Swans Island Memory Project Essay

James Doig Gillespie


Jimmy Gillesple is a familiar figure on island now ..a rumpled figure. but familiar. Most likely you will find him in his stained and dirty tan corduroy pants and grey cardigan sweater. For a man who has been retired since 1972, he sure looks as if he has been busy!


James Doig Gillesple was born in 1917 in Milton, Massachusetts. His father died when Jimmy was a teenager and he had to go to work early in life. At 17 he found a job as an office boy for Dawson & MacDonald Co. In Boston, a company that made and sold sand-blasting and shot peening equipment. By the time he retired, 46 years later, James Gillesple owned the company.


Early in his career with Dawson & MacDonald, he worked during the day and, with the company's financing half his tuition, attended night school, for seven years. He has degrees from Boston University, Temple, Franklin Institute as well as Bryant & Stratton Business College. He has also attended the General Motors Institute where he studied diesel mechanics. His forte was mechanical engineering and this afforded him a very interesting life.


At the beginning of World War II, his mother was traveling on the Athenia, when it was sunk by a German submarine. She survived and returned to Scotland where she had been visiting relatives, but Jimmy did not hear the news of her rescue. Thinking his mother was dead, he joined the Navy, during his lunch hour.


When the war began, Dawson & MacDonald laid off all its workers because the company did not make tools for the war effort. Jimmy was hired by E. B. Badger Engineering which made desalination equipment and cracking equipment that made gas from oil. It was here that he met his future wife Elsie. They were engaged when Jimmy set sail on a mine sweeper and participated In the invasions of Italy, Africa and Sicily. He returned to the United States and they were married. He was commissioned an ensign in Africa and was transferred to the submarine Balao which was stationed in Perth, Australia. On board the Balao. he participated in the invasion of the Philippines. Jimmy survived many depth charges and when the war was over came home to his wife and a new daughter.


His old company hired everyone back, and Jimmy even got them to pay him his submarine wages of $200 a week. "They asked me how much I wanted, so I got my regular submarine pay plus expenses and commissions!" By now Jimmy was a salesman, a job he loved, and he traveled the world over selling sandblasting units. Business was good. He and Elsie had another daughter and built a house in Cohasset. He traveled extensively in New England to sell to the granite trade and to paper mills in Maine.


In 1960 Charles R. Dawson, owner of Dawson and MacDonald, having no heirs, left the company to Jimmy with the stipulation that he take care of his widow for the rest of her life. She died eight years later. When Jimmy retired In 1972, he sold the company to the employees and came to Maine. "I loved It!" His travels in Maine had sunk in. After years of vacations In Europe, the Gillespies decided to make their retirement on a small Island off the coast of Maine. His two acres vibrates with his interests. A box of seeds waits by the door for Spring to do her will and for the first hint of Summer to come over Maine. Also by the door is a grandfather clock in progress, a gift for one of his daughters. Everywhere are nautical paintings and half models that he has done. There are models of his submarine the Balao and Boston pilot boats, schooners and many others.


His paintings are in a primitive style and tell many sad stories of ships and men lost at sea. "I do three or four a winter, for something to do." He fetched a recent painting of the steamer Portland and the Boston pilot boat Columbia which were lost on the same night In a storm in 1898. The Portland was lost with all hands off of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Jimmy remembers that as a child he played on the wreckage of the "Columbia" where she came ashore in Scituate.


Elsie, who is working on a complex quilt (design: a compass rose), says, "Now that he is retired, he works all the time!" We do not venture out into his work shop because the day Is damp and cold. but the Island has ample evidence of what he can produce there. He has made 57 cradles, mostly for island women, free of charge, as well as for his grandchildren. There are signs at two churches, the museum. The Olde Salt's Restaurant that he has painted and or carved.


The little sign that he painted for his own drive reads, "Gleason Scott Lane." Scott was a house builder who built many a summer place on Swan's Island. Jimmy's story of one conversation with Scott tells why the Gillespie's love affair with the island might have taken on a particular depth. They bought their two acres and were told that Gleason Scott might build a house for them. "Can you build a house for me?" Sure.'''When can you start?" 'Tomorrow mornlng.""Go ahead."


17 years have now passed and he has no complaints. "I have my monument ready." The house quietly chimes at somewhat odd times with the clocks he has made. "They aren't in sync." He shrugs and shows me how some of the pieces of the new clock will go together. The clocks he makes are not clocks from kits so the delicate pencil lines of his sketching appear on the wood. His coarse hands work the wood deftly and then finger another cigarette. There are many things to do yet and he sees possibilities everywhere. Out on the deck rail are two rocks from his shore; put together they look like a duck decoy. Decoys are something he hasn't apparently tried yet. but he has a good model and who knows, maybe the real elders that float just a few feet from his house will send him on a new track! But he has to finish the clock first and then plant his garden and fix a few boats in the yard and... March, 1990



Marguerite Batcheler


"I want to tell you my mackerel story." Marguerite is sitting next to her oil burner cook stove. She rocks a little as she laughs at how scared she had been all those years ago.


"There was Ethel LeMoine, Mabel Stanley and I. Well, we thought we'd go mackereling. Maynard Staples towed us out in a punt out back of Heron Island (near Marshall Island). That's how foolish we was then. There was three or four boats out too. It started to breeze up southeast. He started rowing. It breezed up so that it come over the stern of the punt and blowing so hard we was going to land on Harbor Island but we couldn't because it was so choppy. We lost an oar, but Mabel got it again. We kept balling. Mabel wanted to stop and talk to the seal on that ledge by Harbor Island and I said "The Devil!" My husband had gone over to Stonington to the shipyard to get hauled out, and I thought 'My God, he'll never know where we are if we go to the bottom!' Thought I'd see the bottom that day! I'll never forget it. We caught 48 mackerel. Suppose they steadied the boat, but might have been better to throw them over. Ain't over it yet! Still think of it. Johnny Wheaton came out to get us because he knew we hadn't come back. He couldn't get us because it was so choppy. He finally got in by the head (the Lighthouse head) and he got us. We normally didn't go fishing, but we thought it would be fun to see how many we could get. It was fun catching the mackerel, but not much fun coming back!'


Marguerite has spent all her life within a small radius of the place where she was born. There are twelve family members all within one mile of her home, ten of them In the Immediate neighborhood. Her sister Mary Staples brings her Sunday lunch which she shares with me because I had rushed out of the house without eating when I had decided to walk to the Valley.


