OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895

4:00 P.M.

March 1, 2001

Reflections of a Mainiac

Jones01.jpg (29438 bytes)

by John Morton Jones J.D.

Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library


A personal odyssey to several islands off the coast of Maine; some recollections and observations


  • John   Morton Jones has been a trial lawyer and an Administrative Law Judge. He grew up in Central Illinois, served in the U. S. Navy during World War II and followed his grandfather and grandfather to law school at the Univerisyt of Miichigan. He and his wife, Betty, came to Redlands in 1976. Their four children are now grown and married. All share an enthusiasm for the islands of Maine.


    The Time, The Place:

    It is a warm, sunny afternoon.  The fog lifted that morning.  The children are on the front steps of the porch busily painting little rocks.  Those stones will be bright colored paperweights - perfect for Christmas presents.  The father is down the path, lifting a bucket from the well, brim full of sparkling water.  The mother is wiping clean the glass chimney of a kerosene lamp.  They all look up.    There’s a boy approaching from the shore.  He’s just beached his dory.  “I have news,” he shouts.  “Nixon resigned!”

    That was my world in the summer of 1974.  No running water, no electricity, no telephone.  Just an idyllic retreat on an island off the coast of Maine, spending a few precious weeks in an old house built seventy years before by a fisherman.

    This was Louds Island, a forty minute ride by lobster boat from Round Pond, a village on Muscungus Bay on the mid-coast of Maine, just across the water from the town of Friendship, where the famous fishing sloops bearing that name had been first built and launched a hundred years before.

    Our World:

    I was, with my wife and children, a part of a small community.  About fifteen families populated Louds in the summer, sharing its three square miles with the deer and other critters of the woods, in the same way as had a somewhat larger number of people made Louds their year-round home until the new roads and modern conveniences on the mainland lured the islanders away forever.

    By the mid-1940s, Louds had been abandoned.  The houses were in a state of collapse.  Only one family remained, the Priors.  Cecil Prior had been the Postmaster and Town Clerk in earlier days.  Now his lobster traps, some 200, laid carefully around the island, kept him in the big farmhouse where he was born, at Little Harbor.  Cecil’s wife, Elizabeth, could not abide the mainland.  She was born and reared on an island farther out, way beyond Monhegan.  Elizabeth’s childhood home had actually been hardly more than a craggy rock, an outcropping the early seafarers called “Ragged Arse.”

    In the early 1950’s some enterprising and adventurous mainlanders “discovered” Louds Island.  The properties on the island were coming up for sale - at tax foreclosures.  The owner of our fisherman’s house, John Heyl, just out of college, bought the place where we stayed for $1200 and made an endless project out of its restoration and repair.  My wife, Betty and I first rented from John in 1971 (sight unseen) for the agreed rent of  $60 a week.  Today the same house might be rented for $100 a day.

    Other people moved on the island for the summer.  A family from Michigan, another from Massachusetts, another from Colorado.  My wife and I were driving up from Illinois.  New roofs were installed, the wells were cleared.  The outhouses appeared again and Cecil Prior hauled over in his lobster boat precious propane.  That gave us gas stoves and gas refrigeration, though some of the new families rejected such modern conveniences.  Mrs. Morong, next door, hailing from New Hampshire, always swore by her wood stove, from which she produced the best mackerel fritters you ever tasted.

    We were a close-knit group and, when need arose, anything and everything was shared, from bread and flour to blankets.  Cecil would ferry us to the mainland for supplies, usually when he motored his working boat over to the town dock at Round Pond to wholesale his catch of lobsters (the buyer was a rarely shaven, weather beaten old dock keeper who had chucked a law practice in order to tend the scales on the dock and trade stories with the incoming lobsterman).

    “I’ve Heard It Said”:

    The history of Louds Island is largely unwritten.  It’s a history told from one generation to another over strong hot coffee around wood stoves when ice storms or heavy gales keep the lobstermen ashore.  Or discussed among us when we went berrying.  The island fairly dripped with wild red raspberries, blackberries, and the sweetest blueberries in the world.  And in the fall the blueberry patches would change from green to auburn, as if to reflect, like a mirror, the leaves of the red maples in the distance.

