The Coast Walk Project


Interview – Toby Stephenson, Captain of the Osprey, College of the Atlantic

I ran into Toby Stephenson one day at the College of the Atlantic as he docked the college’s research vessel, Osprey, and recruited him for the Coast Walk to talk about his job as captain of the vessel and manager of the college waterfront. We met up at Mount Dessert Bakery on December 5, 2017.

Jenn:      Well, like I said in my email, I’m asking people all over the island ‘What do you do and how did you end up doing it?’

Toby:      I got started as a student at the College of the Atlantic working with Allied Whale and got turned onto working on the water. I started working on the whale watch boats during the summer as crew, and I was also really interested in marine mammals and whales and biology. That’s basically it. I persisted at working with marine mammals and wanting to stay on the water – they finally hired me for the job.

Jenn:      What is it that you do? I know you’re the Osprey‘s captain.

Toby:      Yeah. I run the COA waterfront, which is the pier and the floats, the boats, and all of the flotsam and jetsam that go with it.

Jenn:      The sailing program?

Toby:      Yeah, sailing program, teaching students rowing, or motorboat operation, and keeping our equipment maintained, teaching navigation to students, and teaching them how to crew boats. It’s an informal teaching position. Rather than an intensive, short period of time, I get to do it over a long period of time with students that join our crew as work study. I teach them over several years how to drive the inflatables and have landings out on the islands, do general pier and boat maintenance down at the waterfront.

Jenn:      What a cool work study!

Toby:      Oh, yeah, it’s the best work study job at the college and my job is definitely the best job around! It’s fun. It’s always different. I drive out to the islands to bring food, supplies, people, equipment. We’ll take classes out and give them tours in the bay or take them wherever the instructor wants to go. We’ll do private charters, we’ve done weddings on the boat. We’ve done birthday parties, and a variety of trips like that, but we’ll also do research trips or recovery trips – University of Maine or some other research institution has a … Often they have these autonomous buoys, what they call Slocum gliders, or wave gliders.

Slocum glider image from:

They’re like the moon rover. It’s a remotely controlled device from a lab at University of Maine or Bigelow Labs and it’s propelled by the motion of the waves. They can see where it is on the chart, like a GPS, and they can give it a course and steer it. But, they can’t obviously see where it is or what it’s doing, only virtually. Every now and then [the gliders] fail. Something gets broken or they get caught up in something out there and [the lab] needs to recover it, so we’ll go out and recover [the glider] for them, or we’ll take [a glider] out to put them overboard and test them.

Jenn:      That’s so cool.

Toby:      Yeah, it’s so fun. We put hydrophones in the water that sink down to the bottom. They’ll stay down for the season and then at the end of the season we’ll go and recover them.

Hydrophone diagram from:

Jenn:      The hydrophone, is it listening or recording-

Toby:      Marine mammal calls. Yeah, these buoys sink down to the bottom and they drift suspended several feet off the bottom for the summer recording a tremendous amount of data. When they’re ready to be recovered, we’ll go out with a speaker that we put in the water. The speaker produces a sound sequence almost like a Morse code, and that tells the buoy to break its cable, and then it’ll float back up to the surface. We’ll go out there, listen to it, signal to it to begin the burn process, and when it floats up we’ll recover it.

Jenn:      That’s ingenious!

Toby:      Students get to observe it and they get to go out with the scientists and ask questions, so that part is really cool. We’ve gone out to record. We’ve gone out for senior projects. We’ve recovered different shark tags.

Jenn:      Was it you who towed the [dead] whale back a few years ago?

Toby:      Yeah, we’ll tow whales back if we have to.

Jenn:      It must have been a little smelly.

Bill Trotter, “College of the Atlantic students, staff dissect 50-foot sperm whale,”
Bangor Daily News, August 20, 2012

Toby:      We’ve done that a handful of times. A number of times actually we’ve towed whales with the Osprey. We also take the University of Maine tech crew out to the weather buoys and we’ll tie off to the buoy, and they’ll repair the buoys and work to upgrade them, and do some maintenance.

Jenn:      What do you do this time of year?

Toby:      I’m winding down.

Jenn:      Are the boats out of the water now?

Toby:      Yep. Right now I’m looking over my log book and seeing what we did for the college over the course of the year and how many students we took out, how many trips we ran, how many of them were for the islands, for courses, for private charters. I’m renewing the licenses for the registration for different devices on Osprey. We’ve got GPS devices that we need to renew.

Jenn:      You need a license for those?

Toby:      Well, they have to be registered so if something happens, they know where to find you.

Jenn:      Oh, so they can track the signal of that particular GPS?

Toby:      Yeah, it’s called an EPIRB, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. If we get in distress we can trip the EPIRB, or it’ll do it automatically if your equipment gets submerged. It’ll send out a distress signal to the coast guard and then it’ll also send coordinates with it and they’ll be able to determine where we are to send a search and rescue unit. But all of that stuff needs to be re-registered because they like to keep things updated.

Jenn:      I can see why. That sounds like something they’d like to keep tabs on.

Toby:      You paint the boat, or you change the number of passengers you’re allowed to have, or any adjustment to the safety equipment has to be recorded in that registration. When there are changes, you update it. I’m also winterizing our equipment, our engines, and-

Jenn:      What does that mean?

Toby:      Well, so the outboard engines … It’s like a house, like people’s camps for the winter, if you don’t do anything, the pipes will freeze and burst. Same thing, you have to winterize the engines because you’re not using them so they don’t get rusty on the inside. Any water that’s in them gets flushed out, and any fuel is also flushed out because fuel will go bad and can corrode things if it’s left because of the ethanol that’s in fuel. Everything needs to be covered. Plugs need to be taken out so if water does get in things, it goes out. For Osprey, I actually have to put antifreeze in the engine itself because it has what’s called a raw water intake. It’s part of the cooling – seawater goes into the engine and out the exhaust. I have to put coolant in the engine so the engine block doesn’t break. There’s all kinds of stuff – I go through equipment and take out stuff that needs to be replaced, so we go through flares and look over PFD’s and make orders for things in the spring. We have a weather satellite on the boat, a Sirius weather satellite. I need to stop our service, so we’re not paying for it through the winter. I have to provide annual reports for the season, and then I have to plan any repairs or maintenance projects that I want for the spring. We’re working on a windlass and an anchor for the bow. A windlass is a winch that pulls the anchor up off the bow. We don’t have one, so we’re installing one. … I got a new boat up and running this year. We re-powered it, a smaller research boat.

Jenn:      That must have been exciting.

Toby:      Yeah, it’s fun. It’s a nice little boat, but the engine was bad in it and it was an inboard engine. I took the engine out and we put a new outboard on it. We’re going to use that for a small aquaculture program that we’re going to begin.

Jenn:      No kidding! What are you growing?

Toby:      We’re probably going to have a kelp string and we’d like to have oysters and scallops. We’d like to grow anything of interest because one of the things we want to work with – Chris Peterson and Natalie Springuel are working with local aquaculture farmers. She works through the Sea Grant program, and Chris teaches [at COA], and he’s on the Frenchman Bay Partners. … I’ve heard interest from students so I want to make that a possibility for them.

Jenn:      That’s awesome. [Ed.note: Both Chris and Natalie have been part of the Coast Walk – see Chris’ field trip here and Natalie’s interview here.]

Toby:      We got this small boat and a student is going to take on the aquaculture permit as her senior project. She’s going to get the permit, or at least get us to the point where we can have the permitting. Then, we’re going to put some kelp strings out there, and try and grow various things, and then Chris will work it into his Marine Sciences curriculum somehow, but hopefully within a few years we’ll have stuff for them to look at and measure growth, measure toxicity, it could be anything. Looking at the environmental halos, because algae sequesters CO2. They can help to reduce the acidity in the water column. There’s been some evidence to show that because the rising acidity in the oceans can be detrimental to young spat in the formation of their shell [raising them] around kelp beds may be beneficial.

Jenn:      That’s a cool idea. Like symbiotic farming.

Toby:      It’s symbiotic farming, exactly. We want to play around with that and see how that works. We’ve expanded the sailing program. We’re looking into aquaculture, and [we’re busy] getting people out onto the islands themselves.

Jenn:      It sounds incredibly busy.

Toby:      It is all over the board, but yeah, but it’s fun. It’s good.

Jenn:      Are you part of Allied Whale, or are you strictly college?

Toby:      I’m strictly the college, but I was an Allied Whale student when I was a student at the college, so that was my work study.

Jenn:      Is Allied Whale a branch of the college?

Toby:      It’s a separate entity, but the College of the Atlantic holds the permits. In order to [collect] marine mammal parts, you have to be approved by NOAA, and you have to be either a non-profit conducting research, or you have to be a museum, or you have to be an educational facility. We’re all three; we have a permit to have all of [our] marine mammals material. We also have the humpback whale catalog.

Jenn:      That’s what, the tail fins?

Toby:      Yeah, the flukes. Back in the 70’s, when Steve Katona was teaching marine sciences at the college, he, with a handful of students, started looking at whales. It was right around the Marine Mammal Protection act and the boycott because the Russians and Japanese were still hunting whales. The Americans were [hunting whales] up until 1972. Most of it then was happening down in the Antarctic. [The COA people] were studying the whales and they noticed that you could tell them apart by the flukes. They began collecting photographs around Mount Desert Rock. Citizens used to go out and stay at the station during the summer and take photographs [from the top of the tower.] It was a big community event. Then [the researchers] took those photographs down to the Caribbean and started photographing whales down there and started comparing them, and then they found matches.  We’ve got over 7,000 individual humpback whales recorded in our North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog, which is curated at Allied Whale.

Jenn:      That’s amazing.

Toby:      Steve and the students started this Allied Whale group back in the 70’s out of the college, but it is somewhat independent because they do a lot of their own fundraising. It’s a project in the college.

Jenn:      So the college is the umbrella?

Toby:      Yeah, exactly.

Jenn:      Nice. There’s so much going on over there! I’m always thinking, damn, I wish I was a student again. I would totally be in Natalie’s class.

Toby:      Oh, yeah. I know, I would have too. When I was a student, I took on the field stuff and I enjoyed it. It was essentially a pretty monumental study showing the seasonal movements of whales and that they actually had these migratory routes, and because you were able to identify individuals, you were able to start counting them. Those were two essential things, but the third and most important part of that whole, their study with photographic identification, was that it was non-invasive. You weren’t darting them, which is the way they used to do it. They’d shoot a dart into the whale, and when the whale was hunted years later, you’d come across the dart and it had a number on it that worked like a bird band, except it was lethal. This is non-invasive research … It got a lot of attention. One of my objectives when I took this job was to put ‘Atlantic’ back into the ‘College of the Atlantic’ because there was this period of time where … Well, nobody regretted Allied Whale and the work that was done, but all of a sudden, the College of the Atlantic became “that whale school.” Human Ecology isn’t about whales. Human Ecology is about human ecology. Whales could be a part of that, but so could this can of San Pellegrino, depending on how you look at it, and how you monitor it.

Jenn:      You guys got a little typecast?

Toby:      It did. The college started to get typecast, so there was an effort, I think, to disassociate, ‘We’re not just that whale school. We do other things. We do art, we do writing, we do history, we do science and math, etc. It’s bigger than whales.’ When I was a student, the waterfront was there, but there wasn’t much going on. But, then we were given the Indigo. Moe Brown was faculty at the time.

Jenn:      What is the Indigo?

Toby:      The Indigo was our first … Well, it wasn’t the college’s first research boat, but it was the first substantial research boat that you could actually sleep on. You could take it out for long distance trips. It wasn’t a great boat. In fact, it was a pretty rotten boat. But it was free. That began a little bit more of the activities down at the waterfront. I worked on the Indigo when I was a student when they hired their very first full time captain. I became good friends with Captain Andrew, but then I moved on to different things, and came back and was there for the last year of the Indigo. But, at the time, there really wasn’t a whole lot around the waterfront. It wasn’t really that active.

Jenn:      About what time did you come back?

Toby:      I started in 2011. I just finished my seventh year. I’ve just been trying to expand the waterfront. We got new docks. We expanded the docks a bit. We’ve added boats and I’m doing more proactive training with students to use boats to go down there and have access to boats.

Jenn:      It’s a really useful skill.

Toby:      I’m trying to make it more experiential for the students.

Jenn:      How many students do you work with, like work study and teaching?

Toby:      I usually have about, over the course of a year, anywhere from four to six students that work on Osprey with me. I’ll be expanding that a little bit this year so we can have some sailing crew as well. But there’s always a bunch of other students that either want to do independent studies or just need to get on the water somehow, so I keep in touch with them about when we have trips, and when it’s appropriate to go, and not appropriate to go and so on. Maybe half a dozen to a dozen students throughout the year getting special attention on the boat.

Jenn:      That’s cool.

Toby:      Yeah, it’s not a huge number, but it’s growing. The waterfront’s definitely increased. I’ve added a number of moorings and I’m opening it up for alums to be able to keep their boats there.

Jenn:      Nice.

Toby:      So they come down to the waterfront and use it more with the hope that they take students [out]. More students on the water-

Jenn:      Yeah, build that alumni network.

Toby:      Well, yeah, there’s that too. … A very direct and specific request when I was hired was to get control of the waterfront.

Jenn:      Oh, people just informally … ?

Toby:      Yeah. There were moorings out there, but nobody knew who owned what. Some people would sublease moorings. I had one guy who was running private tours off the dock.

Jenn:      Completely unaffiliated?

Toby:      Oh, completely unaffiliated and illegal, taking people out for money without a license or anything.

Jenn:      Oh, wow. What did you do?

Toby:      I had to confront them and say, “You can’t run your tours from our dock. It’s a private dock.” All sorts of people would sail up and jump on his boat … so there were a lot of people just coming up and using the property, which I personally don’t have a problem with unless they’re smoking and making people uncomfortable by a perpetual presence.

Jenn:      But it also puts you guys up to liability.

Toby:      There’s that. There’s definitely that. I don’t know that we could ever police it to the point where you eliminate that, but this was getting out of control. People would show up and use moorings and there were all these expenses which the college was having to shoulder. Now, people that have moorings have to pay for them. There’s an annual fee so we have some revenue to help out because we have to replace the pier, or repair the pier, soon. It’s going to be six figures. But, at any rate, at least there’ll be some sort of a fee structure –

Jenn:      That seems fair.

Toby:      Yeah, it’s unreasonable for the college just to be there as a [resource] … I always want people to feel welcome. I just want them to also respect the facility and part of that is ownership and you get there by charging.

Jenn:      Well, I know a lot of people in the community … It’s not like we feel like COA is public, but speaking for myself I always feel welcome going on campus and I know a lot of us like to go down to that little beach. It’s the only place that I find those little graphite pebbles. It’s naturally occurring. It just washes up. When my kids were little, I would take them there and we would draw happy faces on all the little round beach stones and leave them. I never heard if anyone ever found them. We’d draw like a hundred little happy faces.

Toby:      How sweet. That’s funny. Yeah, the beach was strewn with boats and kayaks and stuff. At high tide, that’s a small beach. It’s the size of this room. There’s not a lot left. We expanded the docks a little bit. I don’t let people keep boats on the beach so it’s open for Summer Field Studies to go down there and spread out or just people to go down and show up and lay in the sun.

Jenn:      I’m one of them! [Ed note: Although I’m beachcombing, not lying in the sun.] The kayaks that are down there, are those the college’s kayaks?

Toby:      Yeah, that is a tricky situation. Everybody wants to go kayaking, but … It’s much easier to feel comfortable in grabbing a kayak [without] knowing anything about it than it is to grab a motorboat without knowing anything about it. If there’s a motorboat, a rowboat, or a kayak, people will grab the kayak. Because they can pick it up. They’ve seen people paddle. That’s pretty intuitive. ‘Oh, yeah, I know what to do with the paddle.’

Jenn:      It’s a lot easier to paddle a kayak than to row a dory, for sure.

Toby:      Yeah, exactly. They’re way more inclined to grab something like that and head out in the water and get in trouble than they are anything else. The kayaks have to be locked. But the rowboats, I try to keep available for students. My policy down there is… I try to be very democratic about stuff. I just say here are the ground rules. If you wear your PFD, make sure somebody knows that you’re going out, and they know when you’re coming back, and you don’t go in X conditions, then the boat is there, the PFD’s are there, and have fun. I don’t even need to know about it just as long as you’re doing it this way. It’s a lot more freedom if you are restricted through rules or regulation than if we didn’t have any and everything had to be under lock and key. I find I can give students a lot more freedom if they respect the ground rules.

Jenn:      Are they pretty good about that?

Toby:      Yeah, they are. On occasion there are problems and I will get loud about it, and angry about it.

Jenn:      I remember doing some dumb-ass stuff when I was in college.

Toby:      I did too, and I struggle with it because you are who you are because of that. You’re walking around the island right now going to all these places along the littoral zone of the island exploring things in part because you went through the experiences you went through. They helped shape you. I don’t want to clip anybody’s wings, but my rationale is I want to show you the right way to do something, and then I’m going to let you do it the way you want. But, you have to learn the right way first. It’s something I constantly struggle with. I remember my first year I was working in the Davis garage where I keep all of our equipment and I had the garage door open, and I went into town to go to Paradis to get something and I was gone for 20 minutes, or 25 minutes, something like that. I came back, and I got out of my vehicle, and I started working. A few minutes later, two students came up with a pair of oars in their hands. They weren’t oars, they were wooden kayak paddles that were detachable in the middle, right? They were the breakdown paddles, and they put them back. I said, “Hey, what are you guys doing?” They go, “Oh, we were going to go for a row and decided not to. It was too rough.” There was a dory on the beach, this big fiberglass dory that weighs about 250 pounds.

Jenn:      They were going to row it with half a kayak paddle?

Toby:      Well, it gets better than that. They were going to row it with these old wooden kayak paddles, and the wind was really strong out of the West. The beach was flat calm, but 200 to 300 yards out you were in three foot seas or more, and the wind was taking you further into Frenchman Bay. Just a couple years before that, there was a young married couple at Lamoine and the husband got on one of those sit-upon kayaks … He had a PFD I think, but he didn’t have a [wetsuit]… he had a t-shirt and shorts. It was flat calm, but he was in the shadow of the wind, and it was beautiful, and then it shifted a little bit and dropped and he got carried out in Frenchman Bay, and that was that.

Jenn:      That is so sad.

Toby:      Yeah, it was heartbreaking. Then, these students just like – Aah! If we’re not explicit over and over again about stuff –

Jenn:      The ocean will kill you if it can.

Toby:      It’ll kill you, yeah. It won’t feel bad about it. That really jarred me … But at the same time I didn’t want to keep everything under lock and key because I appreciate risk and autonomy and responsibility. I want students to be able to have that, but-  There’s always things like that where students will grab canoes and go out to Bar Island and then get stuck out there. Not that often, but it happens every few years. The last time it happened, they took a boat without permission. There were three students, but they all had PFD’s, and they got out to Bar Island and they couldn’t get back. It was too rough. They made a phone call and they got rescued by I think the Harbormaster. Those are the stories where you want to … When they come back, you want to pat them on the back, give them a hug, and tell them ‘Good job. I know you were an asshole for taking this equipment without asking, and you were stupid for doing it when you did it, but you were smart enough to recognize when it got too dangerous, and you didn’t let your pride get in your way.

Jenn:      Yes, ‘thank you for not dying.’

Toby:      ‘Thank you for having humility and not making it worse.’ But, at least hopefully when they do things like that, they’ll have a PFD like that kid or they’ll have sense enough to know ‘This might kill us. Let’s not go there.’ That is one of my big cruxes, and we’ve had this discussion with our islands crew about how do you let family know that we have these resources and we’re going to teach your students to take risks and it’s going to be dangerous, but it’s worth it even though you might get the short straw? Over the course of a hundred years, you may be the one that draws the short straw. We almost need to in a very upfront way just state it. This is what we’re doing. It’s risky, it’s dangerous. If you’re not comfortable with it, then don’t do it. But, if you are-

Jenn:      Well then frankly, statistically, driving is probably a higher risk. The way I see it, it’s all about learning what the parameters are, how strong you are, and what causes the danger and how to manage it.

Toby:      Right. Now, quite frankly, every generation learns from the previous generation. But, they also lose something when they do that. I know our kids are a lot smarter. We get smarter, but the one thing I notice that they don’t have are coping skills, and they come with this profound sense of entitlement. I think I had it. Every generation just steps it up another rung.

Jenn:      Yeah, I think that might be something about those college-age years. You haven’t discovered yet that you’re mortal. Most college kids, at least the people I knew, had hardly been hurt ever. Maybe we broke our arm or something, but-

Toby:      What we can do is try and give them more real world experiences. It’s hard to do it in a course. It’s hard to do it in 10 weeks, but if there are aspects to the college, programs, or learning trajectories that transcend the term, like the work study position on the boat – here I’m going to toot my horn – students have to learn how to do safety drills and inspections on the boat and they work with me for a few years, they’ll know how boats are supposed to be kept. They’ve learned how to drive inflatables in dangerous situations, and they get jobs down the Antarctic, or in the Arctic, or I’ve got a student now who’s out on the Mariana Islands studying crows.

Jenn:      Oh, cool. Wow.

Toby:      Right? They’re cool people that have learned some really good skills that were applicable to jobs. It’s really useful stuff. I’ve had three students, three of my crew that have gone down to the Antarctic and worked on ships, and they get really good ratings. They get rehired. I’ve had some that have gone up to Alaska to work on ships, and this one student who’s down on the Mariana Islands … She was one out of 1,200 applicants for the job.

Jenn:      Wow. That’s so cool.

Toby:      Yeah, it’s awesome. Back to the leaning aspect of it, and the waterfront skills and the boating skills, … any adventure-type learning you can get it with, but the thing about boats, is that … If you learn rock climbing, that’s awesome. I used to do it. But, it’s hard to have rock climbing skills, and then get a job outside of the rock climbing world, or outside of the guiding world. But with boats you can get a job at US Fish and Wildlife. You can get a job on a tour boat. You can get a job at a research station. That type of experience has a broader reach. But all of that stuff helps make you a better person, I think. My hope is that we integrate a lot of the job experiences and work experiences into the curriculum as well. The aquaculture would be another example of that,

Jenn:      I’m so excited about that.

Toby:      Yeah, getting familiar with the equipment and going out and doing the husbandry and everything of the stewardship of your crop.

Jenn:      Are you going to do that right off of the college there?

Toby:      I’m hoping to do it right off the college.

Jenn:      That’d be awesome because then the rest of the kids who aren’t in the program can see, or at least be aware of it.

And right about then we looked at the time and realized we both had to run off to work. Thanks so much for chatting, Toby!


Interview: Jim Lynch at Bass Harbor Marsh

Back when we met Douglas McMullin at Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s headquarters in Somesville, he pointed out a measuring station in Babson Creek that was designed to track marsh migration. I was intrigued and followed up with the organization that installed the gadget, and eventually, on May 23, 2018, I met Jim Lynch of the National Park Service Northeast Coastal and Barrier Network at the Bass Harbor Marsh to find out more about the program. It was a gorgeous day, sunny with a light breeze, and when we started out at 10:45 am it was 64ºF. We hauled Jim’s gear out to the marsh and I started pelting him with questions.

Jenn:    So you come up twice a year?

Jim:     Right. I work for the Inventory and Monitoring Division of the Park Service, and I work in coastal wetlands in the northeast US, from Virginia to Maine.

Jenn:    About how many marshes are you monitoring?

Jim:     Well, I monitor four sites here at Acadia. I also work at parks in Boston Harbor, Cape Cod National Seashore, Fire Island National Seashore, and Gateway National Recreation Area, which is New York City, right by JFK airport. I also work in Maryland, at Assateague Island National Seashore, and in Virginia on Jamestown Island, which is in Colonial National Historical Park. All these parks have tidal wetlands and the work that I do is related to sea level rise and monitoring elevation change in these systems.  I have a piece of equipment in this case called an SET. It stands for “Surface Elevation Table” and it is used to measure really small changes in elevation.

Jenn:    Of the marsh bottom?

Jim:     Of whatever you’re measuring, yeah. The sea level has been rising since the last Ice Age, and as the sea levels rises these wetlands also rise up in elevation. If they don’t, they end up getting flooded out and disappearing. Soil and other materials in the water can get deposited or trapped on the marsh surface when the marsh floods. These deposits and other processes like root growth help the marsh to build up vertically, too. But it’s at a really small rate, like millimeters per year.

Jenn:    So it’s kind of a race between the marsh and the sea level.

Jim:     Yes. The marsh is sort of reacting, I guess, to the sea rising. That’s driving the whole thing. The ocean’s rising slowly but surely; I think three millimeters a year is the global average. It sounds like a small number, but it’s increasing from what it was.

Jenn:    Adds up.

Jim:     I’ve got three of these SETs here at Bass Harbor which are used to monitor elevation. I was just at Babson Creek at Maine Coast Heritage Trust. There are three there. There are three at Schoodic. There are three in the marsh on Thompson Island, right when you drive onto Mount Desert Island. … Most federal properties now, like Fish and Wildlife Refuges or National Parks, that have a substantial amount of wetlands in them will have these SETs installed to help monitor what that marsh is doing.

Jenn:    And is this research for its own sake or is there sort of a plan?

Jim:     It’s actually monitoring, it’s not really research. We’re basically characterizing what the wetlands are doing, and how that compares to what the body of water next to the marsh is doing. … The SET system is a custom-made piece of equipment that attaches to this stable benchmark post that stays out here all the time; it goes down 50 or 60 feet.

Jim:     The post is made of metal bars, about four feet long. You drive one into the ground, then you screw another one on and you drive it down, you screw another one on, … You keep going until you hit bedrock or significant resistance. We didn’t actually hit bedrock here in Bass Harbor, which was surprising with all the bedrock in Acadia. … It’s a very simple technique. We attach the SET to this benchmark post and we lower pins down until they touch the marsh surface. Then I measure how far the pins stick up above this horizontal bar. I’m doing what’s called a repeated measure. I’m coming back to this same piece of marsh year after year after year and taking a repeated measure over and over again of the same piece of marsh. The SET moves in fixed positions around the center post … This technique is actually measuring what the surface of the marsh is doing over time. Is it going up or is it going down? At what rate? Is it going up at five millimeters per year? Is it going down at two millimeters per year? It gives you a rate of change of the marsh surface. The analogous information in the waters around Acadia comes from a tide gauge. It measures water levels continuously over time and they can calculate the rate of change of the water surface from this data. That’s how they calculate sea level rise. So the SET is sort of analogous to what a tide gauge does, in terms of measuring the rate of change of the sea. I think at the NOAA Bar Harbor tide gauge [Ed. Note: the nearest sea level rise tide gauge], sea level is rising about 2.2 millimeters per year. Really small numbers. You look out at a marsh and it looks healthy, but how do you actually measure anything? The SET is a technique used to help quantify some of the processes going on in the marsh, which occur with such small values we had to develop something customized to measure it.

Jenn:    Who invented this?

Jim:     A Dutch graduate student used it in Louisiana in the early 1980’s; a PhD student at LSU. This technique originated in Holland. I think they were monitoring some of the low areas of Holland. The student at LSU did his PhD on a different version of this, but I was involved soon after that and we modified the design.

Jenn:    It’s a wicked clever concept. I mean, once you see it, you’re like, ‘well of course. That makes perfect sense.’