She was born in 1914 on Swan's Island, the first of eight children. Her parents were Charles Burns and Jeannie Martin Burns who came from Vinylhaven. Her paternal grandparents had moved to the island from Friendship. Dane and Abby Burns lived in the house that Russell and Alice Burns now live in. Marguerite lived in that house and remembers her mother telling her about the day her brother Wilson was born. "Mother got up one morning and the harbor was full of warships." This bit of a memory still is fresh. She cannot remember too much about school, though she liked it well enough. She went through the eighth grade, as was the custom. She recalls going into the school's woodshed and to have dances during recess."


"Elmer Withee played harmonica. Washtub for drums. I don't know who played that. We had all kinds of dances! Louella Holmes was her teacher then at the school across from the Methodist Church. She was an awful good teacher. Didn't take no foolishness around her."


Marguerite lived at home after she graduated. She baited trawls at the fish stand that was near her house. She remembers having to stand on a box to bait the trawls. "Flaked hake sounds." This was the process of drying the air bladder of hake on racks. She can't recall how much money she made but, "I remember I got more then Cybil Bridges one time and she got mad." Marguerite laughs and tilts her head back as she begins to tell me about her husband Karl Batcheler. She married when she was 23. Karl was from Brooklin and he had come to fish. They bought the tiny house up on the hill from Louis Stanley for $125. The little house still stands, Its lonely windows within sight of where Marguerite now lives with her cat Tommy. "Karl had high blood pressure and he was contrary." He never took medicine and died in 1968.


Her cat Tommy sleeps on a towel on the kitchen table and lazily watches as Marguerite's nephew Normie and his wife Nancy install another bird feeder on the porch. Normie and Nancy live within eyesight of Marguerite's kitchen. The sons of a niece haul water in gallon jugs to her entry way every day. There is no running water in her house during the winter. In spring, her brothers run a pipe from their grandfather's well. but this water is no good for drinking. "I'd rather be old-fashion. Normie suggests changes like the stove. Change the oil cook stove for electric? What'll I do when the electricity goes out?"


She worked for Miss Alice Francis for 24 years cleaning house. She used to have to walk to and back from Atlantic some days. She remembers some cold winter days when she had to trudge home to the harbor, about six miles away.


Marguerite has never lived anywhere else. When asked about the steamboat, she tells me that she never went on it because she was afraid. She did go on Charlie Gott's passenger boat to Bass Harbor. She has never been out of the state and had only been to Bangor once ( just for the ride) with a friend before she underwent surgery on her leg a few years ago. "Never needed anything," is her explanation. Since she was about 22, she has been an active member of the Rebekhs. She has served as Noble Grand two or three times and is the Chaplin this year. The hard work of the Rebekhs has kept the Odd Fellow's Hall In repair. She explains almost all the money they have raised over the years with suppers has gone to the Odd Fellows for the maintenance of the hall. They also send cards to people who are sick and send boxes to the needy at Christmastime.


Marguerite could always be counted on to be working in the kitchen, but many of us remember her after those suppers when there used to be dances and her friend and fellow Rebekh, Nellie Ranquist was alive...how they would dance together! Marguerite in the lead, Nellie, her eyes closed, being lead in a waltz, no matter what was being played. "Don't know what's got into me the last ten years. Wouldn't let a Saturday go by without waxing the floor."


She sits cozy in her kitchen. There are bits and splashes of color: artificial flowers and bricabrac In some of the dark corners are cheery in the winter setting. She suddenly recalls a candy bar she used to buy when she worked at the fish stand. "Old Nick candy bars. Wasn't they some good for a snack." When I ask how she cooked some of those 48 mackerel she says with a laugh, "Don't know; we was so scared, don't know but If they're still in the punt!" As I leave she thanks me for the visit and I thank her for her fine company and the good stories. I walk to the lighthouse and on the way back by her house I can see every place Marguerite has lived since 1914. February, 1990



Swan's Island News


Marguerite Batchelor Marguerite Batchelor died on March 23 at her home. Marguerite spent her whole life within a small radius of the house where she was born in the valley at the harbor. (See February 1990 Islesboro Island News) She was the first of eight children born to Charles and Jeannie Burns In 1914. Maiguerite lived simply and worked hard for the Methodist Church and the Rebekhs. She was buried at Grindel Hill. Donations in her memory may be sent to the Rebekhs of Swan's Island. April, 1990


Interview with an April Fool


"When I was young, I used to sit out here on the Point and wonder what things would be like when I could come back here with some money in my pocket."


Times were hard back then, 50 years ago. Clamma Herrick's family had been on island for a few generations. Some of them had captained mackerel ships, but most had gotten by farming and working In the cannery and quarries. Clamma's parents worked hard, but had little to show for it. Their house up in the north of the island was slowly falling apart. By the time she could go away to school on a scholarship, her father died, the house fell in and her mother died of the heartache.


Clamma was smart and that took her far. She finished high school under scholarship and went on to college, also with a scholarship, where she studied engineering. She learned to build bridges and tunnels and this she did all over the world for a Boston company. Clamma Herrick designed that tunnel they talk so much about over in England "There is nothing better to me then to face a challenge head on."


"All the time I was traveling the world, I would dream about my island home. Lift was so different there and my life felt removed from reality. I had spent 25 years on other peoples' projects, I wanted one of my own, so I came home with one. I decided that a tunnel was just what Swan's Island needed to bring it into the coming 21st Century."


When Clamma came back to the United States, she Immediately went to Washington where she convinced the powers that be that her plan for a tunnel was feasible and would ultimately save the state of Maine a lot of money. As it turned out. her timing was precise: the country and the state were beginning to feel the crunch of a faltering economy. In a matter of months, her plan was before the various concerned state departments and drawings were shown to the town at a special town meeting. "I am so happy that I can bring progress to Swan's Island, I am donating my design fees: the cost is projected at $800 million."


