return.

I no longer live in Frenchboro; college, work and life have carried me across New England and New York to explore other places for awhile. This exploration has been fun and enlightening and no doubt provided some clarity to island life, something to which I someday will return. Still, for nearly 23 years Long Island fit me like a second skin. I knew its landscape by touch, smell and intuition. From the well-trodden woods behind my house to the deer paths that wound through huckleberry bushes to the Salt Ponds to the tumbled beach rocks of Big Beach, I knew the land. I knew the smell of moss, the hidden brooks, the cracked ledges, the shoreline and the unique trees. I was baptized in the harborside church, educated in the one-room school, consumed by daydreams on Lookout Point and engaged on the sloping granite of Gooseberry Point.

For two months in July and August, Lunt Harbor is filled with yachts, their passengers taking advantage of the relatively easy and scenic walking trails. Or they might just sit and soak in the nighttime quiet broken only by the lapping of water against hull or the occasional clanging of Harbor Island bell.


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