Jim:     See what I’m doing here? I’ve got the horizontal bar level. I take readings in four directions, every 90 degrees. And I have a stake here that marks what I call my ‘A’ direction, the starting direction. … I lower these pins down just until they touch the marsh surface.

Jenn:    And by that you mean the top of the soil?

Jim:     Yeah, the top of the soil. Now, I have to make a decision about what I’m calling the top of the soil. Up here at Acadia it’s pretty easy. The marshes we’re standing on, they’re really firm. It’s a pretty easy determination. … Some places where I work it’s sloppy and muddy. Then you have to make a subjective call about what you’re calling the surface. So, I lower these pins down, just until they touch the marsh surface. I can usually see it or feel it. Then I measure how far this pin sticks up above this bar in millimeters. … So I’m the reader. … I’ll give you nine numbers, straight down one per box. Nine numbers straight down that column.

Jenn:    You got it.

[We proceeded to take and record the measurements.]

Jim:     The assumption is that every time I come back this bar is in the same position it was last time I was here, and the pin is falling on the same piece of marsh. This bar is in the same position, we’re on the same piece of marsh, and I lower the pin and it sticks up some distance that I record. So that pin going up or that pin going down is due to the marsh going down or the marsh going up, not due to the SET benchmark moving. That’s why it’s so deep in the ground. The assumption is that if this thing is deep enough, it’s not going be moving around a lot.

Jenn:    So how long have you been working at Bass Harbor? At this marsh?

Jim:     All four of these sites were installed in 2011. Not that old. These are actually some of the newer ones I work on. … I’ve been working for the Federal Government since the early ‘90s doing this kind of stuff. I lived in Louisiana for 15 years, working wetlands in Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico when I worked for the US Geological Survey. I’ve traveled all over the country doing this.

            So, these pins go up and they go down and I’ll track each one … This is Pin One for this direction. I’ll track that one individual pin over that entire time period and you can run a line through the data and get a rate of change. This pin probably has been creeping up slowly. It might go down one season, but in general, they’re all creeping up slightly higher each time. There’s a lot of variation. It takes a lot of years of measurements to show some change, because the change is so small. It varies all over the country. … The rates up here are generally very low. This is a stable bedrock. There’s no sinking or subsidence issues here. You always hear about Louisiana sinking. … The ground is naturally sinking down there, but on top of that the water’s also rising, so they get a double whammy. Here you’ve only got the water rising. The land isn’t moving too much.

Jenn:    Do you also have changes there from greater sedimentation or erosion?

Jim:     Yeah, the rates of change are usually much higher in those areas. As you go south, the rates of sea level rise generally increase – Up here, I think sea level rise is about two millimeters a year. Down in Maryland, it’s four or five millimeters per year. And places like Louisiana it might be ten millimeters a year. That number includes the sinking of the land, too. So, there are other issues as well. … This is a long-term monitoring program. I have to take about five years of measurements before I start actually having enough data to sort of get a track of what’s going on.

Jenn:    And is the data available to the public?

Jim:     Yes. It has to go through a QA/QC process to get it verified. [Ed.note: Quality Assurance/Quality Control] … Then we publish it and make it available. All the data that we collect eventually becomes public.

[Ed.note: In this next section we are talking about Marker Horizons which are used to quantify how much material is deposited on the marsh surface over time. At each sampling station Jim measures “elevation change” with the SET and “surface deposition” with the Marker Horizons. You can see them in the graphic near the beginning of this post, too.]

We started taking these measurements seven or eight years ago. I’m looking for these white stakes. There are four of them here. We put a layer of white powdered clay, called feldspar clay, down on the marsh surface, … the clay gets wet and forms a layer. But the layer is buried now under sediment. You can’t see anything. We have it marked with these stakes so I know where it was. I’ll take a core in here and I’ll show you. I’m just cutting a little square of marsh out with my knife. It might be deep. … Here we go.

Jenn:    Oh, cool.

Jim:     We have a white layer here and there’s a certain amount of material on top of that white layer. I know the date when we put that out, so we can actually calculate the amount of change. I take some numbers and record them on the data sheet there. These are called Marker Horizons.

Jim:     There’s another one over here. … We try not to make them too visible. And sometimes the ice pulls them up or they get stepped on. Here’s one. Looks like a pie slice.

Jenn:    Yeah, I was thinking chocolate torte.

Jim:     And there’s a third one over here. These are measuring deposition on the surface. It’s a similar process to what the SET is measuring. They’re complementary, just different techniques.

Jenn:    And this one’s a little more specific about soil deposition?

Jim:     The Marker Horizon is only looking at surface deposition, whereas [the SET] measures everything from the bottom of the benchmark post to the marsh surface. It’s integrating everything that’s going on in the marsh. The Marker Horizon is mainly looking at stuff going on at the very top of the marsh. We put that white layer down and I go, ‘Well I measured an inch of material on top of that white layer, so the marsh must be an inch higher than last year.’ But that’s not always the case, because the marsh could be sinking or there could other stuff going on below the white layer. That’s why this technique with the SET is a little different. It’s measuring elevation change from a benchmark, whereas that white layer could be moving up or moving down. It’s still measuring stuff on top of it, but the layer itself might be moving.

            A really good example in Louisiana is sinking. You put these white layers out and after five years, we go, ‘Oh, there’s three inches of stuff on that white layer. Wow, this marsh must be three inches higher.’ But, when we look at the SET measurements over the same time period, the elevation did not change. The elevation stayed the same, so the marsh was actually sinking and stuff was coming in and being deposited. The SET is a newer technique. The Marker Horizons have been around a long time.

Jenn:    That actually answers the question I asked earlier about how sedimentation affects the measurements you’re getting from this. You’re measuring both.

Jim:     Yes. This is measuring everything that’s going on.

Jenn:    That’s very cool.

Jenn:    How did you end up doing this?

Jim:     Well I got my Master’s degree down in Louisiana doing work in mangroves in south Florida and Mexico, looking at sediment and doing that kind of work. I got lucky and got hired by the federal government – back then it was the US Fish and Wildlife service – to do wetland work at a center they were building in the town we lived in.

Jenn:    That’s handy.

Jim:     At the USFWS we really expanded the use of the SET technique and we promoted it to different groups of people … Initially only academics, university students doing a specific project or addressing some research question. Then the federal government starting using it to do research. But that’s how I got started doing it. So I’ve always done wetland work and I’ve always worked in the coastal plain, like the Gulf of Mexico or the east coast.

Jenn:    How did you even find out about it? I mean, when I was in high school, I didn’t know that this kind of work existed.

Jim:     Me too. I never had any grand plan. I just sort of went with the flow. I went to the Coast Guard Academy and was miserable. I quit after my freshman year. I switched to the University of Delaware and I ended up getting a double major in chemistry and biology. I got a summer job at a marine lab on the Chesapeake Bay doing chemistry-related wetland work with a post-doc who needed an assistant. He had just gotten his PhD and was working at the University of Maryland on a project. While I was working there, he got a job in Louisiana and I followed him down to Louisiana as a grad student.

Jenn:    Wow.

Jim:     I just got lucky.

Jim:     Alright. Yeah, look at this. A big ice floe deposited this-

Jim:     Maybe at low tide, that area floods and then it freezes and then a big tide comes in. It picks up the ice and the mud that’s frozen to it, floats it onto the marsh and drops it.

Jenn:    Cool.

Jim:     Yeah, it’s pretty neat.

Jim:     People are now using GPS to take measurements, but GPS doesn’t have the precision to do something in the millimeter range. It’s very good, but … in general, if the water’s going up at a slow rate, the marshes go up at a slow rate. The big issue is that the rate of sea level rise is changing. The rate of change may double. At a rate of three millimeters a year, sea level rises about one foot per century. That’s sort of a ballpark figure. Maybe down by me in Maryland, the water level comes up about a foot every hundred years. And the marshes typically grow vertically about a foot … They grow along with it. So the trick is, if you’re talking about sea level rise doubling, maybe to two feet per hundred years, instead of one foot … Maybe even tripling, you know? You’re talking big numbers, but no one knows for sure yet if the marshes can keep up. They’re doing fine with the somewhat consistent rate that’s been going on for thousands of years, but we don’t know how the increase will affect them.

We plugged away and got all Jim’s numbers recorded for the three stations, and by the time we finished around 1pm the temperature had soared to 75 degrees, which for May in Maine is officially Pretty Damn Hot. Can’t speak for Jim but I know I was glad to head for the shade.

Many thanks to Jim for letting me tag along and ask so many questions!

Transcription of this interview was funded by a grant from the Frenchman Bay Partners Environmental Stewardship Award.


Interview: Anne Swann at the Procter Collection (Acadia National Park Archives)

Procter Collection photographed courtesy of the National Park Service, Acadia National Park.

Today we are visiting the William H. Procter Collection at the William Otis Sawtelle Collections and Research Center at the headquarters of Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor (aka ‘the Park Archives.’)  The connection between an early 20th-century insect collection and the Coast Walk is probably not immediately obvious, so here’s a little back-story.

William H. Procter (1873-1951), was the grandson of Procter & Gamble’s founder. As a child, Procter summered on MDI with his family. He was a businessman first (at Procter & Gamble, as you might have guessed) and became interested in biology as an adult. His early work was on the marine fauna of MDI [There’s the first connection to the Coast Walk!], and in 1921 he established a research station at the MDI Bio Lab in Salisbury Cove. [There’s the second connection to the Coast Walk.] He later moved the lab to his estate, Corfield, closer to Bar Harbor. [Corfield was near the current ferry terminal property on the shore side of Eden Street, so there’s a third connection. It was torn down in 1965.]

The research station at Corfield. From Procter, Biological Survey of the Mount Desert Region, vol.II. Courtesy of the Jesup Memorial Library

In the 1920s, Procter began working with Charles W. Johnson, curator for the Boston Society of Natural History, who was doing a survey of insects on MDI. Johnson died in 1932, and Procter took over the project, which eventually became the seven-part Biological Survey of the Mount Desert Region, which was published between 1927 and 1946.

The copy in the Jesup Library Special Collections.
The Jesup copy is signed.

He left his collection to the University of Massachusetts with the stipulation that “there be no additions made to this collection unless by specimens taken on Mount Desert Island, … My reason being that its great value is to show a biotic entity, and it has taken years of hard work to assemble same, though every hour one of pleasure.” (Alexander, p. 240.)

I hadn’t heard of Procter, but Anne Swann had worked on cataloguing the collection (which was published in 2015 with updated nomenclature and addenda by Glen Mittelhauser) and she said, “You have to see this.” So we made an appointment and Marie Yarborough, the Curator of the archives, and Kristin Dillon, her assistant, graciously brought out tray after tray of meticulously pinned and labeled insects as we talked.

Many thanks for your patience!

Now that you a little context, let’s have a look at the bugs!

Procter Collection photographed courtesy of the National Park Service, Acadia National Park.

Jenn:       Anne, how did you get involved in this?

Anne:     Through Glen Mittelhauser. The park hired Glen and myself to make a digital catalog. We entered all the information, for better or worse, [from] each tag, and that gave people an option to search it. Then they worked on changing the genus and species if they needed to. I believe [in Proctor’s] time this was the largest collection of insects from a geographical area. Each cabinet holds 60 drawers.

Procter Collection photographed courtesy of the National Park Service, Acadia National Park.

Jenn:       We’re talking thousands of specimens.

Anne:     Yeah.

Jenn:       Wow. Did he collect more or less a sample of every insect on the island?

Anne:     No, he didn’t like flies, he didn’t like mosquitoes, he didn’t do a lot of ants. I would say he got the majority of the moths and the beetles – beetles were big for those guys back then – and butterflies. It’s funny about the butterflies – if you look at each of them they don’t look like anything until you see 10 of them together. … [And the beetles] – it’s just a beetle, but then when you get 40 of them in a tray they’re cool and cute looking.

Procter Collection photographed courtesy of the National Park Service, Acadia National Park.

Jenn:       It is kind of wild seeing them all together like this.

Anne:     As far as other stuff, I know he didn’t get all the bees, because he just wasn’t into bees.

Jenn:       So it’s an idiosyncratic collection.

Anne:     When you go looking for bees, you just don’t sweep [a net] … They found that it’s easier to collect bees if you put a yellow bowl on the ground with some dishwashing soap in it – you’ll collect more species of bees doing that than you will sweep-netting. [Either] they didn’t know that back then or else he wasn’t interested in pollinators. Now the big interest is in pollinators.

Procter Collection photographed courtesy of the National Park Service, Acadia National Park.

Jenn:       How do people use this collection now?

Marie:    If they’re doing research on a specific species they’ll ask to look at it – there’s all the labels and there’s data with it as well.

Jenn:       Cool.

Anne:     Yeah, you might get someone who’s really into a specific type of moth and they might come and say, “You know what, because of this, that and the other, this isn’t actually the moth I’m looking for, this is a different [species].” They do change the genus and species a lot. When you’re cataloging an historic collection like this you’re not allowed to make changes. These are all cataloged by [the names] Procter [used]. Even though I might go on to and say, “That’s not right,” I have to keep his ID and then let someone with authority come back through and make an addendum on the record. … There’s a hierarchy of cataloging. [She holds out the specimen’s tag for me to see.]

ID tags accumulating below specimens. Procter Collection photographed courtesy of the National Park Service, Acadia National Park.

These guys are from 1937. The first number is the one they assign and the second tag is the person who determined the species. [Ed.note: ‘Determined’ in this case means ‘identified.’] This one was determined in 1937 by a guy named Reen. It’s got the handwritten genus and species on it. Then the third one is the Acadia National Park catalog number.

Jenn:       That’s the one at the very bottom?

Anne:     Yeah, this one’s got four of them. The first one’s got the date and where it was caught, the second one is their catalog number, I think, and the third one, again, has the genus and species and who determined it – who decided what [species] that grasshopper was.

Jenn:       Wow, all kinds of provenance on these.

Anne:     Yeah. If somebody else came along and said, “That’s not [right],” they would put another tag under the Acadia National Park tag [with the new ID]. Each tag is a layer of how many times it was touched. It gives its own little history.

Jenn:       Actually that’s one of the coolest things about this collection – the level of documentation.

Anne:     Right, you never take the first tag off.

Jenn:       Now you’ve got me looking more closely at the tags.

Anne:     Yeah, I love them.

Procter Collection photographed courtesy of the National Park Service, Acadia National Park.

Jenn:       Last year I was doing some stuff for Chebacco, the MDI Historical Society, and I got to shoot Henry Spellman’s bird collection down at the Museum of Comparative Zoology. It was similar, there were layers of tags – some of them were Spellman’s, written out as a teenager in 1881.

Anne:     Museum people have this nice hierarchy. All these tags, these typed ones, these are the ones that came with all of this.

Procter Collection photographed courtesy of the National Park Service, Acadia National Park.

Jenn:       Do you have a background in insects?

Anne:     No, library science. I got this job because I was a librarian and I like cataloging. Cataloging books, cataloging insects, it was the same. I’m not really into insects but I was really into cataloging. [Through COA] I worked at the Smithsonian and cataloged all their Cetaceans one winter.

Jenn:       No kidding!

Anne:     Yeah, in their sub-sub-basement. Had to put every single one together, make sure all the bones were there. It was cool, it was a really neat job to basically live for 12 weeks at the Smithsonian. Back then we had the run of it.

Jenn:       When was that?

Anne:     It was in ‘84 or ‘85. We’d go in in the morning and then we could run around the whole place at night, go into all the halls and all the other places. If it was locked it was locked but most of the building … Once you’re in, you’re in. You can go look at the gems, go to where they store all the dinosaur bones and things like that. We were in the sub-sub-basement, two basements under everything else, where all the Cetaceans were. It was really cool.

Procter Collection photographed courtesy of the National Park Service, Acadia National Park.

Jenn:        [To Marie and Kristin] You guys have the craziest collection. Last time I was here I photographed a desk [Ed.note: For the MDI Historical Society in 2017] and now the insects, and I see stuffed taxidermy [back there in the storage area].

Marie:      Yeah, it’s a natural history and a cultural history collection.

Anne:       Glen Mittelhauser would be a good person to [contact] about a lot of this too, because he’s actually written all the books that compare and contrast Procter’s collection with what we’ve been finding in the last 10 years.

Procter Collection photographed courtesy of the National Park Service, Acadia National Park.

Jenn:        I appreciate the introduction to the collection, it’s very cool. I love other people’s obsessions!

Anne:       People really are obsessed! When they want to see one insect they’re really into that insect. I remember I’d be sitting here in the summer and somebody would really want to see what we had. [Marie would look it up and say,] “Okay, yeah, we have that,” or “We don’t.” I don’t know whether the catalog is accessible online? No? Is it ever going to be?

Marie:      ICMS doesn’t have a public format. [Ed.note: Interior Collections Management System, software used by the Department of the Interior.] It’s just National Park Service software, we don’t have any control over how they export a catalog. Frankly the most … connection that [the Procter] collection has to current researches …, [is when] our Park biologist or our Park wildlife technician is working with an outside entity and there’s a certain bee that just got listed, and we need to know if we have it. I have to pull Hymenoptera from a report for every single entry that we have in the entire catalog. That would pull anything from Procter, anything from the bee surveys we had recently, anything from the last four BioBlitzes. Some people will come and they’re interested in Procter, but in terms of it being an inventory and a catalog for useful research for today, it’s really figuring out ‘What are the species that we have here today, what are the species that we’ve had here in the past?’ There’s a big project – it’s called the Bee Atlas – that’s going on now, it’s run out of U Maine.

Anne:       They have a lovely website.

Procter Collection photographed courtesy of the National Park Service, Acadia National Park.

-Marie:      Our wildlife techs did bee collecting and cataloging. They prepared the specimens, we cataloged them and then added them and then I had to pull up reports on all Hymenoptera to send because they plug in all that information – you’re pulling in historic collections and collections that the wildlife tech collected last week – to set up an inventory of what we have. That’s really what the collections get used for now – what species are here and what has changed, the science that’s happening now. As Anne said it’s harder because there’s different cataloging, different words and different place names and different species names.

Anne:       Just because Procter didn’t collect it doesn’t mean it wasn’t here but he did try to collect big general stuff. I know there aren’t a lot of Procter bees. I think there are some big bumblebees but not the variety that we recognize now. He might not have been interested [enough] to recognize that they were different species.

Marie:      No, there’s a few, it ended up being five or six or something like that from his collection.

Anne:       Now we know there’s more bees. As David Manski would say, ‘All these insects, they’re some of your keystone species. If you see their changes over time it extrapolates out to other changes in the environment.’ [Ed.note: Manski is a retired ANP Chief of Natural Resources – he started the BioBlitzes.] He also used to say something like, ‘You can’t manage your park unless you know what’s in it.’

Procter Collection photographed courtesy of the National Park Service, Acadia National Park.

Marie:      Glen Mittlehauser has been doing the most long-term work on the Procter collections and he’s probably the most published on it too.

Anne:       Definitely the most published.

Marie:      He’s had his hand in every inventory and every cataloging project having to do with Procter.

Anne:       He writes his own grants and comes back to re-catalog or to figure out if [something is properly identified] or if the names have been changed or whatever. He’s got his own gig going with the Maine Natural History Observatory. He gets little grants and does this, and in the summer might go up to Baxter and do a whole flora and fauna of Baxter, and in the wintertime might delve back into this. Do you know Glen?

Jenn:        No. Never ran across each other.

Marie:      He’s probably the only researcher that I’ve known that just keeps coming back. He does research and then he goes back to it, whereas it’s more the stuff that’s in the general catalog that people [look at.] … It’s all about the research question. Procter is one piece of that general catalog that we’re pulling information from for researchers.

Anne:    [Procter] was really the first to say, ‘These species were found on Mount Desert Island.’ It’s a good Point A to build from. The BioBlitzes were all about ‘we’ve never seen that’ and ‘Procter found this at this time of year but we haven’t. Why not?’ Those things were also questions. Then other people have had collecting permits – they’ve definitely done a really good compare-and-contrast the [contemporary] beetles with Procter’s collection.

Procter Collection photographed courtesy of the National Park Service, Acadia National Park.

Marie:   The only negative for Procter is we don’t have the [location.] Now when you collect you have a GPS point. We know in general where things were because [Procter] kept really good notes but we don’t have the same [precision]… Therefore that’s information that we can’t enter in our catalog. It’s metadata we don’t have. That’s always a blank when we’re gathering and pulling together [locations.]

Anne:    Location is kind of subjective… the really airborne insects are flying all over the place…. not like a bird that might have a territory. Bees have hives, but things like flies and moths … it’s more about the plants for them. It’s [also] hard when you’re cataloging them and the data refers back to place names [that] have changed. Some of [his locations] are like, ‘At a light on fourth of July.’

Marie:   For something like the Maine Bee Atlas that’s a deficit, but again there’s only five bees [in the Procter Collection]. 99.9% of the other bees that we have here and that we’ve identified have GPS locations. There are strengths and weaknesses to the collection, it’s always based on the metadata that was [noted] at the time of collection. Lots of researchers that we have today get scientific permits and do research here and they are terrible at metadata, … they’re just interested in their final result. We’re trying to make this available for future generations for all purposes. That’s something we’ve tried to home in on, really get scientists to be responsible about that. Then they can see at the end, ‘look what I pulled together.’ You needed to know every bee species within the last 100 years that we have here in the collection? Look what I was able to plug in because I had good metadata.

Jenn:     A little bit more effort on the researcher’s part and it’s useful to so many more people.

Marie:   Right. That’s really the key to it.

Procter Collection photographed courtesy of the National Park Service, Acadia National Park.

Anne:    Some researchers will be conscientious enough to say what plants they pulled something off of. It doesn’t really work if you’re collecting bees in soapy water but it does if you know they’re around a whole bunch of rugosa roses. There is still a natural history component like ‘I found this on spirea’ or ‘I was swishing through tall grasses.’ It gives you the GPS and what the foliage was, that’s also important. Hopefully they have an eye for plants. Not all of them do.

And then, whoops! Our hour was up and it was time to put the bugs back on the shelf and say goodbye.

Jenn:     You guys, thanks for fitting us in today. I know it was short notice. So glad they got the government started back up again!

Procter Collection photographed courtesy of the National Park Service, Acadia National Park.

A topic for another time:

Courtesy of the Jesup Memorial Library

I spent some quality time with Procter’s Biological Survey of the Mount Desert Region over at the Jesup (it’s in Special Collections so you can’t take it out of the library) and we will have to come back to it in another post. “In the early twentieth century, Dwight Blaney (1865–1944) and William Procter (1872–1951), … congregated in the summers with many of America’s social elite in Maine’s Bar Harbor region. Not prone to idleness, Blaney and Procter dredged the waters of Frenchman Bay for marine mollusks, Blaney in 1901–1909 and Procter in 1926–1932. … Together, Blaney and Procter discovered 159 marine mollusk species in the vicinity of Frenchman Bay … . Their efforts still constitute the documented molluscan inventory for the region.” (Johnson)


Alexander, Charles P., “Doctor William Procter (1872-1951),” Entomological News, Vol.LXII, No.8, October 1951.

Epstein, F.H. (ed), A Laboratory by the Sea. The Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory 1898–1998. The River Press, Rhinebeck, NY.

Evans, David H., Marine Physiology Down East: The Story of the Mt. Desert Island Biological Laboratory. Perspectives in Physiology. Springer, New York, NY, 2015.

Johnson, Richard I., “Dwight Blaney and William Procter on the Molluscan Faunas of Frenchman Bay and Ironbound Island, Maine,” Northeastern Naturalist 16(mo4), (1 June 2009).

Mittelhauser, Barr, Swann, and Chandler, Catalog of the Beetles (Coleoptera) of Mount Desert Island, Maine. Gouldsboro, ME : Maine Natural History Observatory, 2014.

Mittelhauser, Barr, Swann, Catalog of the Butterflies and Moths (Lepidoptera) of Mount Desert Island, Maine. Gouldsboro, ME : Maine Natural History Observatory, 2014.

Mittelhauser, Barr, Swann, Catalog of the Sawflies, Wasps, Bees, and Ants (Hymenoptera) of Mount Desert Island, Maine. Gouldsboro, ME : Maine Natural History Observatory, 2015.

Procter, William, Biological Survey of the Mount Desert Region. Philadelphia, Wistar Institute, 1927-1946

“MDI Biological Lab Establishes Scientific Innovation Fund,” Accessed April 11, 2019


Fiona de Köning, Hollander & DeKöning Mussel Processors, Trenton

On November 20, 2017, I met up with Fiona de Köning at the Hollander & DeKöning building in Trenton. We had met a few years earlier through the Frenchman Bay Partners, a group of people and organizations that have an interest in conservation of the bay. Fiona’s family raises Blue Mussels (Mytilus edulis), and one of their aquaculture sites is at Hadley Point on MDI, bringing them within the purview of the Coast Walk. She’s familiar with the project, so I called her up and asked if I could fling questions at her for an hour or so, and she good-naturedly agreed.

Fiona:        So, what do you need to know?

Jenn:          Well, I’m walking around the edges of the island asking people, “What do you do here, and how did you end up doing it?”

Fiona:        That’s interesting. So whether it’s recreating or working or living or those sorts of things?

Jenn:          Yes. It’s all relative to how we occupy and use the shoreline.

Fiona:        Well we’re pretty much webbed-feet wading birds, we use the shoreline [so much]! We’ve been here 12 years. We moved from the Netherlands. … My husband is a fifth-generation mussel farmer, and he felt very intensely that you shouldn’t just glide on the work of the people who’ve gone before you … so he thought we should look at starting a farm. … We felt [we] could slot in alongside things that were happening here already, and [our business] has the kind of sustainability factor that also seems to fit well with the mindset of Maine. It was a new [type of] project for Maine. They were still very much wild-fishery-based here, and … people need to be able to do this more sustainably. Plus the location, close to lots of people but not actually right in the middle of [development], so you’ve got the clean [environment] that you need to grow seafood. So we moved our family – our two elder children were 15 and 16 at the time – they went to MDI High. One joined freshman year, and one joined as a sophomore, and they went on to university in Husson. Charlotte works in Presque Isle as a first-grade teacher, and Alex has a Chemical Engineering degree, and he works with us. Our youngest is an 18-year-old so he’s still studying and working part-time for us, too. … We have five sites around the island, and we manage those areas to grow blue mussels, which we process in this building. [We] ship mostly down to Boston, but in the summer quite a lot [are] distributed in Maine as well. We live in Salisbury Cove, … so we have kayaks down at the beach. We have a sailboat, we have a motorboat, we have rowboats, and we’re always down there

Jenn:          Nice!

Fiona:        So yeah, it’s all marine stuff, and it’s a passion of mine, as you know. It’s a responsibility thing – we enjoy it and we want to take care of it, so we want to [run our business] properly. That means doing it well, which means doing it profitably, because you can’t do things well if you’re having to cut corners all the time. You have to be proud of what you can grow, and let it be a sort of an ambassador for the area if you will, and in order to do that you have to make sure that you take the responsibility seriously. So we really are the embodiment of a sustainable operation. … They’ve been doing it in a similar way since the time of Napoleon, more or less. So it’s not something that we’re reinventing, we’re just trying a slightly different way of growing them here.

Jenn:          How did you get into this?

Fiona:        I married into it. Theo is a fifth generation [mussel] farmer. … Anything marine-based, it tends to be your life. Any farming sort of operation, you tend to live it as well as do it.

Jenn:          How did you end up on MDI?

Fiona:        Theo was looking for a business opportunity, and we saw that it was a good environment, and it looked like the resources were good to start this product.