"I have one hundred and seventy acres up in the north end of the Island that came to me from my parents. Fifty acres will be donated to the project because I think that I'll be able to live with the traffic that will certainly be created by the tunnel. I have friends in Naskeag who are donating 43 acres to the project. The tunnel will travel some six miles under Jericho Bay and have toll terminals at each end. The start up date is slated for August 1991, with projected completion in 1999. The blasted stone from the project will be used for the building of new roads on the Island and other projects that will need fill and so forth. With the tunnel will come much needed business and the Island will be able to compete on level ground, as it were, with the rest of the state. The tourist Industry will certainly not suffer in this atmosphere. I see lots of potential for growth in that area as large hotels and restaurants move In. I think the islanders will be happy for the change. They all have color TV's and VCRs, they know what they have been missing all these years, they are looking forward to the change. I'm going to build my new place near the tunnel entrance. I won't be able to see it, but I'll be able to hear how well It will work. I am looking forward to the success of it!"


Clamma Herrick will supervise the construction, but this will be her last project. "This will be my claim to fame for sure. I am going to retire after this and enjoy life on Swan's Island. I just wish my parents were able to share In the exciting future here." Island carpenters start building her house on the site of her parents' old house on Black Fly Point at the end of this month using the old foundation stones. "With all the changes coming to Swan's Island, I'll be able to spend the money I used to dream about coming back with when I was a kid: I'll be able to spend It right here." Clamma walks out to the point and looks west, from whence progress will come to Swan's Island. February, 1990



Paul Stockbridge, Jr. Comes Home


Friends, family and the news media were at Bangor International Airport Sunday. April 1, to welcome Paul Stockbridge, Jr. home. Paul had come along way, more than mere distance, since he suffered a head trauma In early March while In Florida where he had gone to watch his daughter Nicole play softball for the University of Maine. Paul his wife Dorothy and friends Mellta Staples and Don Carlson, had driven nonstop to Florida after Town Meeting on March 5. Paul did almost all of the driving. His wife Dorothy said that he had been ill this winter: Illness and fatigue apparently caused him to collapse and hit his head against the pavement just after they arrived.


Early news reports from Florida about Paul's condition were truly terrifying; the right frontal lobe of his brain had been removed and his condition was critical. But as time passed, he did very well. His family quickly organized a campaign to gather funds because Paul had no insurance and obviously needed to come home for further treatment. The Advent Christian Church in Minturn, as well as the First National Bank in Bar Harbor, took on the responsibility for gathering the funds. The need was great: a special plane had to be hired and Paul would need to be attended by a doctor and nurse, and continuing cost of care would be major.


Telford Aviation Inc.of Waterville volunteered to make the flight to and from Florida. Dr. Brian Calne and nurses Roberta Sharp and Syd Salvatore volunteered to monitor Paul. Bob Young of Bar Harbor Airlines had volunteered to fly them to Waterville, but conditions were icy in Trenton, so Young drove them instead. Paul Stockbridge and his wife arrived safely in Bangor and Paul was taken to the Eastern Maine Medical Center.


A family member reports that Paul's condition will be evaluated and by mid April, a course of therapy will be undertaken. He has speech and short term memory and has walked with help. A spokesperson noted that these things are typical for his type of head trauma: recovery tends to stabilize for a time and may regress somewhat. Paul will certainly be hospitalized for many months yet. His family and friends continue to fund raise on his behalf and have high hopes that he will be able to return to his island home. April, 1990



Milton "Bud" Staples of Swan's Island


On this July day, I found Bud Staples working in his workshop shaping paint stirrers out of oak lathes. "You can see that I don't have much to do." He shows me others he has made and smiles as he leads me into the kitchen of his house in Atlantic, where he puts on a pot of coffee.


"Do you want to hear the story of my life?" I say we'll start with his ''semi-retirement" at age 65. "65 and one half," Bud says. I ran against Willard Harvey for Road Commissioner in 1950 and won. I've been Road Commissioner for forty years. I've built more roads on Swan's Island than anyone has or ever will build." At town meeting this year, the selectmen presented Bud with a plaque to commemorate his many years of service to the town. He is still Commissioner, but is phasing out of all aspects of hard work. He will take on small day or week jobs, but nothing more. His three seven-yard dump trucks, back, bulldozer and lowboy are for sale "$30,000.00 takes it all!"


He sits in his chair in the kitchen, smoking and says that he doesn't want to work. Bud also worked as "patrolman" for the Department of Transportation for more than 23 years. His job was to repair roads for the state on the island. These two jobs didn't fill his time, so he took on private jobs: he built many private roads and Installed septic systems, even taking his equipment out to Matinicus a few times over the years.


His parents were Herman Wesley Staples and Amy Joyce Staples. "The first thing I remember in life is the day my brother Wesley went to school and I couldn't go because I was fifteen months younger." When he had his chance to go, off he went for nine years of schooling at the Atlantic school house where Bessie Dunham and Hazel Staples were his teachers. He says he was held back one grade for throwing spitballs, "But my grades were good.""0n Tuesdays we made butter to sell. Some days it was come up quick, but some days we really had to turn!" Another turning chore was on wash days when he had to help turn the wringer for his mother. (Turn, turn, turn, "Oh let me get out of here!").


His early years were filled with work, but this was the way life was on Swan's Island. There was much to be done. He remembers wanting to be big enough so that the lantern would not drag on the ground on the way to the barn where he would milk the cow. One year, he and his brother started to ride a calf that was going to raised for beef. Their father saw that it might be a good idea to use the beast like a horse, so they kept it for many years until the bull came to a terrible end in 1938. When the two brothers were old enough to drive, a gallon a gas was 20¢. "You had to work all day for twenty cents!"


One day when their parents were off island while Herman had jury duty, the boys wanted to go riding with their friend young Sherm Joyce, so Bud siphoned gas from one of the family vehicles and set it aside in two buckets. That evening his brother Wesley came to water the bull and saw that the buckets were already full and put the containers in front of him. "The bull put his head into it and took a drink then drew back his head and snorted, his mouth burning you know. He put his head back into the bucket to cool the burning, and drank almost all of the bucket of gas!" By this time. Bud knew that the bull had been drinking the gas, but it was too late. When the bull began to pull at his rope, Wesley cut him free, and he went out into the yard where he wobbled for a few moments then fell down, his sides groaning.


They ran next door to get Freeman Joyce to help. Freeman tried to give the bull dry mustard to make his throw up, but when this failed. Freeman cut the bull's throat. It was a great disaster! Their parents still away, the boys dug a great hole and buried the bull. The boys were afraid to tell their father that the bull had been killed, so they told Amy. "You better go tell your father," she said. Bud can still remember going up to his father who was asleep in a chair. "Dad, we killed the bull." His father didn't say a word, but a tear fell down his cheek. "Those were hard times in 1938 and the bull was a great loss."


