Originally published in The Weekly Packet, July 12, 2012
Island life on Long Island shared in Brooklin
by Jessica Brophy
In the early days of European settlement along coastal Maine, island-hopping was the common way of life, said Dennis Robertson on Thursday, June 28, at a Brooklin Keeping Society presentation held at Bowden Hall.
Robertson shared insight into the history of Blue Hill’s Long Island. His family has lived there for several generations, and he and his family now visit a summer camp there.
Island-hopping was common, said Robertson, because roads were uncommon. “The highway was a wet highway,” said Robertson. “People used to hopscotch from island to island.”
As an example, one of the earliest Blue Hill (then Plantation Number 5) town meetings after Captain Joseph Wood and John Roundy established the settlement on Mill Island included a vote to go to Long Island to chop wood for the settlement.
Each island had its own resources and benefits, explained Robertson. Long Island had a granite quarry and a silver mine, and a sawmill. Paving stones were crafted on the island for the cities of New York and New Orleans, and more, each with its own size and cut.
The quarry employed many Long Island folk in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many were Italian and Scottish masons.
Robertson told one story of an inexperienced quarry hand who operated the railway handcart which moved material from the quarry to the shore. A ship was in the harbor, loading granite. The quarry hand was told to start breaking with the cart’s hand brake as soon as he rounded a particular corner. He managed fine the first time, said Robertson, but the second time he decided to wait a bit longer to apply the brake. He ended up driving the cart into another cart, which sailed through the air across the bay.
“They say it took two tides for that captain to clean his underwear,” said Robertson.
The quarry only operated for four or five years, said Robertson. In 1890 there were 81 people living on the island. At that time there was a school, a store, a boarding house and more. Twenty-five fish weirs, 400 sheep and ample deer kept people fed.
Island life was a different kind of life, said Robertson, who talked about the different steamers and inter-island friendships. People would stock up for the winter with a barrel of flour, a crate of crackers, 25 gallons of molasses and “enough coffee and tea for the winter.”
Children were cherished, but they were also tools to help around the family farms and homes, said Robertson. “Everyone had chores,” he said.
“Some people get real scared [about being out on the island], like ‘What are you going to do if the wind comes up?,’” said Robertson. “I’ve been going out since the 1940s and it hasn’t blown away yet.”
By 1920, nearly everyone had moved off the island and there was no year-round community left. “The world had begun to slide into another era,” Robertson said of the early years in the 20th century.
“Islands have a great way of making you feel one way or the other,” said Robertson. “Some people love it and can’t wait to get back, and some people hate it. There’s no middle ground.”
For more information about Brooklin Keeping Society’s summer programs, visit brooklinkeepingsociety.org or call 359-8880. The society’s building is open on Tuesdays from 1 to 4 p.m.