Jenn:          What kind of resources were you looking for?

Fiona:        Well you need clean water. You need to have some shallow muddy areas. … We felt that [mussel-farming] would be compatible with the lobster industry. [Ed.note: because they use a different type of sea-bottom, the mussel farm wouldn’t impact lobsters.] That’s an important factor, because … you don’t want to get in the way if you’re starting something new. And we just fell in love with the island. Theo came here exploring and looking for opportunities and finding out about businesses and that sort of thing, and he basically didn’t come home. I got this call, “Okay, sell the house, pack up the kids, I’ll see you in Maine.” He found a house here, and I kind of wrapped everything up over there. I think it was only about seven or eight months from making the decision to actually moving across. I’m being a bit flippant about it, but our children were old enough to be involved in that decision. We brought them to see it, and as soon as they got hiking in Acadia they were like, “Yeah, we’re sold. Bring us as soon as you can.”

The de Köning family. Photo from Hollander & Dekoning website.

Jenn:          Oh that’s awesome.

Fiona:        And they didn’t want to leave the state for college. They just love it here. It was hard work at the beginning. It was really hard. It’s still hard – when you start something from scratch there are a lot of things you need to learn, and it takes a little time to build your reputation in the market. It doesn’t come overnight. Alex is our eldest. He wasn’t sure whether he could bring that sort of commitment, so he got a degree in something that he was good at, because he’s good at Mathematics and Engineering, and then he didn’t want to go and work in some industrial hub somewhere else. He just loved it here so much. Everything’s connected and interconnected, on a personal level and on business levels. We’re all kind of working together in a place. People don’t tend to stay on the island if they don’t appreciate what it is.

Jenn:          You have to be pretty determined.

Fiona:        You do. You have to really want to stay here. Because eking a living out doing anything is not easy. And it’s worth it though.

Jenn:          I think so.

Fiona:        It really is, yes. We looked at other places along the coast. We could have perhaps located in Camden or somewhere closer to the Midcoast, but it just gets into you, the island, it just gets a hold of you. Somebody said to me once, “Oh you’re not one of those dreadful people that’s totally satisfied with just MDI.”

Jenn:          What do you mean, “just”?!

Fiona:        I know. I was astounded.

Jenn:          Yes. I mean I like to go to cities every now and then, get a museum fix, but …

Fiona:        Yes, occasionally, but I went to college in London, so I’ve done a lot of that in the past. And if you live in the Netherlands, which I did for 10 years as well, it’s very much more crowded, so there’s a lot of things easily accessible because it’s all close together. So I’ve kind of done that, but the wilderness and the wildness and the openness and room to breathe, … it’s so peaceful. … I don’t leave even for vacation. We hike and bike and enjoy the park. There’s just so much to explore. We’ve been here 12 years, there are still places I haven’t been and want to go. We go out and explore the outer islands a little bit with boats …, so it gets very busy. I tend to be more or less floating all of the summer. I’m not really on land very much at all, because … the views and wildlife, whales, I mean you see everything here. It’s just a little bit of paradise, quite honestly. Isn’t it?

Jenn:          And I love the interconnectedness of it.

Fiona:        Right, and that’s what lovely coming into the fall and winter time. I mean I like it that it’s busy because you get a totally diverse mixture of people on the island all summer. It’s fantastic, I love it, and I also like it when it calms down and you just get the community and you catch up with people you haven’t seen all year, and all the activities that are going on. It’s just nice with theater and music, and everything’s happening all the time.

Jenn:          I usually find that it is just as busy, but in a different way.

Fiona:        Isn’t it? But it’s in a more tight-knit kind of way, don’t you think? The community has time to breathe and actually focus on each other again, instead of serving the needs of all the people that are around you.

Jenn:          I’m interested in mussels themselves, and also in what you guys are doing with them.

Fiona:        They are wonderful creatures, and worldwide, very little is known about them really. I mean however long they’ve been food for people, people just don’t understand how their lifecycle works. There’s a lot still to learn about it, and with any farming, it’s a very long-term sort of commitment, because as you’re developing the area that you’re farming … I mean you know we don’t actually own the ground? It’s public trust ground where the farm sites are. The way it works in Maine is that anything below … well, there’s some controversy about whether it’s the high-water or low-water mark, but basically sub-tidal, out until 12 miles out to sea, is under the state control, and it’s held in public trust. So it’s owned by all the citizens of Maine. [Ed.note: Maine is one of only a few states in which property lines can run out to the low tide line. In most states, they end at the high tide line. Not all land parcels were drawn up to include the low tide area, but many were. For more information:] If you would like to be granted certain privileges for working in that area, via licenses or leasing or that sort of thing, you have to go through a process that is quite rigorous. It takes two to three years to go through that process, and then you’re granted it for a certain amount of time, and there are responsibilities coupled to that.

Aquaculture lease options in Maine For more information, check out the Aquaculture page on the Department of Marine Resources website.

The lease regulations are quite well-managed. Even from a global perspective, they do a nice job, and it needs to be managed well, otherwise you can have people who are not … whether it’s short-cutting because of financial pressures, or lack of knowledge or whatever, mistakes can be made which are going to impact things for everybody. So it’s important you have a well-regulated system to lease areas to do farming. But as you learn that area … like in a garden, [each area] has different characteristics, and it grows things differently, and it’s the same with mussels on mussel farms. They have slightly different shell formation, color can be different, their growth rates can be different, the flavor can be definitely different from area to another. So there are a lot of nuances, and you’ve got to be a bit of a mussel freak to notice all of that. But it is interesting, and certainly it’s never dull. There’s always some factor or characteristic that’s changed. Everything’s a year apart at least, if not longer, because of the cycle and because of how long it takes to grow in the summer season, and the winter season and what can affect things in between. Finding causality can be quite difficult, so you’ve really got to keep your mind applied to it – observation, evaluation, try to figure out, ‘okay, so why’s this different this time?’ It’s not an exact science, at least it’s not for us. I think even with scientific back-up it’s not an exact science. There are too many factors.

Jenn:          So how do you farm mussels?

Fiona:        Okay. Well there are several ways to grow mussels, but we grow them on the seabed. Aquaculture means you take seed [Ed.note: baby mussels roughly the size of a sunflower seed], you put it in an area and you help it to grow out to market size. During that process all sorts of things can affect it, and it is our job to try and maximize the growth and the health, so it’s not just big, but strong so that they transport well and the flavor’s good. So there’s a lot goes into it. … There are mussels everywhere in Maine. I think in southern Maine they’ve had more of a problem. Maybe it’s acidity or the substrate, but something’s affecting … the wild population. But mussels are very resilient, they’re found worldwide, and they can thrive under considerable pressure from various environmental factors. So they’re good.

                       They reproduce themselves by making spat. They spawn into the water. … There’s a plankton phase, and they float in the water column for about two weeks. [They grow into] tiny little mussels which are on a thread, a bit like baby spiders are, … and they go with the tide. As they get more calcified, they start to get heavier. We don’t know what triggers this, but the tiny little mussels seem to sense what’s below them, and if they come to an area that they sense is good mussel bottom, they all let go of their threads at once and they rain down in huge quantities – that way they outnumber their predators. That’s their survival technique, otherwise they get eaten by pretty much everything. That’s how a new seed bank will form. Now if you leave that seed bank for a while as it is, most of it will die. It’s about 98% mortality, because they suffocate each other, they compete for food, [they get eaten.] They’re basically too dense to make it. We thin them out … by a certain percentage…. I’m saying it very quickly, but there’s a lot of monitoring, measuring, permitting. You’re being observed as well. We have a GPS tracking position voluntarily on our boat, so that the DMR and the Marine Patrol can see what we’re doing where we’re doing it. We’re really on the front edge of the policy formation around mussel farming here in Maine.

Jenn:          Good for you!

Fiona:        And I love it, but it’s a long process. … This is too important to allow everybody to have a free will on it, because you can impact [the environment] for further generations. So it’s my personal position that this needs to be managed properly, with the [view] that everybody should have access to it. You mustn’t close it out, but if you’re going to use the area then you need to use it properly and it needs to be monitored and enforced. In order to do that, we use a protocol [from] the Netherlands for harvesting wild seed. It has a Marine Stewardship Council certification over there. So we use that protocol with a few things that are different. It’s a very expensive process to go through that certification, and for one small company, particularly in the start-up phase, that’s really not possible to do. But … we’re using those standards to develop our farm. We’re volunteering information to our state regulator, saying ‘this is what we’re doing, this is how we’re doing it, this is the code where you guys can track our boat,’ and that way it’s all open and transparent.

By thinning [the seed bank] out, you allow the ones that are there more room, and more food, and so they can spread out and they have a more successful chance for reaching maturity, plus you take the [harvested] ones to lease sites which are selected for good conditions to reach maturity. So they both reach sexual maturity, whilst otherwise if you’d left them where they are, predominantly they would have died. There’s no net depletion, that’s what I’m really trying to say. It’s possible to grow seed on ropes, but you need suspended equipment, like buoys and rafts and things in the waters. It’s more difficult for people to accept that form of aquaculture than it is for [farming] on the bottom, where all you’ve got to mark it are buoys that could be lobster buoys, nobody would know. So it fits in with people’s feeling of how Maine should be. We feel that it’s kind of a good fit. And it grows a lot of food. There’s a great deal of healthy, flavorful food comes out of this area, so it’s a satisfying thing to do. My part of the job is managing the policy. I serve on various committees at the state level as well, in order to learn what other things are happening. I have to hear what other working waterfront issues there are, because there are things that we may be impacting that I didn’t realize. You can’t be an expert in everything, but I think it’s a responsibility to at least try to find out what else is going on. That was the biggest challenge, getting that sort of communication link with other resource users and recreational people. There’s a lot of bridges that don’t get made between different groups on the coast.

Jenn:          I’ve noticed that.

Fiona:        That’s why I’m so supportive of the Frenchman Bay Partners. I was one of the first people involved in that group, because it opens those doors. It’s not an advocacy group, it’s a communication hub. A lot of it is science-based, and it crosses those boundaries that otherwise are hard to reach across.

Jenn:          It puts people like me and you in touch with each other.

Fiona:        Exactly. And me and the clamming people, and me and a kayak guide. Some industry, some riparian landowners. Those sorts of barriers to communication seem to be quite strong, so this is a good way to build some connection. Because you’ve got to try, but if you just go and ask, they don’t necessarily want to tell you. It takes time. You’ve got to build relationships with these groups and people, and show some integrity over time. … You know, people tend to be rather suspicious of anything new.

Jenn:          Defensive.

Fiona:        Yeah, and the people from coastal communities in the state of Maine have had a very tough history. They’ve had a lot of people coming in and telling them that [there is] a better way to do it, or they shouldn’t be doing it that way, and that has made them very defensive and closed to those sorts of approaches, and I can quite understand why. … Environmentally, things are changing rapidly, and if we don’t do something to learn and to try and adapt quickly enough, we’re going to be in serious trouble. I think that the rate of change of environmental and social issues globally right now is leaving us behind. It’s scary that it’s like that, we have to push forward with trying to find solutions, because otherwise [this won’t be here] for our grandchildren, if not our children already. So it’s kind of a passion really. Can you tell?

Jenn:          I think that a lot of people are a little bit stuck between wanting to defend what they have and needing to change, and very suspicious of new people who are coming in, worried that there’s not enough to go around.

Fiona:        Right, exactly. And they have to be so self-sufficient, the way that America works. You know, you have to really look after yourself because the safety nets are not huge, compared to many countries. Which puts a level of intensity, almost desperation on … those solutions-focused conversations, when that is in the background. It’s always the bear in the room, you know, it’s always there that ‘they’re trying to take my livelihood.’

Jenn:          ‘What’s going to happen to me?’

Fiona:        Exactly, and ‘what’s going to happen to my family,’ so I have a huge amount of respect and understanding for that as a motivator, and have a little bit of a thick skin. When we’re looking for seed in different areas, we go to the shellfish committees in that town. We’ve been to meetings before and they flat out point-blank refuse to speak to us.

Jenn:          Oh my gosh.

Fiona:        And then they’ll say, ‘Well you can come back next time,’ so we go back a month later, which is the next meeting, and then they say, ‘But we don’t have a quorum so we’re not going to make a decision anyway.’ And then you go back again and then they go, ‘Well okay, you’re obviously keen for doing this so we’ll talk with you.’ But you can’t be offended by that sort of thing because it’s almost inevitable … you know, we’re immigrants. I don’t expect to be treated like I was a fifth-generation American, … but I think that we can add things and we can give opportunities to people to adapt, because their old lifestyle choices aren’t necessarily going to be enough for them either, so this can be another way you earn money living in a fishing community. The Island Institute is doing various smaller aquaculture projects out on the islands as another way to add to people’s income [so] they can still live on the islands. … It’s a very simple model, and it’s a very simple concept. You’re never going to be terribly rich and powerful, but it’s really a nice life. I’m always very careful to stress the fact that it is important to be profitable. You can’t do it well if you don’t have the funds. It’s really important to not cut corners, and that means investing in things. You’ve got to make sure that you can pay your bank for borrowing that money for that piece of equipment.

Jenn:          You need to be able to pay your workers’ salaries.

Fiona:        You do, and you need to be able to pay them proper wages. We have a small, dedicated team, and they’re wonderful. But that costs money, so it’s important that you keep your business model grounded in reality – you do have to sell these things, and you do have to make money on it, for two reasons. The social cost, but also the operation costs of what it takes to do this properly, out on the water. It was a big investment to build this building, so for us this is a bit of a new model, if you will. We’ve had to kind of readjust a little bit. We were in rented accommodations that really weren’t up to scratch. It was too small for us and our production. We couldn’t keep it as clean and tidy as we wanted to – it was just old and not really designed for a mussels-processing plant. … So we had to build. I mean really there wasn’t another choice. We have people like Alex and Max who want to follow on and continue to grow [some] form of aquaculture, whether it’s just the mussels or it’s other species, but it is going to take the long vision. This isn’t a quick boom-bust out of there kind of operation. This is a lifestyle thing that can work for generations, and it’s been proven to, but you’ve got to have the commitment, and your ways and your goals and ambitions are different if you do it this way.

Jenn:          So you’re building a multi-generational family farm.

Fiona:        Yes, exactly. Well technically, Theo took over his farming from his grandfather, so he’s already number five, and then Alex is now the sixth in total, but of course the second [generation] here. So yeah, it should be a generational thing. There’s too much to do in one lifetime, there really is! There’s so very much to do.

Jenn:          So are you guys still running the one that’s back in the Netherlands?

Fiona:        His cousin runs that one. We don’t have much to do with the day-to-day business. Theo was one of those proud waterfront village people in the Netherlands, so he can also understand the fishermen and the harvesters here, because … he’s got very deep roots from the village that he came from in the Netherlands. It gives you that level of understanding and that connection. And also if you’re out there working in February, not even the diehard harvesters are out there. Theo’s out there then. We harvest year round, unless it’s iced over completely.

Jenn:          That is one way to earn respect.

Fiona:        Yeah. Well, we always say it’s too hot for four weeks in the year, and it’s too cold for four weeks in the year. The rest of it is okay. We can manage.

Jenn:          So how long does it take for [mussels] to get to maturity?

Fiona:        About two years.

Jenn:          Wow. That is a long crop.

Fiona:        It is. And you don’t just put them on the bottom and ignore them for two years. There’s some husbandry that’s involved, including removing starfish or keeping the eider ducks focused on wild product and not on farmed product. Redirecting their attention. They are predators that can do quite a lot of [damage] … They like farmed mussels, their high meat content, lower shell ratio.

Jenn:          So how do you keep them away?

Fiona:        We chase them around with a boat. Just to make it a little less comfortable on our farms. The thing is, there’s plenty of wild product they can eat. We’re not starving these poor birds. There’s plenty out there. It’s just that they like to do less effort for their food, and that’s normal. We all like that. Starfish are another predator. They come up from the deep, and they smother mussels in the bed. They suffocate them and then eat them. We’ve got a really cool solution to that. There’s a gentleman from Stonington, … his name is Dave Quimby, and he has a little company called Ocean Resources. Anyway, he dives for things that are used for dissection in either research or education institutions, and he dives for starfish. It’s one of his big products. So when we have an infestation of starfish we get him out there with his dive gear and he gets the product and we get them removed, so it’s a win for both of us.

Jenn:          How deep are the mussels? I’m having trouble picturing that.

Fiona:        That depends. To be qualified as sub-tidal, that means it doesn’t dry out, even on spring low tide, so they’re always underwater. There’s 12 feet rise and fall here, … from six feet to 20 feet is the area we’re kind of looking at. You can grow them in deeper water. We just have more shallow beds.

Jenn:          It seems like the deeper, the more difficult it would be.

Fiona:        Not particularly. It’s more that there’s more predation deeper, so the yield can be less. Starfish don’t like shallow waters because seagulls will dive through and get them, so they’re more prevalent in deeper water. So in the deep [areas], the starfish can predate year-round , tide-round, all day, all night if they want to, so they have more opportunity to feed on your product.

Jenn:          So many variables.

Fiona:        There’s so much to know, I don’t consider myself an expert on this at all. If you talk to Theo, he has got many more interesting and nuanced opinions, because he’s out there all the time. I think it’s cool. He’s always muddy though.

Jenn:          Mud doesn’t bother me. Schoodic had an intertidal stakeholders meeting, and they had some of the clammers, some of the wormers, people from the park, people from various state agencies. And me. Everyone went out and mucked around in the mudflats. It was awesome.

Fiona:        Yes, it’s fun.

Jenn:          Although when they introduced me as an artist, I really got the stink-eye from the guys. By the end I was just part of the scenery I think.

Fiona:        Yeah. They have to work hard, Jenn. The wormers and the clammers, it’s a very hard way of earning money.

Jenn:          I couldn’t do it. I would be in so much pain. [Ed. Note: from the constant stooping and bending.]

Fiona:        Yeah, a lot of them are, and there’s a lot of opioid problems, because of the pain. But it comes really from the grueling life … People tend to think, ‘oh drug addicts,’ but why are they a drug addict? Because it’s been prescribed to them for chronic, awful pain from physical labor. It does give me pause when old attitudes towards people who have those problems are outdated now. We know more about it. We know that it’s not necessarily a choice that they made, it kind of happened to them. And that’s not [true] for everybody, of course it’s not. But we had our own … We’ve had a learning curve with employees who’ve had all of these issues.

Jenn:          Really?

Fiona:        We are employing the boat crew and also the picking crew here. It’s unskilled labor. It’s not rocket science, they don’t need any qualifications to do it, so the sorts of people [who apply] are the ones who can no longer do those other jobs. They bring all these issues with them, so I’ve felt a bit like an outreach for the longest time. I mean I can’t do it like an agency would. I just can’t. That’s not what we’re here for, and I’m not qualified to do it. But it broke my heart a lot of the time. You hear their stories and you see their lives, and they’re brutally hard. And they seem pretty happy living that way, some of them. You have to kind of respect that this is what they’re used to, this is the life they have, and they’re not going to want to change it necessarily, because even a horrible life is what you know, and change is hard.

Jenn:          It’s challenging. I mean, I come from away, and there’s so much that I just don’t know.

Fiona:        And those levels of society don’t mix. There are like strata that don’t mix at all. And I’ve got middle class friends, and people from the lab, and they have absolutely no idea of the people that Kathy and I are working with some of the time. Not now, as I said we have a different team now, but when we were over in Hancock, it was tough. We’ve been called at two in the morning to bail people out after OUIs. It teaches compassion, but it also teaches that I am literally unqualified and unable to make a difference in these things. Somehow, we have to do that collectively as society. On an individual level, I am not able to do very much. A little bit of easing the pain where I can, but there’s very little I can do to make a significant difference in people’s lives. It’s sad because we have regular work year around. But if [people] can’t get to work, in the end what can you do? I’ve kept jobs open for them when they’ve been in jail for 10 days or whatever and come back again. But it doesn’t work in the long term. It just doesn’t work out. They end up fading out. They just disappear and don’t show up, and that’s it.

Jenn:          That’s so sad.

Fiona:        Yes, it is. It is sad. I think it’s such a waste of very useful, valuable people. They have value and they don’t even really recognize that themselves anymore, I don’t think. They’re not particularly sad. They’re so accepting of their difficult lives. You think ‘it’s possible to get out of this.’ It is, but not if you’ve never been shown a way or nobody else in your family’s ever got out of it. You’re sort of stuck. … There are really sad stories that you hear. This girl, I’ve seen her in tears because she’s had to say goodbye to her children when she goes to jail again. She’s heartbroken, but her mother kicked her out on the street at the age of 12, how is she going to ever make those other choices? She’s desperate for love and affection and some stability. Yet, she is now trapped in the drug world and can never really get away from it because now her body is taken over by the drug. But underneath it, there’s still that person under there. We tried very hard to help her, but it was very sad in the end.

Jenn:          It must be hard balancing the emotional part with what’s best for the business.

Fiona:        I’m a caring person. I have a masters degree in diagnostic imaging.

Jenn:          Seriously?

Fiona:        So, I’m a hospital people-person, right? It’s totally irrelevant to what I’m doing now. But the people and the empathy and the analytical side of it and seeing where problems are coming from and standing in other people’s shoes, I’m really good at that. But sometimes I have to make the decisions, which are hard, from the perspective that it’s better for the company as a whole. The company is … It’s like a coral reef. All sorts of things feed from it. It’s not just one [person.] We consider ourselves stewards of the company rather than owners of the company. I have payroll. I have responsibilities to people. I have responsibilities to banks. I have responsibility to pay my taxes. I have all these other responsibilities and I have to make the right choices for those as well. So, it’s not just the immediate person that I would like to be able to help. For me, the motivation has been working this company to a point of strength so it can carry on supporting a lifestyle for the boys and their families. Money doesn’t motivate me very much because I don’t really care about it that much, but working hard and making those difficult choices because it’s best for the children or the people who work with us. I can do that because that’s using the empathy that I have for them already. So, that helps to make those more difficult decisions.

Jenn:          Anybody who has a payroll has a community.

Fiona:        You do. And they’re good people, and you see that they’re so wonderful. Even when things are hard, they still come in because they don’t want to let each other down, so that they’re not one [person] short. We are very blessed right now, but it’s been a long haul to get to this. We’ve had to [change] the interview and employment process … The turnover is really heartbreaking. It demoralizes your good people, too.  …

Fiona:        If you’re a family business, you do a lot of the work. My husband is the boat person, and does all the farming. Alex does all the processing, and the engineering, and the repairs, and the technical stuff. He’s really good at all of that, and I run the business sales, distribution, business office, and policy stuff. So, we can swap around a little bit, but mainly we haven’t taken a holiday together in 12 years.

Jenn:          Oh my God. It’s time for a vacation!

Fiona:        Yeah, we don’t have time. It can’t run without us. One of us can go at a time. If I go to visit my parents, I go to England for three days, and then I’m back. You can’t miss your shipments. When the boys get older and we have slightly different situations, then we’ll maybe be able to do that. But I don’t really mind. I really don’t. Sometimes I get the afternoon off. It’s not like we’re working 16 hours a day anymore. We were working 12 to 16 hours, 6 days a week for years. The new building has [meant] at least Theo and I get a weekend together now.

Jenn:          How did the building change that?

Fiona:        Because we can do a lot of the processing here. To get the mussel to market is a two-day job because it’s in a sandy environment on the seabed. They need to be in clean flowing water for 12 hours to get rid of any sand that they may have ingested during the harvest process. That [used to be] done on the boat in containers with pumps. … In order to do that, Theo would harvest one afternoon. They would purge overnight on the boat. He would be back out at two or three in the morning. He’d do the first stage of the processing. [Then] they would need to be graded, de-bearded, washed, and then put in containers to come to the final stage of the final packing and bagging up and shipping. So the boat was busy for two days for one shipment, but now they harvest them in the afternoon, they bring them to the plant because we have a saltwater intake here. We stack them here overnight, which frees up the boat time. Instead of having to work six days for our market mussels, Theo has to work three days for our market mussels, leaving two to three days, depending on what’s going on, for the rest of the farm work, which is seeding-in, and monitoring, and husbandry, and all this stuff that needs to happen. So now he’s caught up with maintenance. He’s caught up with a lot of the monitoring programs, and things that he wanted to get going in evaluation. So now he’s able to take Saturdays off when work allows.

The Hollander & Deköning boat, “Stewardship.” Photo from the company website.

Jenn:          That’s great!

Fiona:        So we actually feel that we are terribly well spoiled now because we have our own Saturday and Sunday very often.

Jenn:          I guess it’s all what you’re used to.

Fiona:        We’ve got a lot to be grateful for. We had to work hard, but there’s lots of people that have to work hard. It’s worthwhile work. You’re farming food for people. We’re not petrochemicals. … For me, it seems just a worthwhile thing to be doing. I enjoy it, I suppose. That’s the bottom line. … Farming is very vulnerable to environmental change of course. But you can’t sit there and worry about that for too long. You just do what you can, and the best you can at the time.

Jenn:          Are the mussels responding to the warming water at all?

Fiona:        They’re rather tolerant of it. The water’s still pretty cold. It’s warmer than it has been, but where we came from, the waters are way warmer and the mussels still grow. They won’t grow as well when it’s too warm. That doesn’t mean to say that they’ll die. They just may not grow as fast. That may have some impact on how you do things. You have to adapt perhaps.

Jenn:          That’s good to know.

Fiona:        Yeah, but you can’t lock this stuff in, Jenn. If I had to worry about all of those things all the time, I’d be too terrified to do anything. You have to have a little bit of faith that you’ll find solutions as you come across your challenges.

Jenn:          Do you have enough time to show me some of the process?

Fiona:        Sure, yeah.

Fiona:        This is the water pump coming in from the ocean. That’s a filter to make sure we don’t get too much kelp and things like that coming in. That could block everything.

Jenn:          Okay.

Fiona:        These are the purging heads. They’re just shower units.  Alex built all of this. He bought a couple of pieces of equipment, but all the hoppers and belts, he fabricated himself.

Jenn:          Do you ever think to yourself, “I gave birth to this?”

Fiona:        I look at him and think, “And he had such trouble tying his shoelaces.” And he’s a father, Jenn. Can you believe it?

Jenn:          [laughs]

Fiona:        [The mussels] stack up under here three or four high, and the water goes through them, and then up and over, and through the next one, up and over. Any sand gets spat out during the process because they’re actually feeding once they’re there. So they’re perfectly happy. … Once we come in to do the processing in the morning, we turn that water switch off. And then this hopper is also full of seawater. So they never fall on anything hard. They fall into water all the time. Then, they go up.

These sets of machines here … The mussels come in clumps with their beards. This separates them out there. It rotates slowly and breaks them into individual mussels without damaging the mussels, ideally. Then this one will let any small grits out. … Everything is covered in seawater throughout this whole process, it’s just a big wet mess in here. Then there’s a table grader, a debearding machine and then this little darling is an optical sorter. It photographs every single mussel, anything that goes through it. You program it using Windows XP. The software [is what specializes it] for mussels. They also use them for blueberries and carrots and skittles. They vibrate so they’re nice and evenly spread. Then, they literally image every single thing. They will select a reject and they’ll pop it out. It keeps all the data so you can look at what it’s rejecting, and you can adjust things. Alex has got programs in here for the different farms. As I said, they have different characteristics. They need a different program to pick them accurately.