During winter vacations from school, he and his brother would help their father cut wood and haul it out of the woods with and horse and ox. They needed ten cords for the family. They kept three cords in the cellar and seven in the barn. They sold wood to other families as well. He remembers those cold winter mornings when his mother had pork chops, gravy and biscuits ready for them when they came down for breakfast. A hearty breakfast for the hard day's work. Their lunch box had a tray in It so that when they cut ice from a stream, and set the whole thing on a fire. the tea they made in the bottom would warm up the rest of the lunch.


His father had a sawing machine which used a Model A for power. The car was jacked up and put into second. They could cut ten cords of wood in a day. Bud recalls that in March, crowds of men would go around the island to have splitting bees. They would split each other's wood and the women would cook for the ten to fifteen men. Bud can still recall the wonderfully tall and delicious biscuits that came hot from those ovens!"


Then it was garden time. We had three big gardens." His mother, Amy Joyce Staples, did the preserving, picked berries and put up eggs in water glass. These eggs were used only in baking, because they smelled musty. One of Bud's jobs was to weed the garden. One day he came into the house to tell his mother that the garden was too hot to work in, but she sent him back out. He took a thermometer with him and laid it in the row; when it reached 120 degrees, he rushed into the house to show his mother just how hot it was! "She forgave me weeding that day." Bud took odd jobs when he was young. He worked for the Geological Survey one summer and worked on the steamboat "Northhaven" until World War II took the coastal steamers for service.


He was drafted when he was eighteen and he was scared, because he had never really been anywhere before. "Ellsworth was a big trip!" He was sent to basic training at Fort Bragg and wound up sailing with the 30th Light Artillery on February 12, 1944. After ten days at sea, he landed in England.


Four days after D-Day, on June 10. 1944, he hit Omaha Beach and over eleven months made it to the Siegfried Line. "Can't really explain what happened because it was terrible." The smell of rotting bodies when the sun came out still lingers In his memory. The way a man died in combat sometimes you could hear them holler, "Mamma!" "That really got me in the guts. ''But during the hell of the war, Bud was able to meet his brother Wesley who was with the Bridge Engineers.


The most memorable meeting was by chance when their outfits were traveling on opposite sides of a road along the Rhine River. When he crossed the road to ask if anyone knew Wesley Staples, a man said, "He's four trucks up!" They were able to talk for an hour before parting. By the time the war in Europe had ended. Bud had been in five major battles and had captured a German soldier. But, he had made German friends. too. On his nineteenth birthday he had been in Teltow, Germany and a German girl and her mother made him a cake. "They were so happy to be free." He was sent to England to be retrained for the war in the Pacific, but the war ended there as well and he returned by ship to the states with 15,000 troops.


He didn't have enough points to be discharged, but he was given a 30-day furlough and headed for home. He was so exhausted that he fell asleep on the train and missed Bangor where his parents were waiting for him. When he woke up, the conductor put him on the right track and he was reunited with his parents. He had changed a lot after two years of war, "But they recognized me." Wesley came home too. Bud's discharge came through on November 10 and he married Melita Smith the day before Christmas 1945. He was proud of what he had done for his country, but years later, when his son Clint went Into the Navy, "I cried like a baby because I thought that I had fought so that my son wouldn't have to." Clint served In Vietnam and came home to tell his own tales.


After the war he worked at various jobs. While lobstering with Carroll Staples in 1950 he lost parts of two fingers and thought there must be something better for him to do, so that is when he ran for Road Commissioner and won the office that he has held for 40 years.


Bud and Melita had three children: Gwen May, who has three children and is Swan's Island tax collector, Clint, who is married and lives in Florida and Lottie Belle Keene, who now lives on the island with her husband and small son.


He seems satisfied with what he has done and can easily relax on his new deck and watch the field and ocean behind his house in Atlantic. He spends some Sundays in summer cooking eggs for the Odd Fellow's breakfasts and in fact cooks every day at home. His "command" chair is beside the old converted cast iron cookstove that heats the place in winter and where he cooks up loads of good baked beans. Bud's friends can count on his ready smile, his helping hand, his cooking and of course, his stories. Ask him sometime about how he almost burned down his father's barn! July, 1990


Ben Redman Ordained in the Advent Christian Church


Swan's Island's Advent Christian Church celebrated a service of ordination for Ben Redman on December 1. Pastors from seven Maine Advent Christian churches in Auburn, Sunshine. Waterville, West Chapman, Oxford. Mapleton and Biddeford traveled to the Island for the occasion. Swan's Island's Church of God pastor Bruce Tucker also participated. The Rev. David E. Ross, president of the Maine State Advent Christian Conference, presided. Redman has been the Advent Christian pastor on Swan's Island for three years and recently completed his religious education with a degree in Church Ministry from Liberty University of Lifelong Learning.


Redman's family from Mars Hill and friends celebrated with scripture lessons, sermons, prayers and singing. The church's Women's Home and Foreign. Mission group provided a reception after the service. Mr. Redman's every life is busy: He and his wife Karen have four children, two of which are twins who are fourteen months old. Ben also is a sternman part-time and an avid player in the Island's Board Baseball League. He is active in the State of Maine Advent Christian Conference and is on the Conference for Christian Education. The Redmans have enjoyed their life and service on Swan's Island and wish to tell everyone that contrary to rumor, they have no plans to leave! December. 1990



Swan's Island's New Babies


Andrew Blake Joyce was born on November 13 In a Bangor hospital to Jason and Taffy Joyce. Andrew's great-grandmother Roberta Joyce said that the 10 lb. 6 oz. baby was "already grown up!" The family Is really pleased with the new boy and are looking forward to Andrew's first Christmas. Andrew will live with his parents In their new home between the homes of his grandparents, Carlton and Pacita Joyce, and his great-grandparents, Robert and Roberta Joyce, on Swan's Island.