[Ed.note: “Debearding” is the process of removing the mussel ‘beards,’ another name for the byssal threads that mussels use to anchor themselves to hard surfaces. The process is also referred to as ‘debyssing.’]

Jenn:          Oh, of course. Slightly different colors and shapes. Wow. That’s really sophisticated stuff.

Fiona:        If it meets the criteria of a good mussel, they’ll shoot across into these salt water filled hoppers. Actually, we run it through twice. Basically, it goes through there and then to the inspection belt. If it’s a reject, it’ll be shot down with some air jets. This is pretty much how it will come into the bag:

These, they didn’t go through the machine. The [beards] would’ve been removed in the debyssing machine:

Fiona:        Say that had gone through the optical sorter and this would go through, this would be rejected. It gets shot out. There are 36 jets. Maybe 60. It sounds like gunshots. It’s a very clever system. This is what’s brought us up to the level of world-class processing … They have these in the Netherlands. This is not new, it’s just new for here. But I think there’s one company in Prince Edward Island that uses them.

This is a slurry ice maker. You know slush puppies that you buy at the convenience store? … This uses seawater and it makes a slurry ice out of seawater. …

Jenn:          Oh, cool!

Fiona:        When we’re shipping mussels, [we use] seawater rather than freshwater ice. Which means they keep their flavor better. Also, it goes in between each mussel in the bag, so that every mussel has a layer of ice all the way around it. This [machine] was very expensive. It has put us in the marketplace because we have a really high quality product going out there now. We didn’t design it. They use them on boats, offshore fishing. … This is the slurry ice – when it goes in, it’s liquid. The water drains out and leaves this ice behind. It’s at 27 degrees, a little colder than normal ice. They’re tiny little spheres. It gets to be quite hard. … This is the bagging machine. At the end of the process, the mussels come into this hopper.

Jenn:          Okay.

Fiona:       This hopper has seawater in it. This is the seawater inlet that we set to a certain level. There’s a slow moving conveyor. You see it’s just running? It’s bringing out mussels gently and steadily the whole time. Then, we have three people standing on these benches here. Every mussel goes past three people as a final check. The machine doesn’t get everything, but this [process] does. This finishes it. These can be set at different rates to make sure that if they’re trickier to pick, then they’ll slow it down. If it goes quick, then they can make it faster. Then, this is the final bit. That machine weighs [out] whatever weights we program in. So for example our bags go in at 10 pounds, and we put some extra in. Then, they’re put on this table with tags, so they’ll have the proper labeling. This yellow pipe is where they pipe the ice in.

If you’d like to see the machinery in action, there’s a glimpse of the process about halfway through this video about the de Könings.

Fiona:        They go in either a bag or a box. … We pack in .8 of a pound extra should there be a cracked shell, or they’ve lost a little bit of water in the traveling, or something like that, just to make sure we’re always above 10 pounds. Never underweight! So, that’s really it, and then they go in the cooler. As you see, there’s a few in there that we’re keeping for local stuff. But our product that was going down to Boston is gone already. It comes in, we pack it, and it’s shipped out within two hours or so.

Jenn:          So efficient.

Fiona:        Literally, we ship it out the same day it comes out of the ocean. We harvest to order. I don’t just bring them in and say, “Who can I sell these to?” I make calls, “What would you like? We will get them for you.” So they’ve got all the freshness in their hands and not in ours. It’s all about them really. They need to be able to taste the ocean, and not just taste something that’s sat in a cooler for a week and a half or something.

Fiona:        And these are where the farms are. So, we are here roughly, and we have a lease on Old Point, Lamoine; Hadley Point; Bean Island; Flander’s Bay in Sorento;and then over here at Blake Cove. We have 157 acres, it’s quite a lot.

Jenn:          That’s a lot of mussels.

Fiona:        It’s a lot of ground. …

Jenn:          What is going on here?

Fiona:        This is going to be a new tip and tie machine, where it puts a tag and a clip [on the mussel bags.] It’s like an automatic clipper. But this one, this is rescue. This is a poor sad thing that’s got to be rebuilt. It’s actually come out of the junkyard. We’ve got [a different] one, but this one will feed the label at the same time, so instead of having to manually put the label in and then clip it in with a metal clip, this will do it on its own. If we want to do those small bags instead of the big ones, we need to be able to do it faster than we can do with this one. People are asking for two-pound bags. At the moment Alex found that one piston is missing. He’ll get it working because it’s a puzzle to him. If [he can’t find parts] he’ll manufacture them. He bought a lathe. Mike who works here, he actually was in precision medical equipment. He used to build things like frames that would help with brain surgery, things like that. Really highly specialized and precise work. So he’s teaching Alex a little bit about how you do that properly.

To my delight, Fiona handed me a bag of mussels to take home. I love mussels!

Fiona:        You see how the ice is? It’s gone between each of the mussels? There’s no void in there, and it goes into the interstices. These will last so nicely. I mean it’s going to melt, but just keep them drained. So, if you’re putting them in fridge, just put a wet tea towel over them and something to collect the drips. Don’t let them sit in it because they’ll try to filter and they can’t do that. Then, they should be good for days. It depends on how you use them.

Jenn:          Wow. Thank you! What would you recommend on how to cook them?

Fiona:        What’s your favorite recipe?

Jenn:          We usually just steam them and serve them with butter.

Fiona: There’s one … What was his name? Jamie Oliver. If you Google ‘mussels from his granny’ or something. It’s very quick. I love that recipe. You have chopped up tomatoes, you make this paste and you let it cook slowly with fresh garlic and anchovies and then you cook it with pasta. Then, you throw mussels in. By the time they’re done, the pasta’s ready, and it’s ready to go.

[Ed.note: There are also some recipes on the farm’s website]

Jenn:          That sounds fabulous. Fiona, thank you again!

Fiona:        It’s been a pleasure!


Interview: Natalie Springuel, Maine Sea Grant

60 degrees, overcast, rainy, breezy

I met up with Natalie Springuel at Epi’s in Bar Harbor on a rainy November day. In 2002 Natalie had been part of a group that kayaked the entire coastline of the Gulf of Maine, from Provincetown, MA to Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia, so naturally in 2014 when I was developing the idea of the Coast Walk I turned to her for advice. (I figured she might know something about undertaking ambitious, challenging projects.)

We’ve been trying to get her onto a leg of the Coast Walk ever since, but tides, daylight, work schedules, and child-rearing have been too complicated so far. Still, she’s an amazing person and I’m determined to have you all meet her, so tada – introducing Natalie Springuel!

Jenn:        Let’s start with what Sea Grant is and what you do there.

Natalie:  Sure. It’s a federal-state partnership between NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Land and Sea Grant Institution in each … coastal and Great Lakes state. In our case it’s UMaine, but there are Sea Grant programs at UNH, at University of Maryland, whichever one is [the state] Land and Sea Grant university. It’s a similar model to cooperative extension – … taking university knowledge, transferring it to communities who need it …, identifying the research needs from communities and their needs for support … and bringing that back to the research world.

For Sea Grant, about half our funding comes from NOAA, the other half comes from the state through the university system and in turn half of that funding gets turned around into research dollars supporting all kinds of coastal and marine research. Also we have an extension program, which is what I’m a part of. Our extension team works with the researchers but also with communities. The mission is to support marine research, outreach, and education, with a focus on the sustainable use of coastal and marine resources. There are nine of us [on the extension team] scattered up and down the coast, housed at different institutions. I’m based at COA, we have someone at the Darling Center, we have someone in Eastport. We have folks scattered up and down the coast.

Jenn:        Cool! And what do you do?

Natalie:  I do all kinds of outreach and education programs related to coastal issues that tend to focus on fisheries heritage, working waterfronts, sustainable tourism, how we use the coast. I coordinate the Downeast Fisheries Trail,

I facilitate a lot of public process – we get called in to do facilitation for various meetings and issues. … A lot of them tend to be contentious issues, that need neutral brokers of information and collaboration. A couple of years ago I facilitated the big meeting that happened just off the island related to rockweed harvesting. That was an intense meeting. Probably about 80 people showed up and it was very tense because rockweed harvesting has been happening Downeast fairly significantly for a number of years, and has been happening up and down the coast for a long time, but there’ve been inroads into Gouldsboro and areas of Frenchman Bay. There’s some concern around what that’s going to do. Yeah, it was a pretty heated meeting.

Jenn:        It seems like there are more people doing the harvesting now … and they’re becoming more visible.

Natalie:  Exactly. Rockweed harvesting has been around for a long time, the thing that seems to be really growing is ‘sea vegetable’ harvesting, which is a much smaller percentage of the seaweed industry – people who harvest dulse and Irish moss and other species, and also the aquaculture of seaweed is growing pretty quickly. The seaweed issue [is] just much more in the public eye in the last few years. We coordinate aquaculture training programs: how to do aquaculture, how to do it sustainably, how to do it within the confines of a community’s ecosystem and the cultural and social carrying capacity of a community. We do that in partnership with a bunch of different organizations. That’s focused on shellfish and seaweed aquaculture. The teaching doesn’t focus on salmon aquaculture, that’s a whole different industry. Though our extension agent based in Eastport does work closely with the Salmon industry.

Jenn:        It seems like a much bigger impact.

Natalie:  And a much more capital-intensive undertaking as an entrepreneur. You need a ton of money and a ton of infrastructure to get started in salmon aquaculture. It’s really intensive versus shellfish or seaweed farming. People like you and I are starting shellfish and seaweed farms, attempting it on a small scale in a particular bay or cove that they can access more easily that doesn’t need a lot of space to try it for a year or two, see if they can figure it out, see if it works. The mistakes that you make along the way are a lot less …

Jenn:        Expensive.

Natalie:  Yeah, exactly. The repercussions of the mistakes. If you’re investing in salmon, you can’t start small. You need the big infrastructure right from the get-go. Shellfish and seaweed, you can really start at the small scale. Interestingly a lot of the people who have been taking the classes and who have been turning to us for support and help have been fishermen who are looking for other ways to make a living off the coast, recognizing that they might be making a lot of money in lobster right now but who knows if they will or will not in the future?

Jenn:        Diversifying.

Natalie:  Exactly. That’s a big part of the demographic of who we’ve been doing these classes with.

Jenn:        How did you get to a point where people trust you to run these things? How did you get known as a neutral?

Natalie:  That’s a great question! Sea Grant has been in Maine since the late 60s, early 70s, … For several decades there were much fewer players in the marine research and education field. Now there’s a ton of people involved in this work, which is great, but 20 years ago, 30 years ago, Sea Grant was one of the few organizations who were involved. We’ve been around for a long time, so there’s this understanding of the issues from the perspective of university research which we bring to the table. I’ve been with the program for 17.5 years. The team that I’m a part of is about 20 years old and we very deliberately work in the communities where we live and work. We don’t parachute in from away, we’re here. I run into people that I serve at the grocery store, … There’s very much a relationship-building perspective. Then we also are … really committed to not taking a particular stand on an issue, but transferring information about that issue. What are all the different dimensions of rockweed harvesting? Recognizing there’s a number of people who are really concerned about it, recognizing that there’s a number of people who make their living off of it. Really [making sure] when we convene gatherings and meetings and workshops and conferences, for example, that all the different interests are represented. That’s a really fundamental commitment of the program. I think over the years people have recognized that we walk the talk.

Jenn:        You just keep demonstrating.

Natalie:  Demonstrating over and over again that we’re totally committed to being neutral brokers and to helping identify what are the points of conflict that need information to help tease out a potential solution, rather than ‘here’s the information to solve it according to a particular angle.’ For example, a couple years ago I was asked by some property owners … to help facilitate a series of meetings about aquaculture because they were concerned about aquaculture. They shared with me the list of who they wanted at the meeting. I was like, “That’s great, all those people should be there, but you didn’t invite any aquaculture farmers.”

Jenn:        Seems like a pretty big omission.

Natalie:  Okay, let’s find the farmers that you’re concerned about and let’s help make some bridges and help you guys talk to each other.

Jenn:        That’s awesome.

Natalie:  Yeah, it’s great work. I love it. … Trust is fundamental to what we do – building that trust. … Here’s an example … I’m co-teaching a class at COA called Mapping Ocean Stories, where we’re doing oral histories with fishermen and others, and the students are collecting stories and collecting information about how fishermen use the water, what areas they use, territories, what they call the undersea ledges, all that very localized knowledge. The students have been engaged in interviewing people in Winter Harbor, on Islesford, and in Southwest Harbor.

My role is to be this liaison between the academic world and the communities. We have been working with one of the historical societies who have been really interested in capturing the fisheries history of their region and they would like to see what the students present before going any deeper. Playing that liaison role and building trust in communities is so critical to what we do. [We] are constantly identifying the points in whatever project we’re doing where we sense they’re not comfortable. ‘What’s happening here? What’s the issue?’ In this particular case …. I realized I need to slow the academic research train down because my colleagues at the college were like, “Let’s go, let’s set up more interviews, let’s move this forward.” My role was to [say], “Hold on, you’ve got some anxiety at the community level, they need more information, they need more understanding about what the college’s intent is.” …

Jenn:        People will clam up.

Natalie:  Right, exactly. … That same situation comes up all the time. Our role, in part, is to help zero in. ‘What are the needs at the community level? What are the points of anxiety? How can we help work through those points?’

Jenn:        Did you figure out what it was?

Natalie:  In this case it was concern that was left over from previous projects that were unrelated to the college. We had to tease it out.

Jenn:        What are you going to do with the results of the class?

Natalie:  The Southwest Harbor interviews are turning out to be really interesting in terms of how not just fishermen but recreational boaters, yachters, sailors, et cetera, use the waters in the Great Harbor, between Northeast, Southwest and the Cranberries, that waterway in there. What keeps coming up in those interviews is the small cruise ship controversy – that’s triggering people to talk about concerns that they have about boats coming in and not just small cruise ships but yachts and other boats that might move lobster gear and tie up the free movement of working vessels. We’re still trying to figure it out but we might have the students pull together a summary of what they’ve heard in some of those interviews and present it to the Harbor Committee in Southwest.

The Islesford interviews have been fascinating too, related to the same issue. … The students have been interviewing some of the guys in Islesford who have been fishing for a long time out there, who were involved in helping found the co-op. Islesford and Winter Harbor have been talking a lot about the changes in the lobster industry and where historically lobstermen had very specific territories of where they fished and if you were not part of that particular territory, you got your traps cut … While it’s still very true there’s also this, to quote one of the guys from Islesford, “wild wild West,” where they’re going off-shore. We’re really zeroing in on changes that have happened in the last three or four years where … many fishermen are going a lot further out than we ever realized.

Jenn:        That must have all kinds of repercussions for them.

Natalie:  They need bigger boats, they need probably two, sometimes three, sternmen.

Jenn:        Way more gear.

Natalie:  Bigger gear, heartier gear. Some of these traps are humongous. There’s generational changes where it tends to be some of the younger ones who are … the next generation of leaders in the lobster industry … going a little bit further out. It’s cool because up and down the coast, … in all different fishery circles people are like, “Yeah, there’s a lot more guys going out.” Through this process of oral history actually capturing who’s going out, where are they going. Having these conversations with a chart on the table enabling the fishermen to [show us] – It’s tricky because fishermen are really private about where they fish, understandably so. These are their business secrets. We’re trying to not get caught up on where do you, John Smith, personally fish, but where does the community of Winter Harbor fish, where does the community of Islesford fish, generalities of where they go. Some percentage goes offshore but more go offshore than used to. One guy was saying that relieves the pressure inshore, which is interesting because there’s some percentage of the fishermen that used to fish inshore and are now fishing offshore. However, lobstering has been so good and so lucrative now for the last 10 to 15 years that so many more people are into it. The competition is pretty fierce because there’s a lot of people.

Jenn:        Are people worrying about the stability of the stock?

Natalie:  Yeah. There is an assumption that it won’t go like this for forever. I don’t think we have talked to a single fisherman who doesn’t assume that it’s going to change at some point. You ask them ‘When do you think it’s going to change?’ … Not very many say it’s begun. Most of them are saying this year was a down year just because … not every year can be a record-breaking year, this is just a tiny slowdown. Most of them are not concerned that it’s happening right now, but they’re all saying 10 to 15 years. Some of them are hopeful – 30 years. Who knows? Everyone is aware that they’re completely dependent on one fishery, and if that goes belly-up they’re all really aware of the trauma that could happen. What’s interesting is that lobster has kept breaking records for, I’m going to say, 20 years now. The generation of fishermen who are young and really getting into it now have never known not having the opportunity to be involved in an industry that is continually booming. They’ve never known anything else. That’s a concern among the senior fishermen, who feel like the young guys don’t have this sense of ‘you have to … save for a rainy day.’ … Don’t overcapitalize on your boat because [if] you have a $300,000 mortgage to pay on your boat, what happens if you have five years where it’s slowed down? How do you pay that?

Jenn:        Is that how much lobster boats cost!?

Natalie:  Some of them that go offshore, yeah.

Jenn:        I had no idea.

Natalie:  Yeah, it’s intense. Big, beautiful … They have crazy engines. The older generation, the more traditional guys … not as many of them go offshore, a lot of them are like, “Let the next generation go offshore, it’s less crowded in here.” That’s what the Islesford guys were saying. A lot of the older guys are worried for sure. This can’t go on forever. They’re trying all kinds of creative things. The Islesford Co-op has been a real leader in terms of developing ways to get their lobster to market. If you check out their website they have a beautiful website, they have a very active Facebook presence, stuff that lobstermen didn’t used to do.

Lobstermen historically have just assumed that you sell to the dealer and off it goes and that’s it, ‘what I do is lobster and I don’t worry about all that other stuff.’ Some of them, like the Islesford Co-op in particular, have been trying to figure out ways to [say], ‘Okay, let’s not worry about the dealer, let’s keep the money in-house, let’s figure out ways to find markets.’ Are you familiar with the Skippers Program?

Jenn:        No.

Natalie:  It’s a high school program. … The Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, they’re based in Stonington, they initially teamed up with the Deer Isle-Stonington High School to create a high school program that was focused on kids who maybe come from fishing families or for whom traditional high school is not the ideal way for them to learn … They maybe assume that they’re going to grow up to be fishermen. They’ve created this whole program that is now in 12 high schools Downeast, it’s very cool. It focuses on teaching kids … everything you need to know to be a fisherman in the traditional sense of the term but also … today you can’t just be a fisherman and fish, you have to have an understanding of the regulations that are constantly changing, you have to be a policy wonk to be an effective fisherman. You have to be a business person, an entrepreneur, to be able to sell your catch. It’s a much more complex profession than it used to be 30 to 40 years ago. This program is preparing kids on all these different levels. The kids who come out of there theoretically could continue in fishing but they could become marine biologists, they could become extension agents, they could become any number of different things. They could go to college because they’re prepared. Yeah, it’s a very cool program. MDI High School is involved – they call it the Pathways Program. It’s cool. They want me to come in and do a one-hour oral history training because they want to go out and interview fishermen.

from the MDI Islander, May 1, 2018

Jenn:        Fabulous! Are you seeing more women going into the field? I have this anecdotal impression but –

Natalie:  I would say so, absolutely. One of the guys, I can’t remember if it was a guy from Islesford or Winter Harbor, his statement off the cuff was that 10% of lobstermen are women. … Certainly it’s growing. Stonington, for whatever reason, there’s an enclave of women lobstermen there who are vocal and engaged in the management process.

Jenn:        I know two girls at the high school who fish, one has her own boat, one does it with her sister. Both of their fathers are lobstermen and are so proud of their girls.

Natalie:  I bet. That’s cool.

Jenn:        The stuff from your class, are you going to be making that public anywhere?

Natalie:  Some of it, yes. The Winter Harbor Historical Society, we’re going on Thursday with the students who are going to present their work. They’ve taken the interviews and they’ve been using an online tool called Storymapping, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Storymapping, it started as a GIS tool taking maps and putting them within the context of a story. It’s a really cool tool that the students have used to share the stories they captured in interviews with Winter Harbor fishermen and community members

We’re giving the Historical Society all of the audio, all of the transcriptions and all of the finished products and everything so it will be up to them to decide what to do with the archives. I think that the historical society is going to be super excited about what the students have done. … It’s awesome to work with students in communities because by virtue of being students, they get to ask anything. It’s so fun to work with them because they’re willing to ask questions … For example, we have a student who’s from … Venezuela, I think. … She doesn’t know anything about lobstering, she’s like, “What’s a lobster car?” Stuff that in Maine not everybody knows but nobody wants to ask because they [think], “I should know.” Lobster car, I should know that that’s a storage container for lobsters while waiting for the market but … Anyway, it’s great to work with them because they uncover everything from the basics to the really in-depth. And COA students are constantly trying to understand all the different ramifications from social lenses and environmental lenses and ecological. They’re a fun group to work with.

Jenn:        I can’t wait to see what you do with all of these.

Natalie:  I know, I’m excited about it! The class is part of a larger project that COA, Sea Grant, and Island Institute are working on together called Mapping Ocean Stories. … We’re thinking about doing the class every two years but then in-between having interns who [continue] some of this work. It’s really exciting and there’s a little bit of funding to do it and a little bit of funding to cover some of my time to be really engaged in it. It’s great. Ultimately my goal is that everything produced through this project is archived for the public, either through the Maine Folklife Center or through the NOAA Voices of the Fisheries database, which is all online. That’s the ultimate goal.

Jenn:        While we’re talking about it, is there anyone I should talk to when I get to Southwest?

Natalie:  [Ralph Stanley] is fabulous. His wife is equally fabulous. I don’t know if you’ve encountered this in your work, but I love interviewing older women who always are like, “Why are you interviewing me? I don’t know anything,” but very self-effacing. There’s a generational gap there. Mid-career professional women versus 70-year-old women who have been the wife of the fisherman … A very big cultural difference. Once you get through that, they’re an amazing treasure trove of stories and knowledge. From a fisheries heritage perspective we tend to focus on the fishermen, but the fishermen are part of a larger fishing community. The women are the bearers of that cultural identity. There was a situation where I and two other researchers had lunch with Ralph and his wife and she was fabulous. We keep talking about ‘we need to interview all the older women.’

Natalie:  A few years ago I did a history of MDI’s cod fishery.

Jenn:        I read that, that was amazing by the way.

Natalie:  Thank you! My co-authors did all the historical stuff … We’re interested in the same topics but they’re interested in those topics from the late 1800s and early 1900s – fisheries and communities and what did fishermen and their families do to make a living back then. They’re fascinating.

Jenn:        Their catch tallies, my god.

Photo from “From Wealth to Poverty” by Springuel, Leavenworth, and Alexander (full info in Works Cited, below.)

Natalie:  Right, they’re the type of historical researchers who pore over ledgers from the boats in 1920. Fabulous, I love reading their reports, I totally don’t have the patience to do that. We teamed up because they were like, “We don’t have the time and the energy to sit down and interview people and pull out the stories.” We’re nicely matched. Anyhow, when I interviewed Jarvis Newman, this was four years ago, three years ago that we did this, at that point he was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. Cod fishermen are older, the fishery pretty much wrapped up in the 1990’s for our area, so the remaining fishermen are older and have not cod-fished in decades so their stories are really valuable. His daughter, Kathy Newman, was there and she helped him make connections. She had great stories herself. This was another woman who runs the boat-building business for the family and she does marine survey contracting. She has tons of memories from her childhood of being out on the water with her dad, going out to Mount Desert Rock to fish for cod and pollock and seeing the Russian vessels coming in before we had established the 200-mile zone to push the foreign vessels offshore. These women have incredible stories.

Jenn:        Is there anything going on you’re really excited about? It doesn’t have to be work, anything at all, any projects you’ve got.

Natalie:  The Mapping Ocean Stories project is really cool because it’s attempting to bridge the line between oral histories and mapping and using oral histories to display information about fishing grounds and about the relationship people have with place. It’s exciting on two levels, one being documenting and capturing this heritage before it goes away, before the seniors pass on, before there’s dramatic changes in the fishery that changes how people make a living and how people use the water. From a purely ‘documentation of heritage’ perspective. Then the other way is exploring ways to use this information to help inform decision-making. In so many decision-making processes on the coast … about offshore wind energy or aquaculture siting … there’s a lot of ‘we need to make sure to engage fishermen and get their take on this,’ but there’s a scale disconnect. Fishermen … have such an intense knowledge of their waterways, local fisheries knowledge, ecological knowledge, … from years of observation and doing and being within these waterways. That is really hard to capture and turn into data in a way that actually feeds into the [methods] that decision-makers make decisions about how the waterways will be used or not used. One of the things that we’re hoping to do is [work out] how you turn people’s stories into data to inform the decision-making process.

Jenn:        Yeah, how do you?

Natalie:  That’s part of the experimentation here. A lot of times decisions are based on spatial information on a map. If we can map how fishermen [use] a particular waterway … For example, that area between Northeast, Southwest and the Cranberries, if we over the course of the coming couple years can actually use data layers to show on a map ‘here’s where fishermen fish’ … When people have been talking about the cruise ships going in through that waterway there’s been a lot of mention of ‘it might disrupt fishing grounds and yachts might get [their propellers] tied up in a rope,’ or that sort of thing, but there isn’t this documented ‘here’s where the fishermen actually use the water.’

Jenn:        Right, here’s the density. … It’s four-dimensional mapping.

Natalie:  Exactly. That’s a really good way to describe it. Yeah, that’s been an exciting project and it’s new. We have students going down to a meeting in New Hampshire of the Northeast Regional Planning Body, which is very high level policy-wonkish federal and state agencies that are attempting to work together to … capture the uses of the waters around the Northeast, from New York to Maine. It’s potentially very useful for helping make decisions about things like offshore wind.

Jenn:        It’s also going to be crucial in things like mapping the shifting northward of the lobster population.

Natalie:  Exactly that kind of thing. One of the criticisms of this process over the last four years, this Northeast Regional Planning process, has been the scale issue. When you’re at this really higher level where you might say, “Let’s engage fishermen and figure out how these decisions might impact them,” this very local-scale information about how a fishing community relies on Frenchmen Bay, for example, or Hulls Cove in Frenchmen Bay, for example, that gets lost. It’s just not at a scale that the upper-level decision-making mechanisms that are now in place have anywhere for that information to feed in, but it’s so critical because these massive decisions that get made impact that local level. We’re trying to figure out how to help connect that. We’ve got four students, I think, going down to the New Hampshire meeting to share [what we’re doing] with these decision-makers.

Jenn:        That’s so cool.

Natalie:  Yeah. We’ll see where it goes, it’s still very new but it’s exciting and it’s different. … Right now there’s a lot of interest around storytelling and capturing stories like the Coast Walk, like so many different efforts, podcasts and videos and all that. Part of what we’re hoping to do is [figure out] how do you take these … amazing stories for the collection and the capture of heritage, how does then that information help inform the decision-making process? We’ll see.

Natalie:  I’m on the Bar Harbor Marine Resources Committee, … other towns call it the Shellfish Committee, we administer on behalf of the town of Bar Harbor how our shellfish resources are managed. There’s a conversation going on right now because of the way that the policy is interpreted at the municipal level versus the DMR level – we’ve had some debates within our meetings, especially our last one, around ‘should we be prioritizing our local guys or should our resource be open for others to come in.’ Another pretty big thing that I was involved with last spring, [was] the question around who has access to the intertidal zone adjoining Acadia National Park lands. Has that come up for you?

Jenn:        Hannah Weber had me up last spring to an intertidal stakeholders meeting up at Schoodic. It was a great meeting. On the mudflats.

Natalie:  It was actually in the field?

Jenn:        They introduced me as an artist and everybody looks at me like this. [Gives wicked side-eye.] Waiting for me to fall over in the mud. But I’ve worked out how to walk through most of this stuff. We had … I can’t remember his name. He’s a rockweed harvester. Then there were a couple of clammers and-

Natalie:  You had some wormers too

Jenn:        Yes, I was so excited! I didn’t know anything about marine worms. [Ed.note: I know a little bit now.]

Natalie:  That’s awesome. You went with Fred Johnson probably.

Jenn:        God, it’s been too long, I don’t remember anyone’s name now.

Natalie:  Yeah, Fred Johnson – the Parks Service had asked me to facilitate a bunch of the meetings that they had before that one. The very first meeting that we did, there were maybe 40 people and Fred walked in and we both looked at each other. I just assumed I had seen him at marine-related meetings. Then by the end of it I realized that back when I was just getting out of COA in ’90 or ’91, I was getting my Maine guide’s license and he was on my licensing board. He remembered me because at the time there were not a lot of women. [He said], “I remember we pushed you real hard.” I was like, “Yeah, you did.”

Jenn:        I totally forgot to ask you this, how did you end up at Sea Grant? You graduated COA…

Natalie:  Yup, graduated COA, guided kayak tours … and managed Coastal Kayaking Tours – the kayak operation of it. … I was with the outfitter for 10 or 12 years, something like that. In the winters went back and got my graduate degree and did other stuff. By the last bunch of years I was part of the management team. I was almost year-round and in that capacity was involved in helping develop the sea kayak guide exam and was really involved with the Statewide Guides Association and the Maine Island Trail.

I was working for the outfitter but getting really connected at a statewide level in a lot of these issues. Then I was feeling like, ‘okay, it’s time for me to do something different,’ and quite literally there was an ad in the Bar Harbor Times for a science writer for Sea Grant.

Jenn:        Wow!

Natalie:  I started as a science writer, and spent two years as part of their communications team. It was really very lucky that I saw it. I was doing a lot of writing at the time and have always been interested in communications. That was a good fit for two years, but I realized I couldn’t be sequestered in an office writing all the time. I’m more outward. I like to write but I like a combination of writing and interaction and supporting communities. At that time – we’ve talked about the Gulf of Maine Expedition.

Jenn:        That was so cool.

Natalie:  I was like, “Okay, I’m going to do this thing. I’m at a stage in my life where, if need be, I’m going to leave my job and do this thing and then figure out my career after.” I talked about it with my employers and that came at the right time – every four years NOAA evaluates all the Sea Grant programs – in the early 2000s we had just gotten evaluated and some of the things that I was proposing to do with the Gulf of Maine Expedition fit with some of the outreach priorities [from] the national office.

Jenn:        Serendipity.

Natalie:  It was serendipity for sure. It was the big life lesson of ‘put your idea out there and maybe it will go somewhere.’ Long story short, I ended up being supported to do the expedition by Sea Grant and then when I came back we redefined my job so that my job is extension as well as communication now. Nearly 18 years later here we are.

Jenn:        Goodness!

Natalie:  I know. It’s been good.

Jenn:        It’s fascinating how people end up [in their fields] …

Natalie:  We’ve talked all around the map! Thanks for interviewing me. It’s been fun.

Jenn:        Thanks for meeting with me.

Natalie:  Yeah, sure. I’ll see you soon!



MacDonald, Rich, ed. Gulf of Maine Expedition 2002: Final Report. color photocopied document, 2003. Downloadable here:

Shepherd, Samuel, “Skippers Student Project Aims to Track Changes in Lobster Fishery,” Mount Desert Islander, May 1, 2018. Accessed at on February 21, 2019.

Springuel, Natalie. “From Wealth to Poverty: The Rise and Fall of Cod around Mount Desert Island,” Chebacco, vol.XVI, 2015. Downloadable here:


Interview: Kristi and Matt Losquadro at the Saltair Inn

Oct 25, 2017: 60 degrees, raining, strong wind

Our next interviewees are Matt and Kristi Losquadro of the Saltair Inn on West Street in Bar Harbor. Saltair, built in 1887, began life as one of the Rusticator-era seaside summer cottages, just a couple of houses down from the Bar. Matt and Kristi were high school sweethearts in Virginia, and worked as a civil engineer and an FBI forensic examiner respectively before buying Saltair and moving to Maine in 2005. We have kids the same age, so we’ve been class parents together since kindergarten. We sat down together at the inn on a chilly October morning, with pouring rain and a strong wind whipping the trees by the shore.

Jenn:   I want to know things like how did you end up here, why’d you buy this house, what do you know about the history of the house? Random stuff.

Matt:   My folks moved here in ’92, and we started visiting them, and it was the only place that we both really felt like we wanted to keep coming back to. We’re not world travelers, we haven’t been all over the place, but we both really, really liked this place. Our jobs were fine in Virginia, but my commute was less than desirable. I had to go in towards DC with everybody else. Sometimes it would take a couple hours or more each way, so it was a pretty rough way to start your day, and to end it for that matter. I don’t know, it was just getting too busy.

Jenn:   You had both the girls at that point?

Matt:   Yeah. Two girls. We moved up here when Katie was five and Emily was almost two.

Kristi:   We decided we wanted to move here, then we looked at single-family homes, and we tried to find jobs. Matt wanted to build houses, and I could be a stay-at-home mom. I mistakenly at the time said, “What am I going to do all day? I don’t want to be a stay at home mom.” He was like, “You can have a book club, you can play cards, you can meet other moms.” I was like, “Oh my gosh, I don’t want to do that.” Now I look back and think, “Really? Do I want to work 12 hours a day instead of stay at home and have a book club and hang out with my kids?” I should have said yes to that.

Matt:   No, it was good you said no.

Kristi:   So then we decided on one trip, “Let’s look at inns. Maybe we could be innkeepers,” because Matt’s parents have been innkeepers. They were retired by then. I don’t know if you know Barry and Susan Schwartz, … they own the Hearthside Inn, we went to them and said, “Tell us about raising your kids in an inn. Is it horrible? What’s the worst part?” They convinced us that we could do it. Then we spent two years looking at inns all up and down the coast of Maine. Matt had spreadsheets on all the inns. This house was on the market, but [it wasn’t] an inn. We kind of had exhausted all [the available listings] – there was no room for kids, or they didn’t make enough money, or it was overpriced, or needed too much work. Then finally one trip we were like, “Let’s just go look at that Saltair,” because they had lowered the price. We walked in and we were like, “This is it.”

Matt:   We had come up that week to look at an inn in Camden, the Windward House. It was nice. It was a well-run business, but the owners had health issues so they were getting out.

Kristi:   It had a big owner’s quarters.

Matt:   A  generous owner’s quarters, the best we had seen so far. Most innkeepers don’t have kids. Either they never did or their kids are grown and gone, so they [just] need a bedroom and a bathroom and an office.

Jenn:   It seems like [all the other innkeepers] I know live in the basement, which you guys did for a while.

Kristi:   We did do that for a while.

Matt:   Five years.

Kristi:   But when we were looking at inns, we said, “We are not going to raise our kids living in a basement. We’re going to buy an inn that has good space.” That’s how we ended up here. Of course then we moved our kids to the basement after we moved in. This was out of our price range, a little more expensive, and it needed more work. It wasn’t a turnkey operation because it wasn’t an inn. We had to start from scratch, but it is still the only bed and breakfast on the water in downtown Bar Harbor, so we thought, “That’s a niche that nobody else has.” So we splurged.

Jenn:   You have that spectacular lawn.

Kristi:   That was kind of it. We started with four rooms and grew to five, and then to six, and then to eight.

Jenn:   Did you have to put all the bathrooms in?

Matt:   We put in two upstairs on the third floor and one down in the basement for us, but all the others were already here.

Kristi:   … Three of them we’ve gutted completely and redone.

Matt:   It was bad. Of the eight guest bathrooms, there’s only two we haven’t really gotten deep into.

Jenn:   You guys have done so much work on this place!

Kristi:   It’s been a lot. There’s always something to be done, and we keep finding more stuff to be done. At first we had to do hidden things, we had to rerun wiring and pipes. Not that the roof was hidden, but we had to do the roof. Then we flooded the basement twice, so we had to refinish the basement twice because that’s where we were living. People would say, “Your house needs to be painted, you need to do this deck over.” Yeah, but we had to do all this other stuff first. We finally got it. We’re in a good spot now, but even this winter, there’s two bathrooms that need to be redone. … We spent a lot on our own space, which most innkeepers probably wouldn’t do, but because we had the kids, we put that addition on. We could have bought a house in town and had a rental house like everybody else does for the money that we spent to put that addition on for ourselves, but it was worth it. It improved our whole quality of life. In the long run, it raised the value of the house too, but it’s not an immediate return.

Jenn:   It’s a quality of life thing.

Kristi:   Yes, it was really important.

Jenn:   You guys did such a nice job with it. If you didn’t know, it would be hard to pick out what was new.


Kristi:   That was Kay and Augusto. [Ed.note: of A4 Architecture.] They designed it, and they really did a good job. We had done a rough design, and then we went to Kay and Augusto. Then we were like, “Wouldn’t it be nice if you could access our space right from the kitchen like you would a regular house?” And Kay said, “Why don’t we just take this wall out.” Things that you don’t see, architects see.

Jenn:   It’s like they can see through a brick wall, literally.

Kristi:   It’s perfect for us. They had recommended a contractor from Machias, and he did a great job. We’re happy.

Jenn:   Are you guys still doing [the work yourselves]? Like the bathrooms that you’re remodeling this winter, are you doing the tiling and all? I know you’ve done most of the [renovations so far].

Kristi:   Yeah.

Matt:   Bathrooms we pretty much do ourselves.

Jenn:   I’m impressed. I’m so intimidated by tiling.

Matt:   I think we do a really good job.

Kristi:   We do a good job with the actual tiling. I don’t do a good job of cleaning after the tiling. There’s a couple rooms where you can see spots where I didn’t scrub well enough and now it’s permanent. You can’t scrape it off the floor. That’s me. By the time you’re done tiling and scrubbing, the last thing you want to do is scrub out that bathroom.

Matt:   This one we’re going to do this winter is going to be completely rearranged. It will probably go down to studs because we’ve made the mistake in the past of saying, “Let’s just do what we need to do in this bathroom. We don’t have to take that wall of sheetrock down,” or, “We don’t have to demo that area of the ceiling.” And it always comes back to bite you. We end up going down to studs anyway. That’s phase one, you put some plastic over the door and you take everything out. We’re going to move the tub. We’re going to move pretty much all the fixtures because it’s a big bathroom, but it’s just not laid out real well. Half of the bathroom is this enormous two person jacuzzi tub, which …

Kristi:   It’s on its way out.

Matt:   Yeah. It was probably great 15 years ago, but now it’s not new anymore. The tubs they make today are so much better. Even though they might be smaller, they’re more comfortable. We like air jet tubs as opposed to jacuzzi tubs so they don’t vibrate the whole house when they’re on.

Kristi:   But people want them. People want jacuzzi tubs.

Matt:   You know what, they just want a tub. If it’s a tub big enough for two people, that’s a bonus. I don’t think they care whether it’s jacuzzi or an effervescent bath. I think it’s going to be a much nicer bathroom when we’re done. Huge walk in shower, two shower heads, and a nice bath. A double vanity. We’re doubling the size of all the fixtures, but I think it will still feel like a big bath when you walk into it. It’s not going to be cramped.

Jenn:   It sounds luxurious.

Matt:   It’s going to be. It has issues right now, but that’s what we do. My uncle was here for a few days last week. He’s a retired banker, so we were talking to him about the projects we need to do, and it was his opinion that this one is the first on the list because I think raising the rate will pay it off in a year. Then by year two it’s extra money because you’ve already paid off the project. I think it’s smart to do it.

Jenn:   Just in time for Katie to start college, right?

Matt:   Yes. I look around at these other inns, and there are several inns in town that have rooms that are priced higher than ours. I see the imperfections in our rooms, but still, we’re the only inn on an acre of waterfront property. The rooms that we have are generous in size to say the least. It’s the little details. It’s the little scuff marks here. Or it’s a little frayed here, it’s a little crack in the wall there. They’re not perfect. She’s reluctant to raise the rates until the rooms are perfect. It wouldn’t take much.

Jenn:   It’s just finding the time and the energy to do it.

Kristi:   And the money.

Jenn:   Well, that too.

Kristi:   Well you know. People nitpick them, “This isn’t done, this isn’t done,” you want it to be perfect.

Jenn:   Show me your pictures?

Kristi:   This is from Mrs. Barnes, who lived here in the 1960s. Let’s say ’68. She and her daughters stopped by a few years ago … and they brought us these pictures. We walked them all around. They’re the ones who told us [about the original layout.] You think the house looks so big – how could one family live here? All this where we’re sitting was back porch, like a screened-in back porch, that corner down there. That was all a back porch. [Ed note: It’s now a spacious kitchen.]

Jenn:   Oh I see.

Kristi:   Then upstairs  … we had divided bedrooms, like this Harbor Suite up here was like a second floor living room that was all open with bedrooms along the outside. It didn’t have as many rooms and bathrooms. The master suite was the old living room, and the dining room was this whole section. It was still, obviously a really big home, but it wasn’t probably as palatial as it might feel now for a single family. Then we’ve also met the Simons family who lived here from 1976 to 86. … A lot of people in town know the kids, the Simons. Carol and John. People our age would say, “I spent the night at your house, or I used to go to parties at your house.”

Jenn:   Neat.

Kristi:   Carol comes every year now, and she stays with us. We met her like our first or second year. She came up and stayed for the weekend and talked about the house. Previous innkeepers had told us the house was haunted and there was a ghost. Then this guy, probably he was a little younger than us, who used to be friends with them, proposed to his wife here. He came and stayed here. He wouldn’t even go up to the third floor because when he was a little kid and friends with them, they used to take him up there and they would see ghosts. We thought, “Oh my god, the house is haunted.” Then Carol came and we met her, and she was like, “No, it was all a setup. They used to terrify this kid.”

Jenn:   Oh the poor kid!

Kristi:   We don’t think it’s haunted. We’ve had no ghosts here.

Matt:   We’ve had more people come in and say that it feels very pleasant, people that are very sensitive to that kind of energy. They know as soon as they walk in that they’re very comfortable here.

Kristi:   Nothing bad has happened, the house has got a happy vibe. We had a medium here.

Matt:   She seemed pretty serious.

Kristi:   We didn’t know she was [a medium.] She was a guest here for one night, and she came downstairs. We always say, “Did you sleep okay?” She said, “Well not really, but it’s not your fault. There was a spirit, a ghost kept waking me up all night and wanting to talk to me.” We were like, “What?!” She said it was a little girl who was standing at the foot of the bed, and it kept poking her in the foot, waking her up all night. … They came down early for coffee, so they’re talking about this over coffee. We didn’t really want to talk about it in front of everybody else because she might freak somebody out. Then they left right after breakfast, so we didn’t get much time to talk. She said the ghost isn’t necessarily from the house. Ghosts come to her because she is a medium, so the spirit could have just come to her. And nobody else in that room has ever experienced anything, so it was kind of freaky.

Kristi:   The previous innkeepers, they were Tony and Elaine, and they had run this as an inn in the late 90s. Elaine’s father had owned the house. … Elaine was a Farrar. Then they sold it to Tim Gott and his partner. They bought it as an investment to flip it. When we bought it, … there was no history passed to us, it was very much a business transaction. A couple months later, Tony, the old innkeeper, called us. He was like, “I saw your website.” Talked to us on the phone a little bit. Then right before he hung up he said, “Enjoy the ghost. That house is haunted.”

So I was all freaked out that we bought a haunted house, that we had a ghost. I would have thought before we bought the house that it would be cool, but when you’re living in a house and somebody tells you that there’s a ghost in your house? It freaked me out. For a few days, like a week, I wouldn’t go upstairs by myself. Then finally I went up to the third floor and I had this heart-to-heart with “the ghost,” and I said, “We just want to raise our family here, we want to take care of your house, we want to restore it to its beauty. You’re welcome to stay as long as you want, but please don’t ever reveal yourself to us.” He or she never has, and we’ll just keep it like that. So there’s either no ghost, or the ghost is respecting our wishes.

Matt:   Mm-hmm.

Kristi:   No ghost.

Jenn:   It’s funny, somebody told me when we bought our house that it was haunted. I was nine months pregnant at the time. You know how it is. It doesn’t take much to freak you out. I don’t believe in ghosts, … [but] for like the first 10 years I was listening to all the creaks going, “Is that a ghost? Am I wrong? Are there really ghosts?” I’ve never seen anything. I don’t believe it.

Kristi:   Right. No ghost.

Jenn:   I don’t think my house is haunted. I think she was just screwing with my mind.

Kristi:   I think that’s what he was doing, too. Or, I don’t know. He said that it was a lady who haunted the house, he would smell her perfume.

Jenn:   Interesting.

Kristi:   I will tell you, every once in a while, I will be sitting somewhere, and all of a sudden I’ll get a whiff of perfume, then I think, “Oh my god, is that it?” Then I think, “No, it’s not. It’s something else.” But every once in a while, I’ll be cleaning up in a guest room, or I’ll be down here, and I think, “What’s that smell?” Then it goes. I don’t believe it’s a ghost, but because he said it, it makes me stop and think about it every time.

Jenn:   It’s funny how even if you don’t actually believe it, you can’t get it out of your head.

Kristi:   Right. You can’t stop.

Undated photo, ca.1896, courtesy of Matt & Kristi Losquadro.


Kristi:   So this house was built in 1887 by William and Elizabeth Rice. Nobody knows a lot about them. Elizabeth Rice was on the board at the hospital, and kind of helped establish the hospital. I don’t know anything about him. We googled them and looked in all these history books. They built six houses on this street. Then they sold to Bleecker Banks who used to be the mayor of Albany, New York. His company I think published … law books.

Photo courtesy of Matt & Kristi Losquadro, source unknown.

Kristi:   You know Raymond Strout?

Jenn:   Yeah!

Kristi:   He brought us a floor plan of the house from 1896. This is from when Bleecker Banks bought the House. There’s a whole list of previous owners. Look how many times this house has been sold. Raymond has a whole ledger. This is a page out of his book that has all the sales and stuff in Bar Harbor.

Kristi:   Matt thinks a lot of these changes here were probably done by Bleecker Banks. A lot of these changes probably date back to the 1900s.

Jenn:   This is so cool!

Kristi:   Yeah he showed up one day. Raymond was friends with John Smolley who was doing our roof, and Raymond said to John, “I have some stuff from the Saltair, do you think that they would like it?” John was like, “They would love it.” So he framed it all up and brought it over, said, “Here would you like to buy this from me?” We were like, “Yes, yes we would.”

Jenn:   He’s a good businessman.

Kristi:   Yeah. All done up too, and ready to go.

Jenn:   He does such a great job. … The house looks so much smaller in this [floor plan.]

Matt:   It was. This is the sitting room with the Acadia suite, this is the bedroom for the Acadia suite, this is the bath, and then this is the Chart room. So that’s how that end of the house on the second floor changed. You can see this is just a roof. That was a roof over this patio. This is the master suite sitting room. This is our breakfast room, and we’re sitting right here in the kitchen. That used to be all outdoor porch.

Jenn:   Looks like they just kept enclosing it.

Matt:   Yeah, they just kept building walls farther and farther back. … There was an addition here, here, and here. I think they were all done by Bleecker Banks. I think this little pencil sketch here was Bleecker Banks sitting down with his architect or his builder saying, “I want to put a room right here.”

Jenn:   Oh yeah.

Matt:   Then when he did that I think he did that addition. This says ‘Passageway,’ but it was basically a hallway from the old back door, which is the door that most of our guests come in because it’s on the street side. They think it’s the front of the house, but this would have been the front of the house. Servants and deliveries would have come in here to the foyer and come down this hallway to the back staircase. That stair right behind the fridge goes down to the basement where they did most of the cooking, and then up to the third floor where their sleeping quarters were. This is labeled ‘servants’ room’, this is ‘dining room,’ so I think this is the servants’ dining room.

Jenn:   Oh I see.

Matt:   That’s where they had their meals. They slept up on the third floor, and they did most of the cooking downstairs. There was an old dumbwaiter here that’s still downstairs in the garage that came up near the dining room.

Kristi:   Let’s see what else we have. These are just lists of the ‘who’s who’ and says, “Mrs. Bleecker Banks gave a dinner on Thursday at Saltaire in honor of Justice Edward Patterson of New York. Those present were Mr. and Mrs. Morris Jesup, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Redmond, and Mr. Henry Grant.” The Jesups were here having dinner. “Mr. and Mrs. William Lawrence Green are the guests of Mr. and Mrs. Bleecker Banks of Saltair.” I can’t believe they used to write this in the newspaper. We found these as the Bar Harbor Times was putting their historical archives in the computer, so every couple years you could google ‘Saltair, Bar Harbor,’ and a new little ‘who’s who’ article would pop up. …  And that’s kind of it. We’ve been collecting [information], but we don’t know a lot. We’ve rewritten the history of the inn [for the website.]

From the Saltair website:

"Saltair" was built in 1887 as a guest house for William and Elizabeth Rice of Massachusetts and New York. Mr. Rice was an investor and businessman. Mrs. Rice was one of the founding benefactors of what is now the MDI Hospital. Saltair was one of six summer "cottages" the Rice's built in the section of West Street known as the West Street Historical District, which includes 17 properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. An expansive back lawn slopes gently from the rear of the inn to the water's edge. ... Saltair was designed by Boston architect Arthur Rotch, who designed over 15 other buildings in Bar Harbor, including St. Saviour's Episcopal Church located on Mt. Desert Street. ... Mr. Rice sold the home in 1896 to Anthony Bleecker Banks of Albany, NY. Mr. Banks was the President of Banks & Company, the publisher of the oldest law books published in the United States. He also served as mayor of Albany, NY in 1876. Mrs. Banks was Phoebe Wells. In 1926, the house was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Langhorne of Virginia and Washington D.C. Mr. Langhorne was a politician and Mrs. Langhorne was Mabel Johnson. Mr. Langhorne was a cousin of Lady Astor, society hostess and social critic who was the first woman seated on the British House of Commons in 1919. The next owners of the Saltair were Mr. and Mrs. Edward Browning. Mrs. Edward Browning, Ella, was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George McFadden and served on the Roscoe Jackson Memorial Laboratory Board of Trustees in 1953."

Kristi:   Matt was googling all the names of the owners. He was like, “Look, this guy went to VMI just like I did.” [That would be Marshall Langhorne and Virginia Military Institute.]

Jenn:   Isn’t it amazing how much is online these days?

Matt:   I couldn’t find a photograph of him. I really wanted to find like a picture in his cadet uniform or something like that. Couldn’t find one though.

[Ed.note: Drat, neither could I. I really wanted to surprise Matt! The most I could find was his VMI record, and this paragraph in the Register of the Department of State of 1912.]

Kristi:   There was a woman who had written a book – Walking Tour of Bar Harbor or something like that. Maybe she wrote the book about the historical walking tour, which had been published right when we bought the inn I think, and she stopped by once. … There used to be this West Street Owner’s Association, which really doesn’t exist [anymore]. At the time, she offered to research the history of all of our homes and put it all together for us, but nobody wanted to pay her to do it, so we didn’t do it.

Jenn:   Oh bummer.

Kristi:   When we moved onto the street, … the first group of neighbors that we lived here with weren’t so sure they wanted another bed and breakfast on their street. … We’re much friendlier now with all the owners on the street. They’ve all changed since we moved here.

Jenn:   What year was that?

Kristi:   2005 we moved here.

Jenn:   I’m just trying to think, isn’t the Kedge the only other bed and breakfast, or were there more?

Kristi:   The Tides was a bed and breakfast, right next door. Then the house on the corner was the Inn at Sunset and used to be owned by what was their last name? Smiths. The Smiths.

Matt:   Yeah, but that was not an inn when we moved here. It was previous to 2005.

Kristi:   Right. They all were closed except for the Tides. The Tides was operating …

Matt:   Until ’09.

Kristi:   Yeah, but not even really busy. They were just taking in guests more like as a hobby.

Jenn:   And the Kedge is closed now, isn’t it?

Kristi:   Yeah. Right, the same year … I think it had already been closed, but they bought it the same year we did.

Jenn:   A really big branch just fell off your tree.

Matt:   On the left?

Jenn:   Yeah.

Matt:   That’s actually not our tree. We don’t own any trees back here. Each of these trees is about a foot on that other side of the property line. Even that one right next to our chairs is a foot on that side.

Jenn:   So your property line runs like a diagonal? Well okay, then it fell off your neighbor’s tree.

Matt:   When they raised the canopy on all of these trees, that was probably seven years ago, you couldn’t see on the other side of those trees. The branches and the leaves came all the way down to the bushes. They limbed them all up, to improve their view, but at the same it opened up ours. Huge improvement. Then over here Mrs. Morell had allowed a whole row of Norway maples to grow up in this garden bed that kind of divides the two properties. I’m sure she did it for privacy purposes. They completely obscured any view we had to the west. When Joe and Jefferson bought that house, they asked us, just to be neighborly, how we would feel if they took down all those trees. It’s like, ‘yeah we’ve been wanting to do that for years but they weren’t our trees.’ So they took them all down and then raised the canopy down at the water.

Kristi:   Then the town decided maybe they wanted to turn that ferry terminal into a cruise ship terminal, and we thought, “Great, we just took out all the trees that blocked the ferry terminal.”

Matt:   It’s too bad we didn’t leave a couple of those trees.

Kristi:   The day after the vote – the vote last June where the town overwhelmingly voted to move forward – we came out, it was when we were out here in the morning, and we’re looking out on this beautiful summer morning, and Matt says, “Wow. You know what’s missing out there?” And I was totally unsuspecting, and I said, “No, what?” And he was like, “A big …” I’ll leave the bad word out.

Matt:   F’ing cruise ship.

Kristi:   Cruise ship. I was like oh god, seriously. That’s what’s missing from this view. It’s why I’m on the committee. Not to sabotage a pier, but just because I think it’s a huge decision that this town is making. You could forever be changing Bar Harbor, so make the right decision.

Matt:   We’ll move. I swear to God, I can’t look out back there and see boats like that. Not like that.

Jenn:   I don’t think anybody wants [a berthing pier.]

Kristi:   I think a berthing is only a good idea financially. Not for any other reason, but it makes the most money for the town. This whole pier process … some good ideas are emerging, like a multi use marina with a boat launch for kayakers and parking and a transportation center. Then a percentage of tendering there, which I think is good for Ocean Properties because nobody is even talking about taking all the tendering. Some people may feel, ‘yeah, take it all from them,’ but they’re running a good business down there. They don’t want to lose all their business.

Matt:   Unfortunately, we’ve got lots of sympathetic friends and acquaintances in the town, but not 5000 of them. We can’t hope that everybody comes by for a cup of coffee and sympathizes with how that change would affect us personally, speaking completely selfishly. I don’t think you can dispute that it would change this.

“Indian encampment at the foot of Bar/Bridge Street in Bar Harbor around 1881.” Photo from the Abbe Museum via Maine Memory Network.

Kristi:   Do we know anything else? We know it was an Indian encampment.

Jenn:   Yeah, I’ve seen pictures of that.

Kristi:   We talked with some people at the Abbe Museum about how they would love to dig up our backyard.

Jenn:   Are you guys up for that?