Lesley Ann Ranquist was born on a lucky day: her birthday is also the birthday of her mother and grandmother! Lesley Ann was born on December 3 at the Mount Desert Hospital to Leslie and Rhonda Ranquist. Lesley Ann had been due on December 22. Grandmother Fran Staples had been due for surgery around that time and had told her daughter that it would be a good idea to have her baby on their birthday if she was going to have it early so that she could help for a few days. The family thought that the alignment of the earth, sun and moon may have "pulled" for the earlier date: certainly if astronomy had been causing extreme high tides in these parts, what was a thing like this? If I were Rachel Lee, Leslie Ann's half-sister, I would love to call her Syzygy, or "Syz" for short. December,1990


Galen Turner Traces History of Boatbuilding on Swan's Island


Galen Turner has been knocking on doors all over the island in hopes of finding half-models or other evidence of boats built here in the 200 years since our founding. "I've become obsessed with it" he says. His enthusiasm is catching after only a few minutes listening to stories about his search.


"L.V. Joyce built a hundred and one boats from 1895 to 1935," says Turner. "He was the captain of mackerel schooners. but when the fish gave out late in the century, he began building boats. It must have been a natural evolution for him."


Turner has spread nine half-models he has made from lines he has taken from the old half-models he has found. He has lines for 29 boats and is sure that the island will reveal many more once the word is out about what he is trying to do.


Galen Turner and his older brother, Ted, build fiberglass boats in Mintum for their company, the Old Harbor Boat Company. (Old Harbor had been the name of Burnt Coat Harbor at the time James Swan purchased the island.) Their interest in old things and in old boats soon had Galen taking lines from old boats and reproducing them. He began to take a particular interest in boats made on Swan's Island.


"These boats are pertinent to me. I have an interest in the past. in old boats, and I have the ability to reproduce them. In the future we might not have (the half-models), Each is a piece of history."


In 1991 there are still thin threads stretching back to the earliest builder, James Joyce, who In 1827 built the "Arcadie." Joyce taught L.V. Joyce, Alexander Staples and Ebenezer Joyce. Joyce's legacy spread out over the years. Turner has been able to somehow document more than 20 Swan's Island boatbuilders, from James Joyce, Elmer (Goog) Davis, Alonzo Sprague, Seth Joyce, and Silas Hardy, who built boats on the Mill Pond in Mintum in the 1830s, to more modern builders such as Gleason Scott and Charlie Joslin.


Island half-models have found their way into attics and sheds, kitchens and summer cottages all over the Island. Some have unfortunately left the island, perhaps to be lost forever. When Turner does find one, he spends a few minutes to take her lines and to talk with the owner who may have some knowledge of it. He hopes that many more people will allow him to see their models and anything of interest pertaining to Swan's Island boats.


He plans to make models of each one and for some he plans to outfit as accurately as possible. Sometimes the smallest fact leads him to what the boat actually looked like. Turner found the remains of a keel on Johnson's Island and from the angle of the shaft log, could reason where the engine was. No path is too small to travel to learn something that might be important to his work.


Turner and his brother located the remains of a small boat in a shed that had collapsed and were able to take her lines. They were particularly thrilled to find the very same skiff in a photo in the museum. There she was, pulled up on the shore near the now fallen shed. We can say that it must have been before 1905, because the Seaside Hall does not appear on the cove where it should now be. It is such detective work that gives Turner such pleasure — that and the fact that he will have a very important and valuable store of knowledge that will be preserved for the future. January/February, 1991



In Memoriam


Charlotte Joyce died on January 12, 1991 after a long illness. Charlotte was born March 18, 1921 and grew up In Minturn, Swan's Island. She married Vincent Bridges and had three daughters and one son who predeceased her. They lived In Rockland, Massachusetts and Swan's Island over the years. After Mr. Bridges died. she married Keith Joyce and lived In Atlantic, Swan's Island. Charlotte became III following Mr. Joyce's death and spent her last six years at Sonogee Estates In Bar Harbor. She is survived by her daughters, Sheila Smith of Swan's Island; Gloria Bickford of Orland; and Rosemary Hersey of Peabody, Massachusetts, as well as many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was buried at the Rosehill cemetery in Atlantic.


Charles B. MacDonald died of cancer on December 4, 1990 at the age of 68 in Arlington. Virginia. He was born on November 23, 1922 and during World War II fought in five major battles for which he earned five Battle Stars, a Silver Star for gallantry In action, a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for meritorious conduct.


MacDonald became a historian of World War II and wrote many books about the war and his wartime experiences. His most famous book, "Company Commander," was first published in 1947, sold over one million copies, and is still in print today. It is required reading at West Point as well as at three other military schools. MacDonald worked for the U.S. Army Center for Military History where he rose to become Deputy Chief Historian. He retired as a colonel in the Army Reserve in the 1980s.


MacDonald's last book, "A Time For Trumpets: The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge," was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize In 1984.


MacDonald came to Swan's Island In 1961 and built a summer home on the shores of Seal Cove. He is survived by his daughter. Moire Queen, of Washington, D.C. and by his son, Bruce MacDonald, of Swan's Island.


Marguerite Orcutt died on December 19, 1990 at her home at the Courtland Living Center In Ellsworth where she had lived for eight years. She was 91 years old. She was born on May 19, 1899 In Minturn and after her marriage to Lawrence Orcutt, their family lived in South Portland during the war and later in Fairfield. They returned to the island In 1949 and Marguerite spent her last years on the island in her home In Minturn. She was survived by her daughter. Altha Stanley of Atlantic, Swan's Island; and a son, Basil Orcutt. of Fairfield.


Basil Orcutt died on January 25, 1991 at the age of 67. He was born on Swan's Island in 1923 and lived in Fairfield where he was a milkman and maintenance man at the local high school. Basil is survived by his wife, Hazel; and two daughters, Thelma and Paula.


James Tyson Lee died on December 16. 1990 In Bar Habor. Lee was born on July 10, 1910 in Maryland and. with his parents, Philip and Margaret Lee, came to Swan's island as part of the first wave of summer people.


Lee served in the Maryland State Legislature and ran for governor of that state in the primary with the promise that if he won the primary, he would not run for governor. He had been a dairy farmer, corporate headhunter and was an active board member of the Maryland School for the Deaf.


Lee and his wife, Sara, moved to Swan's Island in the early '70s where Sara died shortly thereafter. Lee later married his childhood friend and fellow Swan's Island rusticator, Catrina Bowie. Catrina died the late 1970s.


Lee in his last years lived at Sonogee Estates in Bar Harbor. He was buried on December 24, 1990 at Rosehill cemetery. Lee is survived by his daughter, Sally Lee, of New York City and by his dog, Penny, of Atlantic.