Kristi:   No.

Jenn:   Oh bummer.

Matt:   I went on a dig with the people from the Abbe years ago, and it was out in Goldsboro in this person’s backyard, and they took one meter square, ten centimeters deep, and they had a grid. Every year they came out and took meter one and then meter three and then meter five, and then came back for meter two and meter four. Sifted it all, found stuff, cataloged it. I said, “If you want to do it down by the bushes or something, I wouldn’t have a big problem with that.”

Jenn:   It’d be pretty cool. … It seems like if there was anything from the Wabanaki era [on your property] it would be pretty far down, because didn’t the town kick them off of here …

Kristi:   Before they built the houses.

[Ed.note: In 1881 the Bar Harbor Village Improvement Association pushed the encampment away from the Bar. Through 1889, it gradually moved to the west, ending up along the mouth of Eddy’s Brook. In 1890, after West Street was extended to Holland St., the VIA moved the camp to the southern edge of town, on the east side of Ledgelawn Ave, and encampments along the shore were banned in the property deeds. (Asticou’s Island Domain, p.325-329. ]

Kristi:    I’ve heard that when they built these houses they brought in what they call the ‘rich dirt.’ The dirt is really nice here … So yeah, it probably would be pretty far down.

Jenn:    Yeah. When you look at the old photos, the ground just slopes right down to the shore.

Matt:   If we ever got around to possibly doing some kind of retaining wall down there …

Kristi:   Then we could poke around. When the neighbors built their retaining wall, at the end of the day the contractors would all leave and it was a big disheveled mess and I would go down there and walk all through it.

Jenn:   Did you find anything good?

Kristi:   I didn’t find anything. I was looking for bottles or something cool, but I didn’t find anything. I didn’t want to be obvious either, digging around their yard.

Jenn:   Yeah.

Kristi:   But every time we rip down a wall [in this house], we dig around in there. We’ve found a couple old bottles, an old newspaper in the wall, but it was nothing interesting. We were doing the basement, and Matt was getting in the wall behind the fireplace in the basement. There was this cavity in there. When you looked in, there was this big wooden box in the wall, tucked in behind the fireplace.

Matt:   It didn’t fall back there. Somebody put the box back there and then built the wall.

Kristi:   Matt was like, “Oh my god, come down here.” He’s shining the flashlight, “This was deliberately put in the wall.” We’re all excited, we were ripping out the wall anyway, and then we hauled this big box out. It’s this big wooden box. We got all excited, you know, ‘here’s the moment we find the cool treasure,’ and we opened it, and it was empty.

Matt:   It was actually a crate, and on the side of it was the name of an olive oil company. It was a shipping crate.

Jenn:   What a disappointment!

Kristi:   I know, it was such a letdown! … And the upstairs hallway has a bench. You could tell that the bench used to open, but somebody had sealed it shut. A couple of years ago we pried it open. We thought we’d see what was inside, but it was empty too. No treasures yet. We’re waiting to find some treasures.

Jenn:   We’ve never found anything more interesting than bits of newspaper in the walls [of our house].

Jenn:    It’s pretty cool, digging around trying to figure it all out.

Matt:    I’m pretty much done digging.

[Ed.note: Their research was pretty thorough, and I’ve only got a few notes to add:

– The inn is part of the West Street Historic District, which is #80000226 on the National Register. More info on that here and here.

– The inn’s architects, Rotch and Tilden, also designed several other local buildings, including Chatwold for the Pulitzers (demolished), Sea Urchins (now part of COA Deering Commons), and St. Saviour’s.

– Bar Harbor Times, June 26, 1947, p.10. “In 1923, largely through the efforts of Major George G. McMurtry, Joseph Pulitzer and others, the Bar Harbor Yacht Club was organized with the late Edward Browning as its first commodore. If you were paying really close attention up above, you’ll know that Browning was one of the owners of Saltair. Remember him, because one of these days the Coast Walk will get round the island and we’ll be talking about the Yacht Club.

– And here is a link to the MDI Historical Society’s catalog of the island’s summer cottages: although it doesn’t have any more info on Saltair, it’s a useful resource.

end of Ed.note.]

Matt:    … We had two guests show up yesterday by kayak. I think they’re from Blue Hill, and they kayaked into Bass Harbor, and then yesterday morning they were going to kayak from Bass Harbor to here. They got as far as Seal Harbor and he started sinking.

Jenn:    Oh my goodness!

Matt:    There was a hole in his kayak. They found somebody with a boat that was nice enough to tow them all the way here, I guess. They arrived while I was plumbing, so I didn’t see them come up. His boat is being repaired. He’s got it in our garage right now up on sawhorses with some sort of repair material on it that takes two days to cure. I can’t get the washing machine past his boat right now, so that’s my excuse for not finishing the laundry room project today.

Matt:    I’m 99% sure you gave me back that bag of sea glass and stuff.

Jenn:    Oh yes.

Matt:    That little cherub is missing.

A few years ago, Matt commissioned a still life from me of Kristi’s favorite sea glass pieces as a surprise gift for her. I love the colors of sea glass she found – those purples take decades to form. Most purple sea glass starts out clear, and the manganese in the glass slowly turns purple with exposure to sunlight (to UV rays, specifically.) Sea glass is all about chemistry and patience! The star of the piece, though, is the tiny, headless china doll. This type of doll was popular in the late 19th century and was known as a Frozen Charlotte: the name comes from a ballad about a young girl named Charlotte who refused to wear a cloak over her party dress and consequently froze to death.


Jenn:    Oh no!

Matt:    I’m sure somebody took it home.

Jenn:    Oh that’s awful.

Matt:    Yes it is. That was like the coolest artifact, and we’ll never find another one. It’ll never come up again.

Kristi:    Yeah, I had it out there in my jar of cool stuff, and it disappeared.

Matt:    Now every time I look at … the picture that you did for us, I go hm.

Jenn:    I hope it doesn’t spoil the picture!

Matt:    No.

Kristi:    No.

Jenn:    But I am going to look at the picture a little differently now.

Kristi:    I know. It’s gone. One of these days maybe it’ll show up. Maybe it just got lost.

Matt:    Yeah, I don’t think so. I think somebody thought it was just a piece of beach trash, that it had no value, and so we wouldn’t miss it.

Kristi:    You miss it.

Matt:    I do.

Kristi:    It was the coolest thing we ever found. We didn’t even know how cool it was. Then we got the sea glass book that said what it was, and I was like, “Oh my god, I have one of these. It’s there in the book.”

Jenn:    That’s kind of a sad ending.

Kristi:    You’d never find something like that if you were looking for it.

Jenn:    I’ve never found one and I’ve been beachcombing here for more than 20 years now.

Kristi:    I know.

Jenn:    I should probably let you guys get back to your day.

Kristi:    Yeah. I don’t know what else we could tell you.

Jenn:    If you think of something, you know where I live.  Thank you, guys!



Prins, Harald E. L. and McBride, Bunny. Asticou’s Island Domain, vol.1. Northeast Region Ethnography Program, National Park Service, Boston, 2007.

Register of the Department of State. Washington, DC, Government Printing Office, October 15, 1912. Online:



So basically I have osteoarthritis in my right shoulder and all the cartilage on the head of my humerus has peeled off. That’s a photo of my bald spot up above on the right. My arm bone looks like Friar Tuck! In two weeks I’ll be having a shoulder replacement and I’ll be in a rig that immobilizes the whole arm for six weeks. Long story short, I’m not sure how much I’ll be posting here. I’m hoping I’ll be able to keep working on the interviews – there are still 9 that I haven’t posted yet, and they are awesome – wait til you meet all these cool people!

The shoulder’s pretty painful, which has slowed me down a lot, and most of my energy has gone into my day job of renovating and running a couple of vacation rentals, but I’ve managed to do a bit of photography around the edges, because I get really cranky when I don’t get into the studio for too long. Like being hangry, but with art. If you’d like to see what I’ve been up to when I’m not working on the Coast Walk, here’s the latest in the Beachcombing series,

and here are the latest floating seaweed shots:

I love this one – it reminds of the little Troll dolls from the 70s!


Interview: Maureen Fournier – the Champlain Society

Maureen Fournier is an Acadia National Park seasonal ranger (you may have met her on duty at the Village Green in Bar Harbor), a former medical librarian, and a volunteer researcher at the MDI Historical Society. We met at the Northeast Harbor Library on October 20, 2017 to talk about her work on the Champlain Society. It was a perfect fall day, although it felt more like September than late October: 59ºF (15ºC), bright sunshine, light breeze, and a cloudless blue sky.

You may need a little background info for this one:  The Champlain Society was a group of Harvard students who camped out on MDI each summer beginning in 1880 and conducted research on local natural history. It was started by Charles Eliot, Jr., whose father, Charles Eliot, Sr., had camped out on Calf Island with friends, and brought his family in 1871. The family returned most summers for several years. In 1880, Eliot, Jr. brought his college friends. In a nutshell, here’s why the Champlain Society is important to the Coast Walk: the students were some of the first recreational campers on the island (they helped start an industry); the Eliots were the first Rusticator family to build a summer home in Northeast Harbor (they helped start a summer colony); one of the society members, Edward Rand, eventually wrote The Flora of Mt. Desert Island (1894), which was the first comprehensive catalog of the island’s plants, and also produced a detailed map of the island to accompany the book (and the Coast Walk frequently refers to that map); Eliot, Jr. helped found the world’s first land trust in Massachusetts, which inspired Eliot, Sr. to become one of the driving forces behind the formation of Acadia National Park after the death of Eliot, Jr.; and the work that the society did still stands as a benchmark for comparative studies in how plant and animal populations here have changed over time. Not bad for a bunch of college kids on summer break. (For more details, see the articles I’ve listed in the bibliography at the end of this post)

From Left to Right: Samuel Eliot II – Meteorologist & “Hunter” – 17 years old in 1880. Samuel was the brother of Charles Eliot; George Dunbar – “Hunter” – 20 years old in 1880 – holding saw and hatchet; John Wakefield – Botanist – 20 years old in 1880; Charles Eliot – Director – 20 years old in 1880 – with sunglasses; William Dunbar – “Hunter”- 17 years old in 1880. William and George Dunbar were brothers; Orrin Donnell – Seaman – 21 years old in 1880 – standing with oar; Ernest Lovering – “Hunter”- 20 years old in 1880. Photo by Marshall Perry Slade, “Champlain Society Members at Camp Pemetic,” Southwest Harbor Public Library Digital Archive, accessed March 23, 2018, Item 9494

Maureen and I had never met in real life although we’ve been Facebook friends for a while, so we began by chatting a bit about mutual friends, the historical society, the joy of poking around in archives, and eventually, we worked our way around to the Coast Walk.

Jenn:          Right now, I’m at Robert’s Point, the east side of the harbor there, kind of coming around the point into the harbor.

Maureen:   You’re getting very close to the second camp for the Champlain Society [Ed.note: near the Asticou Inn]. … The first one … is over off Sargeant Drive, on the Sound. … Hadlock Brook comes down there. … That’s on private land. You’ve probably heard the name Catherine Schmitt (see bibliography), … she’s really the expert on everything to do with the Champlain Society, but the two of us were recently talking, and she said, “You know, I’d really like to trace that trail that they take from Lower Hadlock Pond down,” which is now through the golf course basically, to the stream, to the camp.

Jenn:          That would be cool!

Maureen:   It would be cool, but we probably need permission. …

Jenn:          It doesn’t hurt to ask. … Most people here are really interested in the history of the island. I’d say probably 80 percent of the people who I actually reach, say yes. Maybe even more. The people who say no are the ones who are really concerned about other people trespassing.

Maureen:   It might be a gateway for some other people to think they can go ahead and do that as well?

Jenn:          Right.

Jenn:          So, you’re a park ranger?

Maureen:   Right. I’m the ranger at the Village Green in Bar Harbor. I’ve been doing that for about eight years, but before [that] I was a medical librarian for 25 years.

Jenn:          Oh my gosh. No kidding.

Maureen:   My heart is with libraries, and national parks, and the outdoors. I got involved with MDI Historical Society just on a whim about four years ago. This is my home library, the Northeast Harbor Library, although I use them all. Brook Minor was here, and she got a grant through the Maine Humanities Council … to digitize or to add content to Maine Memory Network – I don’t know if you’re familiar with Maine Memory?

Jenn:          Oh yes, that’s an incredible resource.

Maureen:   [When that ended] … I said, “Look. I’m relatively free in the winter times. I would love to get involved on a volunteer level with something like this.” Next thing I know, I’m on this path with the Champlain Society, who I’d never heard of before. Met Catherine Schmitt. Then we started talking with Tim [Garrity] over at the Historical Society and realized that … there are 16 log books of the Champlain Society [and] they were not in a format yet that would be acceptable to Maine Memory Network. … That meant starting from scratch. Scanning them all. The transcripts have to be redone according to standard. That’s when I started working on that. I don’t know if you’ve been on Maine Memory Network lately or on even the MDI Historical Society website. A good number of the log books are up there.

Jenn:          I’ve been poking around through them. It’s amazing. They’re beautiful. You guys did some really high quality scans on those. You can really blow them up and look at the detail.

Maureen:   I’m still working on it. There’s one right now, I just [started] Wednesday at the Historical Society. … There’s seven or eight log books that [aren’t done] … The handwriting is difficult to read. … It’s fascinating. The stories. They laugh at me over at the historical society, because I just love these Harvard boys. I think they are the most fun group. You know how you get the college essay questions sometimes, ‘If you could have an interview with anybody, who would you like to [meet]?’ I would love to meet with one of the Champlain Society members.

Jenn:          I want to go over to the camp and hang out around the fire with them.

Maureen:   I know, I know! …  Sing songs with them. Their poetry was amazing. Their language, and their backgrounds, and the stories that they wrote … such creativity mixed with their scientific background. I mean, I think that their contributions to this island at such a point in the 1880’s, … what they contributed in the way of citizen science …

Jenn:          Rand in particular.

Maureen:   Their stuff was amazing. Right now, Catherine Schmitt is working on a book on the Champlain Society.

Jenn:          Oh, great!

Maureen:   Yes. We’ve had initial meetings to talk about that. Part of the book is what happened to the Champlain Society members after they left their camping experience here, then went back to Harvard. What became of them. Of course, Rand is very well known for his work on flora and fauna. His map of the island-

Map of Mount Desert Island, compiled for The Flora of Mt. Desert Island, Edward L. Rand, 1893

Jenn:          Yes! Which I use a lot.

Maureen:   Me too. I’ve got one hanging in my dining room. When you think about their contributions in citizen science, that alone gives them an incredible reputation as far as the history of the island. Then, they were just fun. They gave us a look, just a little bit of a look into society in the 1880’s on the island, and I look at the log books from the point of view of a very amateur historian. For instance, I knew of the story of a Mr. Howe who had been robbed in his buckboard, coming down from Green Mountain, which is Cadillac Mountain.

Jenn:          My god. Wow.

Maureen:   I knew of that story, but then to read about it as an account in the Champlain Society logbook. “Oh yeah, Mr. Howe was robbed.” Before, it could have been just urban legend. Just a story that had been passed down through oral histories, but then to see [it recorded in the notebooks], it actually happened. It’s a major, primary resource. … I do a lot of hiking on the island, and I hike a lot on the western side. I did not know there was a major fire over there in 1883.

Jenn:          I didn’t either!

Maureen:   Major fire. They could see it from here in Northeast Harbor. There were three or four days of entries that talk about the fire and what they could see. Oh, Garfield assassinated.

Jenn:          That’s in the log books?

Maureen:   That’s in the log books. “We picked up the paper in Southwest Harbor today and read of the shooting of President Garfield.” Actual historical accounts in their writing in the log book, I find … that’s … wow. That’s pretty incredible.

Jenn:          From the little poking around I’ve done, it seems like they have a really irreverent sense of humor.

Maureen:   Oh, that’s what I mean. I would love to sit down with them in their parlor tent and just listen.

“In the parlor tent, Champlain Society at Camp Pemetic, 1881. J. L. Wakefield, Spelman, S.A. Eliot, Rand, C. Eliot, Lovering.” Photo courtesy of MDI Historical Society, catalog 005.17.4

Jenn:          It gives you a real sense of them as people.

Maureen:   Exactly.

Jenn:          Not just as people, but as people at that [age] … college kids, you know?  That point when you’re kind of an adult, but you’re kind of not yet.

Maureen:   Right. I mean, it wasn’t all scientific research that they were doing. … These were young men. …They were the first campers, really on the island. They were thought of as a little exotic and strange.

Jenn:          The barbarians.

Maureen:   Oh yeah, the barbarians.

Jenn:          But the Harvard barbarians – barbarians with a pedigree.

Maureen:   Exactly. Interesting group. And then the group changed from year to year, so you had a new mix of humor, of conversation, of backgrounds; they put on plays, they were very involved in the social life here, so you have an up-front, personal look at society. On many levels, [the logbooks] are just a wonderful resource into that day and age.

Jenn:          One of the things that I’m interested in is … this sense that they were kind of seminal. There were a lot of connections coming out from the Champlain Society. The houses that got built and the people who came here because the Champlain Society had been here. The Eliots came first, and then they brought friends. Their friends grew up and got married, and some of them settled. Well, didn’t settle, but they had summer places here.

Maureen:   Right. Rand probably was the one that came back the longest period of time. Towards the year 1890, he was still compiling information on the island and especially the flora and fauna, and at that point, they were no longer camping. They were more involved … they were grown up now. In some of the later log books, … [Rand] was staying at the Central House in Somesville. He used that as a base, so you can see the difference between when they were in canvas tents [as college students.] Ten years later, now they’re grown up. Now they’re married. They’re spread out more. Toward the end of that decade of the 1880’s, their work wasn’t as prolific as it was in the beginning. In the beginning, it was a club broken up into divisions, and departments, and there was a captain. There was a secretary. They got together over the winter to plan the upcoming summer. They have logbooks of their meetings in Boston. And even [in] those records, you can see the progression of their maturity from being kid-like … with a club, up to more citizen science, and then more involved in general society.

It was a nice, easy progression. You could see the development of them as individuals, and of them as a group. I love reading their records from when they met over the winter time. They’d sometimes get together at hotels. There’s a hotel in Boston called Young’s Hotel. … They actually had menus set up for the event, and they had agendas. They were very, very particular and detailed about what they were going to do.

Jenn:          How many of them were there at that point?

Maureen:   … The membership changed. Generally, it was about a dozen in each summer’s event. Some didn’t stay the whole summer. Some would only pay for [a few weeks] … They each had to pay their individual way. That’s in the log books as well. There’s an accounting.

Jenn:          Oh, cool.

Maureen:   There is a treasury of the group, and there’s an accounting of how much the tents cost to rent, and storage, and the food. They also had a yacht called the Sunshine. That [belonged to] the Eliot family. In the early days, in the first camp at Camp Pemetic, which is the one on the Sound, some stayed on Sunshine right off shore. They used that and a dory to go back and forth [to] Southwest Harbor. They did not use Northeast Harbor as a base, as a place to shop, or to get provisions … Southwest Harbor was the major town and settlement at that point.

Jenn:          Wow. Okay.

Maureen:   Yeah, which is interesting. … It was a very short boat ride really over to Southwest Harbor. That’s how they got around. Oftentimes, they met the incoming members of the camp in Southwest Harbor at the landing there because the steamship would come into Southwest Harbor, rather than Bar Harbor and not Northeast Harbor. …

Jenn:          It’s funny, looking back, sometimes I get that sense that the island was turned around then. That for a long time, Southwest was-

Maureen:   Was the leading or the largest.

Jenn:          And they used to call Bar Harbor ‘the Back Side.’

Maureen:   Yeah. … I mean, that’s true. I think Hancock Point was another area that our visitors would land in. They’d take the train up the coast from Rockland, and they’d get to Ellsworth and take the train to Hancock Point … That’s when Bar Harbor started getting up and coming. Before that, you’re right, Southwest Harbor was it. There were steamships that went up the western side, so Seal Cove, Goose Cove had a landing from Ellsworth and Bangor.

Jenn:          Oh, wow.

Maureen:   There were ships that would land on that side.

Jenn:          I’m going to have to look for that. I had no idea.

Maureen:   Yeah. I know. In transcribing some of these log books, they would have place names mentioned in them, Goose Cove being one of them. The other place that I [noticed was] … Squid Cove. Both Catherine and I [researched] where that exactly is on the map.

[Since I didn’t know where Squid Cove was, either, I’ve included a map for you. Oddly enough, Edward Rand’s own map shows it as Goosemarsh Cove, even though earlier and later maps call it Squid Cove.] Detail of “Mount Desert Island,” Colby & Stuart, 1887. There’s a dotted line showing the steamboat route.

Maureen:   A lot of it’s on private land now, so you can’t access it. There are some wonderful photographs also in these log books. They’re on Maine Memory Network as well. One of the photographs I remember was up in the Squid Point area called High Head. It was a destination for people coming from the east side. They would take their buckboard over, or they’d walk. I mean, visitors then … I call them visitors, but they’re mostly summer residents. They would walk, much more than we do today, and there were times in fact, the Champlain Society would walk from Northeast Harbor, all the way up into what is now Somesville and come down the other side and [it would] take them half a day to walk over there. Then they’d take a boat back over to their camp.

Getting back to High Head, that was a destination, and there are some photographs of them and entries in the logbook about, “Oh, we’re going up to High Head today and enjoy a picnic.” Or something. That’s the time period. There’s a lot more walking. … They walked all [over] … doing what you’re doing actually. I was thinking about this. They were walking from Northeast Harbor, along the shore, up into Otter Creek and up along what is now Ocean Drive, out to Anemone Cave.

Jenn:          That is a long walk!

Maureen:   … They mentioned some of the hotels in Bar Harbor, that they would stay there.

Jenn:          I’m just trying to think, in 1880 a lot of those shore paths weren’t there yet. Those were more the 90’s.

Maureen:   [They would have taken] the road, rather than trails. … They would probably be going up right along what was the county road through Seal Harbor and not turning off onto Cooksey Drive.

Jenn:   So, going the other way, through the mountain pass there. Okay.

Maureen:          Yeah. There’s an old county road that cuts through Otter Creek … I found traces of this county road in Seal Harbor.

Jenn:   Yeah. It used to run through where Blackwoods is now. Down to where the Causeway is. There was a bridge occasionally.

Maureen:   You know when you’re going through Otter Creek … I don’t know if you noticed, right on Route 3 there, off to the right, as you’re heading north towards Bar Harbor, … you can almost trace an old road after the village of Otter Creek, heading towards Otter Cliff Road. You can see kind of an old road bed through there. That was the main thoroughfare through what was called the Gorge. You can see also traces of that old county road. I think there’s a road called the Old County Road in Seal Harbor. Anyway, you can see traces of the old county road also before you get to Cooksey Drive. You know when you pass the lower Day Mountain parking? In those woods on your left, there’s traces of an old road in there.

Jenn:          Cool!

Maureen:   It’s very cool. … They didn’t make a trail, but they did certainly make paths to where they wanted to go. The Asticou Trail, from Asticou to Jordan Pond House, that’s probably one of their earliest paths.

Jenn:          I’ve never walked that one.

Maureen:   … There’s a couple ways of accessing it. You could access it from Brown Mountain Gatehouse, but you could also access it behind the Thuya Gardens. There’s a path back in there that’ll take you up there. Then you get on Park property, and then it’s called the Asticou Jordan Pond Path. That was one of their earlier paths. There are paths up Sargent Mountain. When I’m hiking up Sargent, I’m always looking. I always wonder. This is the way they went or that was the way they went. I find it fascinating to be walking in their footsteps. … They were on Norumbega a lot, there’s some really funny stories about how they ended up in the blueberry bushes, ripping their pants and everything, coming down the east side of Norumbega, which they called Brown Mountain. I’m always looking for trails up on Norumbega because they were there in the Lower Hadlock Pond area a lot. That’s where they took their baths. I think it’s a water source now.

Jenn:          Oh, yeah.

Maureen:   I’m trying to connect it all. Bring it forward. … Just make that connection with them somehow. That’s exciting for me. … The more I started digitizing and helping with the transcriptions, the more I started just falling in love with these guys.

Jenn:          They have outsize personalities. Some of them stand out more than others. …

Maureen:   Yeah. I think Rand has so much talent. He’s the one most people think of. And certainly the captain, who was Charles Eliot. He seems to me, always to be the more sophisticated … fell into that leadership role very easily.

Jenn:          Well, it was his boat.

Maureen:   It was his boat, and the “ancestral home” being here. … [Ed. note: After the Eliot family built a summer home here, the logbooks refer to it as “The Ancestral” or “Ancestral Mansion.” Collegiate irony circa 1884.] But he definitely was a natural born leader as well. Rand is – beyond his work with flora and the mapping – his creative writing, his poetry, his storytelling, he was multi-faceted. … You know what is mind-boggling to me, is the difference in the education systems between then and now. You think, these folks here, of course they went to Harvard and they were Boston Brahmins, you know, blue bloods. They had really good educations. But, at that point, they were also studying the Classics, which is pretty much nonexistent today. Rand especially would incorporate that knowledge base, that love of the classics into his storytelling. He would write pages and pages of stories, using mythological or classical names and stories. He would incorporate that into his story of the Champlain Society. … They were a wonderful mix of the arts and the sciences. Really, when you think about it, they were so well-rounded, in their writing, especially. I enjoy them.

Jenn:          I’ve enjoyed the little bit I’ve read so far. I’m really looking forward to diving into this.

Maureen:   Yeah. I think when Catherine gets this book done, it’s going to be great, because then it can be put out there on a much more accessible level. … This was a copy of what we transcribed for the 1882 log. … The reason I brought this is because he gives a description of their Camp Asticou here in Northeast Harbor and where it was set up.

Jenn:          Neat.

Maureen:   There’s actually even a map, a little hand drawn map in the log book that I don’t have in here, but … You want me to read it to you?

Champlain Society Camp Asticou Log, Northeast Harbor, 1882. Photo courtesy of the MDI Historical Society.

Jenn:          Yeah. If you don’t mind. …

Maureen:   This is Camp Asticou, which is the second camp they had. … So if you’re standing on the porch of the Asticou Inn … it would be a little to your left on the embankment there.

Jenn:          Okay.

Maureen:   The other thing is, in the 1882 log, I think … ’82 or ’83, they put together, kind of like a Champlain Society time capsule, that’s what I would call it, in a tin bucket. … Notes on what they did that summer. … I can’t remember what else they put in this little tin bucket. I thought, man would I love to take a metal detector-

Jenn:          Did they bury it someplace?

Maureen:   They buried it back there somewhere.

Jenn:          Oh my-

Maureen:    Now, I don’t know when they built the houses that are there, … but I’ve often thought, boy would I love to just scour that shoreline there or up the embankment a little bit. In this passage, he talks about some rocks and boulders and things like that. I don’t even know if those boulders are there anymore. Okay, so this is the Asticou camp. [Ed.note: For those who only know the name ‘Asticou’ applied to the Inn and the Azalea Garden, it refers to the Asticou neighborhood, formerly the village of Asticou, at the head of the harbor. More on the history of Asticou in another post.]

“The camp is situated on the top of a high bank, just above Savage’s Wharf. The ground is rather uneven, especially under the parlor tent. On the west, the hill slopes greatly towards the cove at the head of the harbor, and on the south, the descent towards Savage’s Wharf is steep. On the north, there is a gentle slope. On the northeast and east, the site is bounded by a potato, etc. patch. Beyond this, the public road passes. The road is the great drawback to the place, but it is hoped that it will not be a nuisance. Mr. Townsend has almost made up his mind to face the curious gaze of Bar Harbor sirens, but laments the privacy of Camp Pemetic, now, alas, lost to the Champlain Society, for this summer at least. The tents all have a view down Northeast Harbor. From the parlor tent, you can see its whole length. … Savage’s house is very prominent, high on the hillside above the camp. From Savage’s the camp can be plainly seen as we sit at the table during our meals.” That year, when they moved [to Asticou], they no longer cooked for themselves. They went to Savage’s or to another place to get their meals. [Ed.note: ‘Savage’s house’ was roughly on the site of the present Asticou Inn.]

Jenn:          Sensible.

Maureen:  But to me, it’s also the natural progression. For the previous two or three summers, they’ve been really enjoying this camping experience, and then it got old. … They were still in tents, but you can see how they’re growing up a little bit. They’re mingling into society and not escaping from it in a tent. Although, they’re still saying that having the road nearby is not a good thing. They still are maintaining they want some privacy as campers.

“Visitors at Camp Pemetic on Somes Sound 1880.” Photo courtesy of the MDI Historical Society, catalog 005.17.8

Jenn:          Right.

Maureen:   … I think 1882 and 1881 are the most interesting logbooks to read. 1881 because they were so focused on what they were doing here. They were much more meticulous and detailed in what they wrote about, so the content is much more involved.

Jenn:          Is that their second year?

Maureen:   It would have been the third summer. There is a logbook from 1879. That’s when Charles Eliot, the son, came up with the Sunshine, and there is a logbook of meteorological data, which is very interesting. I know the park has been looking at that for the climate change issue, you know?

Jenn:          Yeah.

Maureen:   … To see the changes meteorologically, … even the effect on the types of fish that were here, the flora and fauna that are here now, versus what was there then. These are huge resources in the science field. You know? Because it shows you right there what the difference is. The change in the number of species of birds from then until now. Catherine … has been recently down at Harvard, and in their Natural History Museum they have the actual birds from Spelman.

Spelman Collection. Photo by me, but courtesy of the Museum of Comparative Zoology and ©President and Fellows of Harvard University because they have a crazy strict photo policy.

Jenn:          I’m actually going down to photograph them for her article.

Maureen:   Oh, you are? .. Tim did mention that you’re doing work for the next Chebacco, is that correct? Good. Yeah, your photographs are unbelievable.

Jenn:          Oh, thanks! This is a little different, the stuff for Chebacco. But it’ll be cool. Yeah, I’m going to go down and photograph the birds in early November. I’m so excited. [Ed.note: the 2018 issue of Chebacco will be officially available April 5, 2018. Order yours now!]

Maureen:   She sent me a picture, and … she said, “You can’t imagine the feeling.” There she was with her glove and that warbler in her hand. ‘Oh my god, it’s Spellman’s bird.’ We get very excited about it.

Spelman Bird Collection: Buteo latissimus, August 29, 1882. No.480. Photo by me, but courtesy of the Museum of Comparative Zoology and ©President and Fellows of Harvard University.

Jenn:          No. It’s even more immediate than their writing in a way. This is the bird that he collected himself-

Maureen:   Exactly. It’s that connection between now and then that it’s … You’re right. It’s immediate. It’s a wow moment.

Spelman Bird Collection: Actitis macularius, July 29, 1881. No.833. Photo by me, but courtesy of the Museum of Comparative Zoology and ©President and Fellows of Harvard University.

Jenn:          It’s kind of the point of a history collection in a lot of ways. That wow moment.

Maureen:   Making it come alive. Not just sitting in a museum somewhere. It’s alive to me.

Jenn:          You could probably find the entries that they wrote about each of those birds.

Maureen:   Oh, yes.

Jenn:          I can’t wait to see her article.

Maureen:   Yeah. I can’t either. She’s a very good writer. I’m blown away with the research that she does. I help with whatever I can or whatever she wants me to, but I love being involved with it. She’s definitely the expert on the whole thing.

Jenn:          I have to say, I’m really looking forward to this, partly because of the connection, but mostly because I get to go behind the scenes at a museum, and I get so excited about that.

Maureen:   Oh, I know. Exactly. I would like to schedule a trip down there. This reminds me, I got involved with Ron Epp on the George Dorr biography. [Ed.note: Creating Acadia National Park, The Biography of George Bucknam Dorr.] When I first started as a ranger, so eight years ago. … I was working as a volunteer in the interpretive division. Because of my interest in history, I was asked to conduct the interpretive program at Old Farm. … This was before the Champlain Society came onto my scene. I dove into everything George Dorr. I met Ron. I’m assuming you know who he is.

Jenn:          I know of him. I don’t know him personally.

Maureen:   Like Catherine is the expert on all Champlain Society, Ron Epp is … George Dorr, almost come to life. … He’s a former library director, and researcher, philosopher, he’s like a George Dorr in my mind. Anyway, he was the one I would go to for information so that I could … conduct this program. Then that started a friendship with him over the years, and then I got involved with his biography and helping him with that and doing some minor review of the manuscript. He asked me to write the forward for the book. … When he asked me, I was like, “Really?” Our friendship evolved. Of course, our admiration of everything George Dorr was what kept us very connected. This work for the Champlain Society is equally exciting to me. I feel like whatever I can do to push the whole story of the Champlain Society out for the public to see – I would certainly like to add that.

Jenn:          Well then, I definitely asked the right person.

Maureen:   I don’t know what I can do, but ask and I’ll let you know.

Jenn:          Do you want to show me the camps? …

Maureen:   … We could go to the Asticou Inn, … [and then] drive over to The Sound, and I’ll show you that field. Then, if you want, make a quick stop at the Historical Society, and I’ll show you the log books.

Jenn:          That’d be awesome!

We hopped in our cars and headed for the Asticou Inn.

PART 2 – Asticou

Jenn:          What a gorgeous day.

Maureen:   Oh, I love it here. So I can’t pinpoint the exact location, but from the description I want to say it’s down in this area here. [Ed.note: Down among the trees in the photo above.]

Champlain Society camp log, Northeast Harbor, 1884. Photo taken by the Champlain Society, probably 1883. “Camp Asticou and the Harbor from the roof of the new Harbor Cottage.” The Harbor Cottage was built in 1883 and stood in roughly the same place as the current Asticou Inn (which was constructed ca. 1901.) Their tents appear to be down by the Shellheap property. Photo courtesy of the MDI Historical Society.

Maureen:   You know they talk about, in a little hand drawn map, there’s Tent 1, Tent 2, Tent 3 and Tent 4. And Tent 2 maybe is next to this large boulder. What boulders are there now or were taken out when houses were built, I don’t know. But I want to say it was over in this area here, maybe a little further in that direction.

Jenn:          So it’s all woods now.

Maureen:   … I’ve never walked down in here so I don’t know. I need to research a little bit more where Savage’s Wharf was.

Jenn:          That was over here. …

Maureen:   And then would this have been the potato patch? Do you know? I’m not exactly sure where it fits.

Jenn:          Have you talked to Sam McGee?

Maureen:   No.

Jenn:          He … thinks that the camp was more or less on Story Litchfield’s property. … I think she’s the last private land before the Inn.

Maureen:   Okay. That would make sense. Then it talks about the gentle sloping, which is here.

Jenn:          Yes. That would have been very convenient for getting fed.

Maureen:   You know, I’ve sat here at various times during the summer, and looked out, and god, that bucket must be out there somewhere.

Jenn:          That would be such a score to turn that up if it hasn’t already been found.

Maureen:   Right. And like I said, I don’t know which house that was, or any of these houses, how old they are. I mean maybe Sam could shed some light on the history … I mean it’s probably pretty easily researched when these houses were built.

Jenn:          Well Sam definitely knows these up here. He is like an archive in his own right.

Maureen:   He’d be a great resource then. And he probably knows a lot about the Champlain Society as well?

Jenn:          Yes. Although, I think he comes at it from a different angle because he’s a Savage.

Maureen:   Oh, I didn’t know that!

Jenn:          Yes. Sam Savage McGee. So he’s got all the Savage history.

Maureen:   Nice. And that plays an important role in their Camp Asticou here. Because they talk about going to eat at “Savage’s” all the time. So which Savage is that?

Jenn:          I think it’s A.C. [Ed.note: Captain A.C. Savage began taking in boarders and providing meals in the 1870s, and built the first incarnation of the Asticou Inn in 1883. We met him previously in this interview with Sam McGee:  ]

Maureen:   Okay.

Jenn:          But it’s before this building. I’m pretty sure. I’ll be getting clearer on that as I work my way up here.

Maureen:   I’ve never followed that angle.

Jenn:          Yes. We’ve got to get you and Sam together.

Maureen:   Well that’s just going to blow my mind. And I think that’s the really cool thing the more you get into researching the history of this island. You go down certain paths, and then you meet more people. That have interesting tidbits of information …

Jenn:          Yes, that fits that missing piece of your puzzle! …

Maureen:   I don’t know anything really about the Savage family tree. I know there’s a lot to it.

Jenn:          I’m torn right now because I want to read everything about the Savages, and everything about the Champlain Society. It’s going to take me awhile through this area because there’s so much! [Ed.note: When I finally finish this project I’m going to award myself a PhD in Island Studies.]

Maureen:   Yes.

Jenn:          The Savages are fascinating people.

Maureen:          And I haven’t touched on that at all, so that would be a whole other ballgame So, which of the Savages did all the buildings?

Jenn:          Fred. So, he’s the son of the guy who built the inn. Which was AC.

Maureen:   Okay.

Jenn:          Captain, I think. And then Charles, who was, I think Fred’s brother, did Thuya and the Azalea Garden. [Ed.note: oops, no Fred was Charles’ uncle.]

Maureen:   You know who’s also very good with Savage history is Linda Thayer.

Jenn:          I don’t know her.

Maureen:   …  Linda is a docent at Thuya Gardens, and she knows an awful lot of Savage history as well. That’s what I mean, there’s people here that have their own base of knowledge, you know? And putting them all together is …

Jenn:          Finding places where they overlap.

Maureen:   Exactly.

Jenn:          Well, in a way that’s kind of what I’m trying to do is tease apart all the layers, as I do this walk, to find everything that happens in this one spot.

Maureen:   That’s ambitious.

Jenn:          No kidding!


PART 3 – Manchester Road/Hadlock Brook

Maureen:   So, this would’ve been Camp Pemetic.

Camp Pemetic, 1880 or 1881. Photo courtesy of the MDI Historical Society, catalog 005.17.13

Jenn:          No kidding? … Who owns this now?

Maureen:   I think this is Maine Coast Heritage. … [Pointing across the Sound.] So, that would be Flying Mountain, and then, St. Sauveur and Acadia Mountain. And … Sunshine would be moored out here. That picture, that photograph of them sitting at the head of the brook, would be to our right. … So that’s the Jesuit Field, across the sound.

Jenn:          Fernald Point.

Maureen:   Fernald Point, and they would just take the boat and then head right to Southwest Harbor. It was much easier for them … There was much more of a village life then … in Southwest Harbor. That was where they would do everything. I marvel at their access to the water, because it’s not-

Jenn:          It’s not exactly easy. [Ed.note: the field drops in a steep, crumbly embankment to the shore.] … I mean you can get down, but it’s quite a scramble.

Maureen:   Yeah. And they don’t really mention access. … It seemed like it was an easy walk, right to the boat.

Jenn:          How late in the season did they stay?

Maureen:   By Labor Day, they would be back at school.

Jenn:          That makes sense. …

Maureen:   Across that rocky ledge there, is the brook’s entrance into the sound.

Jenn:          Okay.

Maureen:   And that would have been the general vicinity where they sat and posed for the one photo. You can kind of see it down here. It feeds into the Sound.

“Champlain Society at Hadlock Brook: Rand, Hubbard, F. Wakefield, C. Eliot, Lovering, Dunbar, Spelman, S.A. Eliot ” 1881. Photo courtesy of the MDI Historical Society, catalog 005.17.2


PART 4 Historical Society

We drove up to the MDI Historical Society headquarters at the old schoolhouse in the town formerly known as Sound [a story for another post.] Maureen pulled the box of logbooks from the archives and we went through the contents.

Jenn:          Gosh, these are just beautiful artifacts.

Maureen:   Yeah, and they’re getting pretty fragile too. That’s one of the other concerns we have, but another reason why we’re working so hard to digitize them so [there’s] less handling of them. Some of them are logbooks. Some of them are meeting records from their winter meetings back in Boston. This would have been Edward Rand’s, he was the secretary the first few years, his report for the year 1882 to 83. They have logs of the yacht, so that would have been separate. Also in the same year they would have meeting records and more yacht’s log. This one is a good one, because it also has photos in it. The 1881.

Maureen:   So there was where we were, Camp Pemetic. … [Here’s a] summary of expenses.

Jenn:          Cool. They were pretty thorough. …

Maureen:   Some of these little blue books [are] meteorological records. Maine invertebrates. They were very thorough and meticulous about their record keeping. This one is kind of a beast to transcribe.

Jenn:          I bet. … It must have taken a fair amount of work to make some of that faint ink readable in the scans.

Maureen:   Yes. You had to tweak it a little bit. … They are getting fragile. One thought is “What do we do about that?” Do we leave it because this is the original? Do we get them rebound?

Jenn:          Oh no!

Maureen:   I know. But definitely reduce the number of times handled.

Jenn:          Yeah. The scanning will definitely will help with that.

Maureen:   Yup. I think so.

Jenn:          And now that that’s done, you need a real reason to come see the original.

Maureen:   Exactly.

Jenn:          What an amazing project.

Maureen:   It’s fun. I mean you have to enjoy that kinda stuff, and I do. So let me show you where this is, in case you … do you want to look at it any further?

Jenn:          No. I don’t want to handle those too much. But it’s really cool to have seen the originals. … So many treasures back here.

We took the box back into the archives storage area.

Maureen:   I know. Last winter Betsy and I were up here inventorying the larger objects. … This is what is left to be handled at some point. And what we would like to do … as far as the collection goes, is work with the textiles. Trying to make more room. Frankly I’m not sure how we want to handle the rest of [it].

Jenn:          It’s like trying to curate someone’s attic.

Maureen:   Yeah. There’s really no order to any of these textile boxes either. So that’s a definite need. … And then, you know we have a collection committee meeting every quarter. …


Jenn:          Are these all trophies?

Maureen:   … Bar Harbor high school trophies, basketball trophies.

Jenn:          What do you do with this stuff?

Maureen:   Well, that’s why I’m waiting for direction on that. … It should fall within the policy of the collection committee. What’s their relevance to the collection? Is there provenance? We always joke and say “Well, did … Abraham Somes have anything to do with it?” Anything with Somes’ name on it we keep.

Jenn:          Ah, look at all the little boat models too!

Maureen:   I know. And see that’s a thing I would need help with. Do we put that in a box? I don’t think so. Some of these things are not really boxable. So we’ll have to get some direction on that. I try not to get overwhelmed by it all. Those are the two rows that were filled with objects last winter. Now we’ve got a good number of them boxed. … So, I’ll maybe see you again in here.

Jenn:          Yeah, now that we’ve met we’ll probably start running into each other. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to show me all around.

Maureen:   Alright. Thanks so much Jenn. It was great.

Jenn:          And now we’ve finally met in real life!

Maureen:   It was beautiful weather and a nice day to share it.



Epp, Ronald. Creating Acadia National Park, The Biography of George Bucknam Dorr. Friends of Acadia, 2016.

MacKenzie, Caitlin McDonough. “The Changing Flora of Mount Desert Island“, Chebacco, volume XVI, 2015.

Rand, Edward L. and Redfield, John. Flora of Mount Desert Island, Maine. Cambridge: John Wilson and Son, 1894.

Rand, Edward L. “Map of Mount Desert Island, compiled for the Flora of Mt. Desert Island,” 1893.

Schmitt, Catherine and Fournier, Maureen, “The Champlain Society Transcriptions,” Friends of Acadia Journal, Spring 2015.

Schmitt, Catherine and Fournier, Maureen, Acadia’s Nineteenth-Century Origins“, Spring 2015, Friends of Acadia Journal.

Schmitt, Catherine, “Visionary Science of the “Harvard Barbarians”, Chebacco, volume XV, 2014.

Schmitt, Catherine. “Youth as Conservation Catalysts,” Island Journal, June 2, 2014. Accessed March 22,2018.

scans and transcriptions of the Champlain Society Logbooks are available on the MDI Historical Society’s website


Interview: Sam McGee – the Village of Asticou and the Savage family

On October 9, 2017, I met Sam McGee at his home in the Asticou neighborhood of Northeast Harbor. Sam is part of the 7th generation of the Savage family to live on Mount Desert Island, and is one of the family historians (Sam’s uncle, Rick Savage, is another, and you’ll be hearing from him in another interview.) His article on Maine Memory Net, “The Savage Family of Mount Desert,”  is a great starting point for anyone interested in the family. Since members of the Savage family were involved with Thuya Garden, the Asticou Inn, and the Asticou Azalea Garden, and since the family has lived in the Asticou area since 1820, he seemed like a pretty key person to consult about local history.

Rough boundaries of the Asticou neighborhood. I’m not clear on whether Lower Hadlock would be part of it or not.

Jenn:                … I’ve been doing some reading [to prep for talking to you,] like I read Down Memory Lane by Emily … Oh my gosh. She grew up at Asticou.

Sam:                Oh, Emily Kenney? [Ed.note: Emily was married a few times, so has various names in the archives. At the time she wrote Down Memory Lane, she was Emily Phillips Reynolds.]  Well, I think her last name might have been Kenney at one time … . She was older than my grandfather, but they were first cousins. I can barely remember her being alive, but I remember her. Her grandparents built the hotel, and so she grew up as a kid hanging around the hotel and was interested in history and wrote down a lot about it.

Jenn:                Yeah, her book is just charming. … She was talking about sledding down the ice … they’d slide down the hill into town.

Sam:                They used to harvest ice out of Lower Hadlock Pond, and there was a wooden sluiceway that went all the way down to the harbor to load the ice onto ships, and so the kids would get on there.

Jenn:                Oh, is that what she’s talking about?

Sam:                Yeah. The kids would basically take big trays from the hotel and go slide down that.

Jenn:                Oh, cool!

Sam:                My great-aunt who owned this place [Sam’s house, where we were talking] … talked about doing that as a kid. … I haven’t been able to find any physical remnants of that sluiceway, but it’s pretty interesting to think that it went all the way up to the pond from there. It came down on … the western side of the harbor. If you read the Champlain [Society] diary that I sent you, that was another point of orientation that helped me figure out where they were – they talked about looking back up towards … Ice House Hill or something like that … they could probably see [the ice house] back then because it was still there. …

Jenn:                You are like your own archive here!

Sam:                I know. Well, it’s just I’ve got all this stuff. I’ve been trying to digitize some of it, but it’s really unorganized right now. I need help. [Emily Reynolds’] mom wrote [a memoir] and it may be helpful for you later on because she talks a little bit about her Manchester ancestors… . When the Manchesters first settled there, it was right around the time of the war of 1812, and the British came and destroyed their property, killed and stole all their animals and stuff [except] apparently one cow that escaped into the woods. … I think her mom writes about that a little bit in that, in her [memoir].

Jenn:                Oh, I’d love to read that. Would you mind if I put some of these online on the blog?

Memoir by Cora Savage Phillips, mother of Emily Phillips Reynolds:

Early History + Personal Recollections of NEH Cora Savage Phillips


Sam:                Yeah, I don’t mind. I don’t think you really need permission from anybody because it’s hard to say who, so many generations later, who owns all this stuff.

Jenn:                Well, if anyone objected, I would just take it down.

Sam:                Yeah, I don’t think they’re going to because I think all the people that might get upset about it are dead!

Jenn:                [Laughs.] I shouldn’t laugh.

Sam:                No, it’s just time passes, and I believe if this is interesting to anybody other than me, then it should be shared. … Otherwise, this stuff’s just going to get lost. … My uncle, Rick Savage, and I talk a lot about it because in his generation, he’s kind of the family historian and I’m probably the next person who has any interest in it. He remembers Charles Savage and he remembers Emily and he spent a lot of time with both of them, gathering family history stuff. But at some point, [unless people pass these stories on,] that sort of link to the past would be lost, right? Because I barely knew both of them. I can remember them [from when I was a kid], but not enough to have a detailed conversation about family history or something. … Once you lose those ties, then you don’t have the personal recollection of all of that, and so it’s good to get it out there and for people to talk about it while they still remember the people who wrote it. …

Recollections of Grandfather+Grandmother Emily Phillips Reynolds 1982

For me, I feel lucky. I grew up in this neighborhood where I’ve got so much personal history in my mom’s family, … I didn’t know a lot of it until I was an adult or appreciate it as much. … One of the things that I think about every time I come down past Upper Hadlock Pond is Emily Kenney … in this memoir that she wrote… one time she talks about the fact that she was sick as a kid and her grandparents took her over to Bar Harbor to go to the doctor in the middle of winter, and that was an ordeal back then.

Jenn:                I imagine.

Sam:                I think at the time, they ended up spending the night at Fred Savage’s house on Atlantic Avenue because he had moved over there, remarried. It was kind of a scandal in the family because he divorced his first wife and left Northeast and went over to … Bar Harbor, but obviously whatever rift was there, it must not have been that bad because the grandparents took her to the doctor over there and spent the night. But then on the way back, … there was a [snow drift] at the top of Hadlock that tipped the [sleigh] over. I get the impression it was the first time she realized that her grandparents were mortal, you know what I mean? That they were getting a little bit older. Often when you go up that hill in a snowstorm [even today], … the snow will drift across the road at the southern end of the pond, and that image is really compelling to me …

I had specifically asked Sam if he had photos or records of the Asticou shoreline, so we started chatting about some materials he sent me about the Champlain Society. You may need some background here. The Champlain Society was a group of Harvard students led by Charles Eliot, Jr., who spent summers on Mount Desert Island studying natural history beginning in 1880. We will be learning a lot more about them in our next interview; until then, if you’d like to know more, this article is a good introduction: 

Sam:                If you read the history about the Champlain Society, the first summer they were over [on the Sound], but then they couldn’t secure access to that anymore, so they came over [to Asticou] – I’m pretty sure the first summer they were [at Asticou], which was 1882, they were down where Story Litchfield’s house is. I’m almost positive of it because … if you read the journal and the descriptions of where they are, they talked about being above what was called Savage’s Wharf. … There’s a little boathouse on the shore [now] and then her house up above. Down by the boathouse, there used to be a wharf. They talked a lot about being camped up above that. …

Jenn:                That seems pretty definitive.

“Attached is a picture from around 1927 which shows the boathouse when Savage’s wharf was still there next to the Savage boathouse, as well as Richard Estes’ dock and boathouse (still there). I think the Champlain society camped in 1882 just to the left (west) above the boathouse, roughly where Story Litchfield’s house now is. In the 1880’s the boathouse was not there, but the wharf was.” Photo and caption courtesy of Sam McGee.

Champlain Society camp log, Northeast Harbor, 1884. Photo taken by the Champlain Society, probably 1883. “Camp Asticou and the Harbor from the roof of the new Harbor Cottage.” The Harbor Cottage was built in 1883 and stood in roughly the same place as the current Asticou Inn (which was constructed ca. 1901.) Their tents appear to be down by the Shellheap property. Photo courtesy of the MDI Historical Society.

Sam:                Then the next year, the picture that I sent you that’s taken from the hotel, that was when the hotel had just been built. In 1883, they had just built the … first building, and … it looks like [the Champlain Society] tents are set up where the McIlhenny-Thompson property is, which is a little bit farther down. … It seems to me that they moved around wherever they were able to secure a space for the summer. I think that’s how the whole Eliot family ended up coming up here… . I think originally the father camped out on Calf Island over near Bar Harbor, but then the son came up here with all of his Harvard buddies, and then talked the father into [buying land] in that general vicinity, and … the people over at Coffeepot you talked to are all descended from that family. [Ed.note: that was Coast Walk 17.] …

Sam:                … Did you see the Chebacco for this year? … They reprinted A.C. Savage’s Memoirs of a Lifetime in the [2017 issue]. Rick Savage and I helped Tim Garrity try to identify places that are talked about in the [issue], and we went over to COA early this year and worked with Gordon [Longsworth.] [He’s] a map guru guy over there who’s got this fancy GIS program. He took old maps, overlaid them on newer maps, and helped pinpoint [places]. Rick and I tried to guess as best we could where the log cabin on the east side of Harbor Brook would’ve been and stuff like that. [Ed. note: Where the first Savage family cabin was: see Coast Walk 17 ] … A.C. Savage talks about [a time] when he was a little kid [that] he got sick…. His mother sent him down [to a family living near the current Shellheap property] to do an errand, and on the way back he became so dizzy … that he fell down and passed out. Probably right where the Asticou Dock is [now]. …

Jenn:                Poor kid!  [Ed.note: This was in 1840. A.C. had contracted typhus, which was going through the community. One of his brothers died of it. A.C. writes, “How plain I can remember the day I was taken sick! There was no road on the east side of the harbor at that time, so we had to walk along the edge of the water along the shore at low tide. When the tide was up we went by the wood road above the ledge where the Curtis road now is. The day I was taken sick, mother sent me down by the shore to go to aunt Harriet Pung’s. I went and did the errand and on my way home I became dizzy and fell off what we called “the big rocks” about half way from Pung Head to our wharf. After a time I got up cold and wet, the tide having flowed up around me, my face and head bleeding. However, I got home and was put to bed where I lay for several weeks.”]


Sam:                … When you think about it, so many things could go wrong where somebody could’ve died or drowned because they didn’t know how to swim. It’s like in the Champlain [Society] Journal, there’s one entry in there about how Fred Savage, the architect, he was probably … 15 years old or something, I’m guessing by the timeline. He was swimming down off the wharf and got a charlie horse and almost drowned, but the Champlain Society people saved him. … There’s barely a mention of it in this journal, but then I think to myself, if it weren’t for the Eliot family, he never would have been an architect.

From the Champlain Society Journal 1883, p.75: “While all were busy preparing for dinner, a sudden cry for help caused a rush for the shore. Sam who reached it first found Fred Savage in the water in an exhausted condition, and helped him out on to the float; cramp and inexperience in swimming had put in considerable danger of drowning.” Transcript and scans of the journal courtesy of MDI Historical Society via Maine Memory Network.

Jenn:                Right, and the physical history of the island would be different.

Sam:                Be completely different, yeah. Because it’s not just [saving him from drowning]. It’s also the fact that when [the Savages] started selling off lots and building summer houses for the Eliot family, Fred was working there as a carpenter and a day laborer and he got noticed by Eliot’s son-in-law, Robert Peabody, the architect, as being skilled. That’s how he ended up going down to Boston to be trained as an architect.

Jenn:                He worked at Peabody and Stearns didn’t he?

Sam:                Yes. … What I see [in] my family history is that way back early on, there was an emphasis on [education] – it was worth it to spend money on education. … I think his father would’ve helped parlay that meeting into encouraging Fred, ‘You should go to Boston. Don’t just stay here. You should go down there and get trained.’ Wow, what a big opportunity that was for somebody from very-rural-at-the-time Maine, you know? … yeah, you’re right. It changed the physical landscape of this town and Bar Harbor too, to some extent.

Jenn:                I mean, [Fred Savage] did the … well, it used to be the [Bar Harbor] school, but the town office, right?