James Courtney, 42, a prominent New London lawyer and three of his four children were killed In a fire in North Stonington, Connecticut on December 21. 1990. His wife, MaryJo, and 11-year-old daughter, Langan, survived with injuries. Killed in the fire were James; his son, James Jr., 8; Paul, age 12; and Jennifer, 3. Nine fire departments and 100 firefighters fought the blaze.


The fire broke out in their 240-year-old house during the early morning hours. The Courtneys gathered their children in an upstairs bedroom. Mrs. Courtney dropped out of the second-story window, broke her pelvis, but managed to put a ladder under the window. When her husband did not appear at the window, Mary Jo rushed to a neighbor's house for help. The neighbor, Kenneth DelaCruz, managed to bring out two children before he was stopped by smoke. Mrs. DelaCruz, a registered nurse, saved Langan, who was not breathing when she was pulled from the structure, with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Langan had second-degree burns over 10 percent of her body. Mr. Courtney and his daughter Jennifer were pronounced dead at nearby hospitals. Paul and James Jr. died from smoke Inhalation and burns later in the day.


The Courtney family summered on Swan's Island in Minturn. Their tenure was short, but all who knew them can speak of the closeness of their family and of their obvious love for one another. James and his three older children walked in the library's Walk-A-Thon and enjoyed other island activities. Their house was always teeming with children and family ... they will be missed. Mary Jo and Langan Courtney were able to leave the hospital in mid-January. We wish them well. January/February, 1991


Swan's Island Farm Clears Way for Island Sheepraising


On the thin soil of Swan's Island, carpenter/textile artist/farmer Carol Loehr, with her friends Benita Joyce and Donny Staples, are running a model sheepfarming operation that is not only reclaiming pastures but creating prizewinning fleeces as well.


On the January morning when I visited Carol Loehr, the temperature was a balmy 30 degrees. Her little earth-bermed hexagonal house, which she built by herself, was surrounded by sheep, chickens, and rabbits busy with the morning's meal scattered on the ground. Piles of firewood rise near her doorway, and out in the yard are piles of composted salmon offal, a project in progress with Mariculture Products, Ltd., the island's aquaculture operation (Island News, Fall 1990)—the latest in Loehr's agricultural experiments.


Carol Loehr's curiosity and independent spirit have taken her down some interesting career paths. Raised in Blue Hill where her father was a doctor, she received a degree in apparel design from Rhode Island School of Design and worked in several trades (including yacht maintenance and charter business in Florida, a boat shoe mail order business and a custom-designed resort wear company for women with special needs) before moving to Swan's Island in the mid-1970s. She has established herself as a fine finish carpenter, and in addition to her farming operations also canes and refinishes chairs and does upholstery work.


The common thread through all this, she says, is "an interest in how things go together, getting materials to conform to shape." This same interest manifests itself again in her fascination with breeding sheep to get the qualities she wants in a fleece.


An accidental shepherd

Loehr got into sheepraising by accident: Her first sheep was brought to the island by someone else 10 years ago. That sheep had been poorly managed and roamed here and there on its own. "Minnie" was rescued by Donny Staples and brought to his mother's barn in the village of Atlantic, where Staples and Loehr were already raising an enormous beef cow named "Big Fella" (at 2,000 pounds, he is a well-known Swan's Island landmark). Minnie was soon joined by another sheep "to keep her company," and then by a ram. Carol found that she liked sheep and slowly began to build a flock, with help from her carpentering partner, Benita Joyce, and from Donny Staples, who has become expert in the art of clearing overgrown fields.


At one time, Loehr kept goats thinking that they might be good for clearing fields, but goats turned out to be fussy eaters. "Sheep go for broadleaf plants; they go for hardhack first thing in the spring. The breeds we have: North Country Cheviot, Border Cheviot, and Shetland, are good for islands. They convert less than perfect foods and spread out to forage. They are easy to work with and their instincts are adapted to this region. Here on the island we can't work the land like other farms because it is too rocky and there is no soil: Sheep allow us to farm."


Loehr likes the survival instinct of the Cheviots. They give birth easily, are very protective, and the lambs are on their feet in five minutes. Her dark, mixed-breed Cheviots are less successful as mothers— in fact, they sometimes ignore their lambs— but Loehr keeps them for the dark brown gene which she tries to breed into the kind of fleece she is looking for.


Swan's Island Farm, as the operation is called, now has 33 sheep and the flock will grow again come spring. There are two breeding groups in the flock. One group is being housed with Big Fella in the Staples' barn. The little horned ram there is "Zaduk," a Shetland from the Maple Ridge Farm in Roxbury, Vermont. Zaduk is descended from Shetlands which were in the Rare Breeds Survival Trust British Isles Program that involved many years of concentrated work. The first of the breed on this program were quarantined for five years in Scotland and then for five years in Canada. After four years of breeding in Vermont, the Shetland was approved for the general public. "Zaduk is smart and he has good survival instincts," Loehr says. He is breeding with ewes of varying colors for the quality of his fine fleece, and his character.


Swan's Island Farm subscribes to the National Sheep Improvement Program, a computerized system that helps sheep farmers keep track of many different aspects of their flocks, including fleece type, production of fleece, and early lambs. The farm sell skins, wool, and the meat of culled lambs. With a growing flock, good management is a must.


In a cleared field across the road from her home, Loehr has housed the other breeding group. Seven ewes and a ram come to feed in a portable barn sheathed in construction plastic. Loehr and Benita Joyce have devised a feeding station arrangement that keeps the sheep clean and therefore makes the fleeces more valuable at shearing time. They have logged a 76 % return on the white fleeces and a 79 % return on the dark fleeces, which is very unusual. Skirting, the picking clean of fleeces, has been an easy job.


Prize fleece

Swan's Island Farm won awards for two years at the Blue Hill Fair for best wool for spinning. Loehr and Joyce are now breeding to reduce the length of the staple down from seven or eight inches to make it easier to spin. Shearing is done by Geri Valentine from Franklin. The weight of fleeces ranges from five to 14 pounds per animal with grades ranging from medium to medium fine. The fleeces are rolled into sheets and sent to The Green Mountain Spinnery in Putney, Vermont. The spinnery sends Swan's Island Farm's own fleeces back, which isn't standard practice with some other spinneries. Loehr uses the short, coarse, belly wool for locker hook rugs which she designs and makes. The rest of the wool makes excellent sweaters and socks.


The production of hay for the animals has taken the sheep business to many parts of the island and has literally opened up new vistas through the art of pasture reclamation. "We are constrained because we don't have enough land ourselves for what we are doing," Loehr explains. "I have been impressed by the people who let us use their land. It is a symbiotic relationship.


It is good for the landowners because clearing fields and haying them makes their land look nice. It is good for wild animals and birds to open up areas. It is good for the sheep farmer." Hay is stored loosely in the barn in Atlantic.


Off in the distance beyond the newly opened field across from Loehr's house, the ocean flows to Blue Hill and Mt. Desert; the view must be very like it was a century ago when other farmers cleared the land to make their livings. The reclamation of fields fallow for more than 30 years had given Loehr and her partners an insight into what the old farms must have been like. The reopened fields have bloomed with clover once more and allowed an interesting type of grass to grow again that Loehr believes is an important rediscovery. "Reed canary grass stands up to grazing. Sheep eat it, but not completely. It grows in wet areas and is resistant to drought," Loehr says. "For pastures it is ideal because the stalk isn't eaten to the ground because it grows its edible leaves near the top and the sheep favor the leaves. If managed, a pasture can be used three times in a season."


This summer they plan to move the flock to a new field in the north that Donny Staples has worked on for three years. The dangerous hard stems of the newly cut hardhack have now been worked down by repeated cutting and the field should be ready for sheep. Fences have been made with piles of cleared alders and an Australian electric fence will furnish the rest of the border. Loehr makes plans for the transportation of the flock and contemplates all kinds of sheepy things.


"I've really learned a lot. Sheep are interesting. I bet there is hardly a shepherd who can't explain what each sheep is like. I spend a lot of time just walking the land and looking at the animals." For Loehr the complexity of sheep farming is obviously a source of intellectual stimulation as well as good, hard physical labor. Island News (Island Institute) Winter, 1991



Fisherman Swims from Burning Boat


Leonard May had been working on his father, Roy May's lobster boat off and on for a couple of weeks. He had replaced the carburetor on the "Lisa A." On Sunday March 3, Leonard was waiting for the tide so that he could off load traps that he had taken up for his father that had set all winter. May had been scalloping with his own boat and using the "Lisa A." to set lobster traps so that he didn't have to change gear on his own boat. His father hadn't been feeling well, so May used the "Lisa A." when he needed her and fixed what needed fixing.


That morning, waiting for the tide, May went around the harbor and then out the Eastern Way. At the bell off Blue Point, he swung around to come back in. Thinking to warm the boat up, he opened up the throttle, but she died as if she had no gas. He turned the Ignition. "When I did, she went WOOM! There was a funny pressure from up forward and I kind of peeked in. The top of the engine was ablaze. I could see one of the hoses was spurting gas and it looked like it had been doing it for awhile. I headed toward shore and in seconds, she died. I knew I was in trouble...big trouble! he said."


Roy May had three small fire extinguishers and these did make a dent in the fire. He next tried to bail salt water on it, but this only spread the fire. He knew it was useless. By this time, he had inhaled smoke and that had some effect on him. "I decided to hit the drink!" He took a life preserver with him. but it was 50 to 100 yards to shore and he was wearing heavy work coveralls that dragged him down. When he made the shore near the Norton's at Duck Cove, the tide surge made it extremely difficult to get his footing. He was finally able to get up on the rocky shore where he lay down on his life preserver. He dozed there and can't recall the details of the next few minutes.


In the meantime, a few people had seen the smoke. Gwen May had seen it from her living room in Minturn and asked her husband Roger, Leonard May's brother, what he thought it was. He said he didn't know. Leonard's grandmother. Alberta Buswell, who lives near her grandson, knowing that Leonard was out that way aboard the "Lisa A.", called his wife Jackie with the news that something was burning out in the cove. Jackie got in the car and took off down the dirt road behind the house and met her husband walking, wet and dazed, coming up the road.


Just minutes from their home, Jackie put Leonard in the tub and called for the EMT. Lorraine Stockbridge arrived just after Leonard had gotten out of the tub.


She took his blood pressure which was fine. She phoned the doctor on Mt. Desert who advised that oxygen be given to help ease his breathing. While May sat in his chair, Stockbridge noticed that his hands were turning white. The bath had only raised his skin temperature and not his body core which was still very cold. The doctor advised May to wrap up in wool blankets. Stockbridge told May that he should go off Island to be checked, but he thought that he would be all right. Stockbrige then told him to stay in the house and to keep bundled up in blankets. "He didn't listen," Stockbridge reported, "he went to the dump in the afternoon and went to see the boat at the Quarry Wharf."


While May was struggling to shore, the alarm went out that the "Lisa A." was burning. Fishermen Leslie Ranquist and Spencer Joyce were first on the scene and were able to tow the burning boat into the harbor and to the town wharf in Minturn. The fire department arrived, saved Roy May's traps and put out the fire. The boat was a total loss, but the Mays have high praise for the fire department. "They really did a lot to help. My father was just about ready to go back fishing too."


Roy has traps to fish and will get another boat to go out with. Father and son have years of fishing ahead of them, but I am sure they will look more closely at fuel lines aboard all the boats they have from now on, or at least eye them suspiciously! March, 1991


Clippings from the life of Dexter Lee


Dexter Lee begins a summary of his life: I was born in 1945 In Reading. Massachusetts, the youngest of 4. In 1950 we moved to Bridgeton, Maine. I came to the Island in 19'60. My father was a Master Mariner with an unlimited license."

Lee's apartment above the General Store in Mintum is filled with stacks of newspapers waiting to be clipped. The smoke from his cigarette curls around the piles of important papers of all kinds on every available surface. Below his television is a set of encyclopedias and other books. On the wall in the kitchen are maps that belonged to his father.


Captain Henry Lee ran troop carriers to Italy during World War II. After the war he sailed freighters to South Africa and South America. These two routes are drawn on the kitchen maps. Dexter explains that later in the 50's, his father sailed the west coast to Japan and Taiwan. One summer he ran a ferry on Lake Champlain. "Commercial shipping was slacking off around then and he took jobs in the Post Office in the late 50's. It was then he heard about a job on Swan's Island."