Image courtesy of Special Collections, Raymond H. Fogler Library, DigitalCommons@UMaine,

Sam:                Yeah, that was one of his.

Jenn:                And the [Bar Harbor] fire station.

photos from Bryan, Maine Cottages, 2005.

Sam:                That was kind of one of his last things because… post World War I, people weren’t building as many summer homes, and so he started doing industrial projects because that’s what was out there for work.

Jenn:                I’m [thinking] back to your thread of how the Eliots influenced [the island], and … one of the things I’m finding on this walk is the way what happens in one generation has these repercussions that just grow. One of my favorite examples is the Charles Tracy expedition. Tracy was, I think, a New York lawyer, came up here with a big party of people [in 1855] … They were one of the first rusticator parties … . His daughter Fanny married J.P. Morgan and brought Morgan here on their honeymoon, which led to the Morgan Men [summering here] and half of the mansions that were built in Bar Harbor. … One of the Morgan Men was Fabbri, and his son [built] the radio station at Otter Cove, so there’s this crazy connection between these first rusticators in their ox cart and … the submarine station in Otter Cove.

Sam:                Which, if you think about it, [the generational continuity is] amazing: historically uninterrupted by time – because sometimes I think these things happen [in other places] and then three generations later, it goes away, but up here there’s still… well, if you look at Coffeepot [for example, the current owners] have to be seven generations or at least five [from] when the Eliots first came here.

Jenn:                Yeah. … Now you’ve got me thinking about the Eliot family and how they came here: this almost accidental coming-up-to-visit and then these huge repercussions. [Ed. note: So yeah, Eliot Senior goes camping one summer, brings his son the next year; the following year Eliot Junior brings his college friends, then Eliot Senior builds a house, the Eliots’ friends start visiting, and the next thing you know Northeast Harbor is a summer colony, Eliot Senior has helped create Acadia National Park, Robert Peabody has trained Fred Savage, Edward Rand has written The Flora of Mount Desert Island, and Fred Savage has defined the Shingle Style cottage on MDI. Heaven knows what else we’ll find. Stay tuned.] …

We wandered into discussion of non-Coast Walk things, and eventually came back around to demographic changes in Northeast Harbor:

Sam:                I often think, ‘Will my kids stay here at some point in their lives?’ or it might not be possible in terms of economics?

Jenn:                Yeah, but they might come back.

Sam:                They might, but I do think about affordability [and] the whole population of this particular village as part of Mount Desert. Even in the ’80s when I grew up here, I would describe it as peak population, and there were probably three times more year-round people that lived in the village – maybe it was 1,000 year-rounders in the village, and now it’s less than 300. When I was a kid, I can remember riding my bike downtown. You always easily found five or six other kids to play with, and it was a great little village because it’s got all this infrastructure. I think it’s a little different now. The infrastructure’s still there and that school’s still a magnet and the library’s still a magnet, but it’s much more of a commuter village and a commuter school, if you will, where kids get picked up and then they might go off to Somesville where real estate’s more affordable and middle class people can afford to live. It’s not the same as it was 30 years ago when I grew up and … my mom as a teacher could afford to live here. I don’t really think that’s feasible anymore. … But even given all that, I am always surprised at how resilient certain historical trends or family trees or whatever are around here. I think it is unusual compared to other parts of our country, which were historically up until very recently very mobile. I’ve been reading lately that Americans are a little less mobile than they used to be. … With industrial decline in our country, I think people are a little more stagnant than they used to be.

Jenn:                Well, I know for us, it’s a choice. … There was a time when we had to figure out, “Are we going to pursue our careers or are we going to do what it takes to stay here?”

Sam:                Yeah, and so you made the latter choice.

Jenn:                Yeah, which is why I’m now a [vacation] rental “mogul”. … That’s where I earn my living mostly. Photography brings in some money, but we certainly don’t live on that.

Sam:                The funny part is I don’t think that’s any different in some ways than the generations before us because they did whatever they had to do to get by.

Jenn:                Oh yeah, your family is classic.

Sam:                I think the whole getting into the hotel business here was an improvisation.

Jenn:                Yeah, and renting out boats at one point. Just whatever people wanted, they supplied. More or less.

Sam:                Because A.C. and Emily Savage, who I think of as the third generation, he was pretty much a schooner captain. I think of him as a glorified truck driver, right?

Jenn:                Yeah, he was coasting, right? [Ed.note: ‘coasting’ was the 19th century term for short-range shipping along the coast.]

Sam:                Yeah, and so he’s just delivering stuff up and down the coast. He might have deforested the hillside here and sold the logs to make money. Then he was in the Civil War, so he got to get out and see the world a little bit… [but] because he was in the Navy, I don’t think he saw much action. He was just patrolling the Potomac River. He came back home and then postwar it’s kind of like, “Well, what do we do now?” The steamship era started. He probably started to see, “My days might be numbered as a schooner captain,” then saw these educated kids coming up from Boston camping out in the field and buying dinner from him up at his house and he thought, “Oh, I’ll turn this into a cottage industry.” That’s how the hotel got built. It seemed like everybody moved out of their big house in the summer, rented it out. Lived wherever they could, … you know, that was just one way that you made money, and I think that’s still true around here to a large extent.

Jenn:                We do that.

Sam:                There’s good and bad I think probably that comes with all that.

Jenn:                Yeah. Well, the good is that you get to stay [on the island] and the bad is, well, it’s a pain in the butt.

Sam:                It’s disruptive, but I suppose your kids learn to be adaptable.

Jenn:                [shrugs] What it takes to stay on an island.

Photo courtesy of Sam McGee: “My mother, Marcia Savage, and my Uncle, John Savage on the front steps of the Red House around 1955, just after it was built.”

Jenn:                When you were growing up here, where did you live?

Sam:                I lived in the red house right down the road there apiece that my cousin Tom now lives in. It’s funny, I think about how many people lived there and originally, I think it was a little bit temporary in intention.

Jenn:                The house?

Photo courtesy of Sam McGee: “A picture of the barn in the 1930’s after it was moved from south of Cranberry Lodge, north to where the Red House now is.”

Sam:                Yeah. At one point, where that red house is, there was a huge barn that was there and the barn actually used to sit next to where Cranberry Lodge is, but apparently after the Asticou Inn burned in 1900, my grandfather’s grandfather was so worried that the barn might ever catch on fire that they moved it. The building is huge. I’ve got pictures of it. I can show you. I’ve got a picture here in the other room. This is only half of it.

Jenn:                Oh, wow.

“Left to Right: little girl: Mary “Mame” Savage on her mother’s lap (my great Aunt). I live in what was her house. Emily Nicholson Savage (my great-grandmother), John Chase Savage (my great-grandfather) – the horse he is holding … was named Jill, Richard “Dick” Savage (my maternal grandfather), John Nicholson Savage (great uncle), Samuel Savage (great uncle), hired hand, Harry Merchant. The barn to the left in the picture was moved from South of present day Cranberry Lodge to the northwest in Asticou Way to where my cousin Tom’s house now is.” Photo courtesy of Sam McGee.

Sam:                This is sitting kind of where the red house is now. That’s my grandfather. Those are his two older siblings, these are my great grandparents, and this is my Aunt Mame who owned this house. This picture was probably taken in 1911. When the horse and buggy era declined, and my great grandparents both died late ’30s, early 1940s, my grandfather and his brother and my aunt inherited the barn, and they kind of turned it into a storage garage for the taxi business. … They were school teachers in the winter and they had a chauffeur service in the summer, and in those days, people would come to the hotel and spend the whole summer there, and it was very formal. They’d have these Irish Catholic guys dressed up in black suits that were their chauffeurs, and so my family started giving summer lodging to the chauffeur people in various buildings around the neighborhood, storing the cars, taking care of them, all that, and so at some point, my grandfather got the idea of, “Well, I’m going to tear the barn down and we’re going to build a garage.” So they did, they tore the barn down and they used the leftover parts from the barn and built this really long garage to store all the cars in.

Jenn:                I think I’ve seen pictures of that. Oh, you know, your article, … “They should’ve built the houses on wheels?” I loved that.

Sam:                I talked about it a little bit in there. Then after the Bar Harbor fire, I think one of the places that survived was this mansion called the Stotesbury estate, which sat right where the ferry terminal is now.

Sam:                The Stotesbury Estate was so big that when they tore it down and sold off all the pieces of it, they actually had to have a magazine printed for when people came to bid on all the stuff. My grandfather used to brag that he spent $1,500 building the red house because he built it out of spare parts from the Stotesbury estate – he bought flooring, he bought windows, and the house has these big, really thick doors in it. He dragged my uncles over there and had them tear apart this junk and bring it over here, and they built that red house, and so that was the house my mom grew up in with her brothers, and then later on we moved into it when I was a kid. Now my cousin Tom lives there. I think my grandfather had always intended it to be somewhat temporary in nature – at the time both my grandparents were schoolteachers. They’d go to California in the winter and teach school out there, then drive across country every summer, come back here, and run the taxi business.

Jenn:                That sounds exhausting.

Sam:                It does. I think at a certain point they got tired of it. They did that for five or six years, and I think my grandfather at the time was probably reaching middle age and tired of hauling three kids out to California, teaching, and then coming back, so they originally built the red house as a place to stay in the summer when they ran the taxi business, but then it became their home. Then later on in life, my grandparents built the house down on the shore where Story Litchfield lives now and moved out, and that’s when ultimately we moved into the red house when I was a kid. It’s funny to me to think of this house that I think was sort of done in a very haphazard fashion has seen a lot of families come and go through it. … I get a kick out of it.

Jenn:                Is it kind of like every generation winterizes or puts a foundation under it or something? Like you did with this place?

Sam:                The red house does not have a great foundation under it, but it is winterized. … When we moved into it, my mom did renovate it quite a bit, and my sister used it as a summer rental for quite a while because she doesn’t live up here, and then my cousin Tom bought it from my sister. It is nice that it’s in the family and that there’s kids down the road. I like that.

Jenn:                Was there a neighborhood of people up here or was it all family?

Sam:                Mostly family, at least through my childhood. It’s becoming more and more seasonal as time goes on, this particular little neighborhood back in here, but it was all family at one time. The original property was 105 acres that went roughly down to the Asticou dock [and] all the way up over the hill. Do you know where the cemetery is up on the top of the hill? Well, if you go in the driveway right before Brown Mountain Gatehouse, it’s called Gatehouse Hill Road and you drive straight up, there’s a cemetery at the top of the hill. It’s mostly a community cemetery for people in Mount Desert, but technically it’s still a private cemetery that was created under a deed of trust by my great-great grandparents, and my uncle’s the successor trustee of it right now. Joseph Curtis was the one who laid out the plan for the cemetery. [Ed note: Curtis’ name may sound familiar – he built the terraces and lodge at Thuya Garden and donated the property to the town.] It’s got his name all over it because he was a civil engineer by training and did a lot of public projects down in Boston. … He would have been a rough contemporary with my great-great grandfather. They were both in the Civil War. They probably shared that common history with one another, and he was really, if not the first, then the second summer person to come up here besides the Eliots, and so my family sold land off to the Eliots and to Curtis and built some of the first summer houses for them. That’s another way they supplemented their income was selling off lots that used to be wood lots or whatever. Anyway, so the family property extended all the way up to where that cemetery was. My Uncle Rick still lives next to the cemetery. … When I was a kid, my mom’s younger brother John and his wife Diana lived up the hill from here, and they operated a riding stable.

Jenn:                Seriously? Cool.

Sam:                They taught kids English riding …, and they used to cater to all the summer people. As a kid, what I remember is that they had that operation going on up there. There were always summer people coming back and forth on this road dropping their kids off for riding lessons, and when we were kids, we all learned how to ride horses and kind of had the run of the neighborhood around here because it was still largely mostly in the family. My uncle always liked animals, so in addition to the horses, there were chickens or sometimes they had pigs up there.

Jenn:                It sounds awesome.

Sam:                It was fun. It was a great way to grow up … . A lot of times, you were doing chores to help out, but you got to play all these places. I have a sister who I grew up with and my Uncle John and Diana had two daughters … Melissa’s a year older than I am and was in Jen’s class [Sam’s wife], and my cousin Bethany is two years younger than I am. Those were contemporaries, and then my Uncle Rick had two children who lived next door in the gray house when you turn the corner in here. I have a cousin, Laura, who’s my age, and a cousin, Tom, who lives in the red house now who’s about four years younger than I am. We all grew up as six cousins with an age span apart of eight years maximum, and so we all played together. … Lots of shenanigans over in the Azalea Garden that I probably shouldn’t talk about. It was fun. It was a great, great way to grow up. We were always building forts and ice-skating.

Jenn:                Yeah, I ran with a pack of kids like that too.

Left to right: Tom Savage, Sam McGee, and Laura Savage skating on the pond at the Azalea Garden circa 1982.

Sam:                We used to go fishing over in the pond. It was a little bit less formal than it is now. Subsequent generations, these properties got sold out of the family and I think my cousin Tom and I are in a way the last holdouts…The dynamic of the neighborhood’s changed a little bit. … Then my other neighbors growing up were Charles and Katharine Savage. [Ed.note: Charles Savage designed the original Asticou Azalea Garden and the gardens at Thuya. He and Katharine also ran the Asticou Inn for about 30 years.] I don’t remember Charles as much because died in ’79, but Katharine lived to be 92 or 93 or something … so I knew her pretty well and as a kid growing up, she used to hire me to do chores like mow the lawn or help clean her basement out. I can remember going down there and Charles’ whole shop was set up in the basement where there were some unfinished carvings that he had done and he had a whole photography studio down there. He was a big stamp collector. I have some of his stamps that Katharine gave me over the years and old letters from the hotel and stuff like that.

Jenn:                Oh, cool!

Sam:                As a kid, I was always fascinated by all that stuff and maybe more interested than my contemporaries in it, but it was great, having her. She was a little bit formal as a person, but she and her husband ran that hotel single handedly for decades. Basically from the ’30s until the ’60s. It was pretty much all extended family in the neighborhood up through the ’80s, I would say. Things started getting sold off in the ’90s, some of it as a result of divorces and some of it as a result of demographic shifts and it being less and less affordable and more people buying places to be a summer residence.

Jenn:                Does it feel like a community in the summer when people are in residence? …

Sam:                Yeah, that’s a good question. In some ways, yeah, because the people that bought Katharine and Charles’ house – the house had fallen into decline and I thought somebody’d buy it and tear it down, honestly – but an architect bought it and he saved it – they’ve been great neighbors. … They come up in the spring and they go to North Carolina in the winter, so yeah, to some extent it definitely gets a little bit more active in the summer. … Then there’s of course the whole hotel operation, which seems to still muddle along.

Jenn:                Who should I talk to over there? Who would have the good stories?

Sam:                I don’t know because I think a lot of the people that had long history there have either moved on or died, honestly. It’s kind of this consortium of summer people that are … the shareholders in the hotel, and in recent years, they just hired the Acadia Corp to run the operation. I think Sue Kropf might be one of the people who’s in charge over there. You may want to chat with her a little bit. … I think it’s largely a board of mostly summer people that aren’t super involved with the day to day of it. They may have some history with it, but … it may be that the shareholder of today is a child or a grandchild of a shareholder of yesterday who helped save the hotel … [when it] was struggling financially in the early ’60s. … I think Charles got a little distracted with the projects up at Thuya and Azalea – they were passion projects for him – and even though he had the support of Rockefeller, I know he put a lot of his own time and money into it too. There was also a huge hotel downtown called the Kimball House that the Kimball family owned … . [You should talk to] Alex Kimball, who’s Danny’s son. I think what ended up happening is this corporation formed of summer people that cared about it, plus members of the Kimball family, and they decided, ‘well, we’re going to be able to save the Asticou Inn, but Kimball House has got to go,’ and they tore it down. It was one of these big grand dame hotels just like the Asticou.

Jenn:                That’s so sad.

Sam:                … I think a lot of things changed post-war. How tourism was done changed. People came up by automobile. There was more of the middle class that might come post-Bar-Harbor-fire and stay at a motor hotel, and that was the way that you traveled, right? Even over here, summer people either built their own places or they didn’t stay at the hotel for a month [anymore] like they did a generation before, so a lot of these ancillary services started to fall off. Eventually my grandfather didn’t do the taxi business anymore and didn’t store as many people’s cars and definitely wasn’t housing … chauffeurs wearing black tie, you know? … [The hotel] used to be very formal – Charles didn’t allow alcohol over there.

Jenn:                Really?

Sam:                That would’ve been verboten. … The fact that they serve alcohol over there now, he’d probably be rolling over in his grave about it. …

Another digression, and then we started talking about the path that used to run from the Asticou Landing to Seal Harbor.

Path to Seal Harbor from Asticou Landing, ca.1940-1950. Photo courtesy of Sam McGee.

Sam:                One of the things you might notice when you’re down there is that if you take that sidewalk that goes down to the Asticou dock, the path used to keep going.

Jenn:                Yeah, Rodney was telling me about that.

Sam:                You can see some remnants of it when you’re down there. I’m sure you’ll notice it, but my mom told me … when she was a teenager still that there used to be this series of sidewalks that went all the way to Seal Harbor from here. I think some of them went up across people’s properties and that there were little wooden bridges here and there.

Jenn:                Oh, what fun!

Sam:                They widened the road at some point – I think it was either the late ’50s or early ’60s that that happened – and so a lot of that got wiped out just because there was no room for it, but I think you’re going to see some sort of archeological remnants, if you will, of that path. Especially down by the Thompson’s property and all the way to the dock. That’s worth checking out. I think … you’ll see little pieces of where they fenced it off, kind of like they did up at the terraces. It’s cool to think about the fact that it was a little bit safer to get there than it is now. … Mom told me that when she would babysit for summer kids over at the Seaside Inn that she could ride her bicycle from here to there on the sidewalk.

Jenn:                If only we could still do that.

Sam:                … Apparently over near Harbor Brook, there used to be a campground.

Jenn:                Really?

Sam:                Yeah. As you’re going up the hill, before you get to the parking lot, the upper parking lot for Little Long Pond, some of that property on the left I think was at one point a commercial campground.

Jenn:                You’re kidding.

Sam:                For a very short period of time. Probably in the ’40s and ’50s. You don’t think about [recording] this stuff, and there’s certain periods … when things just aren’t that well documented, you know? Some of it’s overwhelming. There’s plenty of [documentation for some things], but there are other periods where people probably didn’t think it was going to last or it wasn’t that important to document things.

Jenn:                Yeah. You need to write down your childhood memories of growing up here.

Sam:                I plan to at some point, but I’m not quite there yet.

Jenn:                Well, it’d be really neat to see the different generations’ memories of the same place.

Sam:                Yeah, absolutely.

Jenn:                My mom’s an immigrant, and on my father’s side, his father came to this country from Ireland, and [Dad’s] mother was born here, but his grandparents weren’t. We’re all pretty recent, so I’m just fascinated by this history of people who have stayed in one place. …

Sam:                I think that’s more normal for a lot of people than staying in one place. For sure. I often think about it – at some point, some people in my family, in my mom’s family, were immigrants too. As I understand it, the John Savage who first came here and settled at Harbor Brook was a Protestant Scottish immigrant. I think in his lifetime, the choice was, “I can either basically stay an indentured servant or I can, as a 14 year old, jump on this boat and go to America and take my chances,” … Things must have been pretty extreme for you to [take that risk] … Or you must have thought that the opportunity was so great that even at that young age, you decided, ‘I’m out of here.’ Right?

Jenn:                Yeah, my grandfather came over at 18 for the same reason. …

Sam:                I think that my great-grandmother, who married into the Savage family on my mom’s side, she was a first generation American, an Irish immigrant in Philadelphia who came up here and worked for their summer lady who stayed at the hotel, and that’s how she met my great-grandfather.

Jenn:                Oh, that’s so romantic!

Sam:                Yeah, so a lot of these people were imports of one kind or another.

Jenn:                Well, you need us for the gene pool, right?

Sam:                Right. Somehow, I’m related through marriage to Dan Falt. There’s this whole line of Falts who are really from Nova Scotia that came down here and worked. They were immigrants that worked at the hotel, and some of them ended up staying and marrying into the family. …

Jenn:                I just hope our kids can manage to stay.

Sam:                Yeah, that’s what I think about a lot. I hope if it was something that they wanted to do, that it could be an option for them. …

Jenn:                Yeah. I think they need to go away first.

Sam:                Oh, yeah.

Jenn:                Then come back.

Sam:                I think that’s a really good thing to do. I did it. I was gone for a while, and I think it’s a great way to get some perspective on things.

Jenn:                Yeah. That’s what Brian did. He went away, found a wife, brought me back.

Sam:                Yeah, I joke [about that] with some of my island friends that I grew up with . My friend Chris Dorr, who grew up in Bar Harbor, he’s like, “Yeah, the pull of the mothership is pretty strong.” He’s so right about that.

Jenn:                We were fine traveling around for years and then it was like, “We should probably have kids sometime soon,” and bam, back on the island.

Sam:                You know, that can definitely be a driving force. I know for us, we would come up here in the summers and at the time we were renting this place out just to pay for it, and at one point you’re like, “Wow. Seems like the school system’s great.” … We thought that it’d be a really cool place for the kids to grow up and experience something a little different.

Jenn:                It is an awesome place to be a kid. It’s also, I have to say, a good place to be a parent. There’s a really strong community. …

Sam:                Yeah, definitely.

Sam:                I’m a little bit of a map collector … You’ve probably seen this map before, but I love this one.

Jenn:                Oh, is this the 1807?

Sam:                Yeah, it’s a copy of the Peters map.

Jenn:                Oh, fantastic. I’ve only seen tiny reproductions of it. …

Sam:                This is that French line that they talk about that divides the title to the eastern side of the island separate from the western side.

Jenn:                Yeah, this is all De Gregoire, right? [Ed.note: Louis XIV granted ownership of MDI to Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, an officer of his army, in 1688. In 1787, the newly-formed USA confirmed the grant to his granddaughter, Marie Therese de la Mothe Cadillac de Gregoire. Her name survives in a Hulls Cove neighborhood and street, where it is usually spelled DeGregoire or Degregoire.]

Sam:                Yeah, you would’ve had to get your title from de Gregoire ultimately if you were over here.

Jenn:                Well, I thought, wasn’t this English down here? No?

Sam:                No. What happened I think is that de Gregoires had it, and at first, you might have gotten your lot from them and the Manchester side of the family. The deeds go right from the de Gregoires to them, the early ones, but the later settlers, there was this rich guy named William Bingham that bought out all of the de Gregoire.

Jenn:                That’s who I’m thinking of.

Sam:                Once you needed clear title, you had to go buy your deed from Bingham’s estate. It took me forever to find the deed to this property. … I searched the Hancock County registry. I had a file here at the house that my mom had, and I could get the chain of title back to just before 1900 … I’ve been told informally that it was around 1818 that the second generation of Savage and his brother-in-law, William Roberts, who came from Seal Harbor, bought this property … . The problem was that they had the deed, but they didn’t record it for another 20 years.

Jenn:                Oh gosh.

Sam:                It was like hunting for a needle in a haystack. I finally found it – those early deeds are handwritten, so they’re not indexed very well. It’s not like you could ‘control-find’ a person’s name because it’s done in penmanship.

Jenn:                Where did you finally find it?

Sam:                There’s some guy that did a website where he researched all these lots and found the deeds []  …, and he did all the Salem lots over in Southwest, plus a lot of the stuff on here, and I finally found it [there.] It just didn’t get recorded until the 1840s.

Jenn:    Wow. It’s so cool going back through the original documents. … My favorite map on the whole island is that enormous hand-drawn one in the basement of the library. … I can stare at that for hours because it has so many personal notations on it.

Sam:                Yeah, that’s great. … Sometimes I use these to help me figure out timelines if I’m reading something.

Jenn:                Yes! Because so many things that you read, they’re like, “We were near so-and-so’s property,” or “This was located just above so-and-so’s house,” and you’re like, “Okay, so we’re in 1872, which means the so-and-sos lived there” [and you get your bearings.] …

Sam:                … My second cousin, … Charles’ son, Ken, just passed away, but Ken had this original oil painting in his house, and so to give you an idea, this is where the hotel is now. That’s Cranberry Lodge, and this is my house when it was attached to Cranberry.

Jenn:                Oh my goodness.

Sam:                This was done from memory by a son-in-law who was a doctor down in Portland, but you can see how denuded the hillside was back then.

Jenn:                Yeah. It’s not even recognizable [as] the same place. …

Sam:                I am trying to digitize a lot of this stuff before it gets lost, but I’ve got a file cabinet down in the basement. It’s just full of stuff. I even have my aunt’s slides who lived here. I haven’t even gotten there yet.

We poked around in Sam’s collection of photos but it was time for me to go, so we agreed that I would have to come back and we’d spend some time going through his archives. I think we could have talked local history for hours.

Jenn:                Well, thank you so much for taking all this time to talk with me!




Baldwin, Letitia. Asticou Azalea Garden. Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve, 2008.

Baldwin, Letitia. Thuya Garden: Asticou Terraces & Thuya Lodge. Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve, 2008.

Brown, Margaret and Vekasi, Jim. Pathmakers: Cultural Landscape Report for the Historic Hiking Trail System of Mount Desert Island. Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation/National Park Service, Boston, 2006.   [Full text available here:]

Bryan, John M. Maine Cottages – Fred L. Savage and the Architecture of Mount Desert. Princeton Architectural Press, 2005.

Champlain Society Camp Asticou Log, Northeast Harbor, 1882. Handwritten MS in the collection of the MDI Historical Society.  Scan and transcription here:

Champlain Society camp log, Northeast Harbor, 1884. Handwritten MS in the collection of the MDI Historical Society.  Scan and transcription here:

“Historical records: early island ownership,” Bar Harbor Times, April 1917, republished on the Bar Harbor Times website, April 16, 2017. Accessed January 24, 2018.

“La Mothe – Marie Therese (La Mothe) Cadillac de Gregoire (1733 – 1811),” Southwest Harbor Public Library Digital Archive, accessed January 24, 2018, Item 14491

McGee, Samuel Savage. “The Savage Family of Mount Desert,” Mount Desert Island: Shaped by Nature. Maine Memory Network, no date. Date accessed: January 24, 2018.

McGee, Samuel Savage. “They Should Have Constructed Their Buildings on Wheels,” Mount Desert Island: Shaped by Nature. Maine Memory Network, April 2013. Date accessed: October 9, 2017.

Phillips, Cora Savage. Early History and and Personal Recollections of Northeast Harbor. Undated typewritten manuscript. Location of original unknown; scanned pdf provided by Sam McGee.

Reynolds, Emily Phillips. Recollections of Grandfather and Grandmother and their Family. Typewritten manuscript, 1982. Location of original unknown; scanned pdf provided by Sam McGee.

Reynolds, Emily Phillips, Down Memory Lane. Bacon Printing Company, Bangor, Maine, 1966.

Savage, A.C. Memories of a Lifetime. Undated typewritten manuscript. Location of original unknown; scanned pdf provided by Sam McGee. Published in  Chebacco 2017.

Savage, Charles K. Asticou Terraces Trust: Report of the Trustee 1937-1965. Typewritten manuscript with tipped-in watercolor illustrations and photographs, 1966. Original in the Northeast Harbor Public Library.

Tracy, Charles. The Tracy Log Book, 1855. Bar Harbor, Acadia Publishing Company, 1997. [Full text available here]