When 15 year-old Dexter heard about moving to an island, he didn't think it was a good plan. He had gone to school in rural Bridgton where his school was a one room school house and he had the same teacher for eight years. The high school he had attended was about the same size as the one Swan's Island kids went to. but he thought. "What?!" When his parents made the move in 1960, he fell in love with the place. He went for walks on the back shore and liked the dances too. He graduated from high school at Pemetic in Southwest Harbor in 1962 and went on to embalming school In Boston. It was Interesting, but he never pursued a career along those lines.


Over the next few years he was a stern man, went to Connecticut to work for Pratt and Whitney where other Swan's Island people were working. He was drafted in the mid 60's and spent a year in Vietnam working on aircraft maintenance.

"The day after I got back from Vietnam, I went to work for Bill Sprague at his wharf and worked there for three years." He then managed the Electric Cooperative for ten years during which time he married, had two sons and was divorced. Lobstering was again his livelihood for awhile and then contracting. At present he is an "Environmental Technician" for Mariculture Products, Ltd., Swan's Island's salmon farm.


In 1972, Mr. Lee was elected as a selectman and served the town until this March 4. 1991 when he stood down and made way for new blood. First selectman Sonny Sprague said at the time that Dexter was the "Smartest man on Swan's Island about the land." Indeed, he is famous for knowing a lot about parcels of land and about island history in general. He says he came by this passion, or hobby as he calls it. from his father who came from a long line of people who were interested in genealogy.


As a child, he remembers that when his father returned from being away at sea for a year, he would tramp property lines and try to use his sextant. "It didn't work very well, but I use to like to go with him to tramp the lines." This interest in the land and therefore the history of its people, and through his job as a selectman, he was made curator of the island's cemeteries.


Dexter notes that the price for a grave lot is $25.00. "Everyone wants to be buried here. It gives a new meaning to. 'Dying to come to Swan's Island.'" He finds in his various stacks of things some randomly folded pieces of brown paper that are marked with faint pencil lines. "I inherited a shopping bag with diagrams of who was buried where from former sextons like Deli Bridges, C.E. Kent and J.C. Kent." Lee has the whole design in his head and knows where some of us will go. A highlight of this year's town meeting came when Steve Harriman, who is around 6" 6", asked about his plot. Dexter called out from the back of the room that he shouldn't worry because he had a place for him already set out.


Dexter Lee's interest in genealogy lead him to the purchase of Dr. Herman Small's notebooks. Small wrote. "History of Swan's Island. Maine", that was published In 1898. He keeps them in plastic bags and has studied them over the years. He is an important member of the active island genealogy group which is presently working on bringing information about the original settlers up to date. They also are working on histories of individual houses.


"Dr. Small's notes were in the attic of the old Ponceanna Hotel in Atlantic. Carey Venema's house across from Mel Wiseman's house down harbor, was built from materials taken from the hotel by Verna and Steve Molar and I bought the notebooks from them." Islanders often moved or rebuilt houses. You have to keep lots of details in mind when reconstructing the story of island life. Lee has a knack for remembering these kinds of things and is often asked questions about land and people. As selectman, he was an assessor and had access to deeds, so his hobby was often indulged. "I think of it as a great big puzzle." An exercise we go through is one concerning place names. One day Dexter took a ride from an older islander. "Let me off at Johnny's Corner." The other said, "You mean Filmore's Corner." They agreed that David Massey lived there before that and Lester Kent calls it School House Corner because he went to school there with his dog. "Place names change. Every inlet has a name and over the years they change. There are some places that should have names but don't, like the cove next to The Seaside Hall." We make a list of funny place names like The Pants Factory where Basil Joyce's mother worked.


Dexter had the foresight to talk with the old timers to learn island history. He has put some of what he was told into his own notes. His father also kept a scrap book from 1960 until he retired in 1971. Dexter continues his clipping and pasting. "That is why I have these piles of newspapers; I haven't had time to go through them yet." He shows me a ring binder with obituaries and other articles about island people. even those with connections most of us wouldn't know about. He also has tried to make a list on every new year's day of everyone who lives on Swan's Island. He has about ten years worth of data with some gaps: His mother, who now lives in Bridgeton, also saves and clips.


Someday someone will inherit Dexter Lee's shopping bags and in them there will be a wealth of knowledge about this small community. Dr. Small's note books will be in the shopping bag, along side Dexter's own. Perhaps some other youngster, excited by the assortment of old papers and books, will take up the hobby and start her own journal that begins, "Today I talked with old man Lee and he told me... April, 1991



Blake Roger Thomas Born on the Run


It was before 2 AM on March 19th, when Blake's parents made a call to First Responder, Lorraine Stockbridge. Lorraine arrived and determined that mother Doris was near to giving birth. The ambulance was called, the ferry crew mobilized and off across the six miles of Blue Hill Bay they all sailed. Lorraine's mother, EMT Ruth Torrey attended the head of the stretcher, father Jeff Thomas at his wife's side and Gerald LeMoine was the driver. Lorraine readied the OB kit. Doris kept feeling as if she wanted to push so they got her undressed. Just off the ferry, Doris said. "Something is not .right." Lorraine saw that the baby's head was crowning. "Next time you want to push, push really hard, Doris. "After a mere two hours of labor and two more pushes Blake Roger Thomas was born. His father clamped and cut the cord, Lorraine suctioned his nostrils and wrapped him up. Blake was born somewhere on the road in Southwest Harbor and he weighed eight pounds 12 oz. "Gee, people will come to you now Lorraine." "I hope not! It was nice and it went well, but I wouldn't want to do too much." Blake and his brother Brandon live in Atlantic and can't wait for spring. April, 1991

Contributed by Swan's Island Educational Society


Children fron all over the island would gather in Swan's village and have relay races and games as part of the 4th of July celebrations. Here they are participating in a potato race ca. 1950.

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About This Item

  • Title: Potato races, Swans Island, ca. 1950
  • Creation Date: circa 1950
  • Subject Date: circa 1950
  • Local Name: Swans village
  • Town: Swans Island
  • County: Hancock
  • State: ME
  • Media: Photographic print
  • Dimensions: 24 cm x 36 cm
  • Collection: Islanders at Play
  • Object Type: Image

For more information about this item, contact:

Swan's Island Educational Society
c/o Swan's Island Historical Society, POB 86, Swan's Island, ME 04685
(207) 526-4279

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