    Louds Island, like many of its neighbors, all nothing more than peaks of mountains rising from the ocean depths, was first occupied in the early 1600’s by English seamen who were landed there to clean and dry fish.  Fish were the real “gold” discovered in that part of the New World, jutting out, as it was, only a short run west of the Grand Banks of the Atlantic Ocean.  The English had discovered in the choppy shallows over those underwater plateaus out beyond the New England coast the greatest fishing in the world.   The almost countless islands along the Maine coast were the natural places to unload the ships of the tons of fish their masters had caught or netted; there, on dry land, with little salt (which was expensive) the flesh, usually of Cod, was “cured” before being sailed back to England.  Thus the Brits savored their Cod, caught months before, 6000 miles away across a stormy sea.

    The Maine islands were occasionally visited by Indians in their birch bark canoes, on hunting and fishing expeditions, but those “savages” were not many, nor were they prone to violence or revenge as were their rampaging cousins, 200 years later, in the West.   The Indians of Maine were village builders and planters who lived mostly in the interior forests.

    A sea captain acquired Louds Island in the beginning.  He eventually sold it to John Louds, who grazed sheep there and cleared tracts of pine for farming.  It was he who divided the island into strange-shaped parcels resembling a jigsaw puzzle and sold those parts to others (whose successors have been arguing about their property lines ever since).

    The Revolutionary War largely bypassed Louds and the other mid-coast islands, as did the War of 1812, though Maine shipbuilders crafted most of the early vessels commissioned by the U.S. Navy. “Ranger”, captained by John Paul Jones, was built in Maine.  And the French stirred up trouble along the Maine Coast during the French and Indian War.  The entire settlement on Monhegan Island was totally eradicated by fire resulting from an attack instigated by a French Baron in 1689.

    By the mid-1800’s the population of Louds Island consisted of perhaps 75 families, 10 or 15 clustered in Loudville, located on the east shore, a mile south of Little Harbor.  The open sea was tamed there by Marsh Island and its satellite ledges.  Incidentally, when we were on Louds, we were told of an old hermit who lived among the trees on Marsh Island, but no one had ever seen him.  I think his ghost lived over there.

    When the Civil War erupted, Maine readily responded with brave volunteers aplenty for the Union cause, except for an unusual number of the island people who had resisted for generations the very idea of nationhood, and, for that matter, even statehood.  They were an independent breed unto themselves, and when the call to arms came, Louds Island announced it was seceding from the State of Maine.  That brought a boatload of Bluecoats to Loudville, but they never landed.  The island men were away that day, probably fishing.  The story goes that the small company of Union troops was repulsed by an angry bevy of wives who stood on the jetty and pelted the soldiers with potatoes.

    The families who lived permanently on Louds before the turn of the century were farmers and fishermen.  From the sea they drew fertilizer in abundance.  The remains of a “porgy factory” can be found at Little Harbor.  The porgy fish is practically inedible, but when it’s dried and crushed and then worked into the thinnest soil, it will produce a miraculous harvest.   And the sea, of course, was their highway to the markets of seafood lovers in southern New England and on down (“up” the prevailing winds) to New York.  The interior of Maine was left, on the whole, a dense forest where roads or any sort were few.  As a result, in the 1700’s and 1800’s the place to live in Maine was on the islands.

    In fairness, it should be emphasized that such was not a universal reaction of the Maine islanders.  On Swans Island there stands a modest and well tended monument dedicated to the six boys who never returned from the war and on North Haven Island, a community water fountain is set in the center of the village as a memorial to those who served in “The War of the Rebellion,” a distinctive New England designation for the “War Between the States,” as the Civil War is often referred to below the Mason-Dixon Line.

    The Island Church:

    On Louds, at 5:00 P.M. sharp on Sunday from late June until early September, a bell tolls over the island.  It’s the church, perched on the highest hill, with gray shingles and fir-green trim, a modest Victorian in silhouette, where services will be promptly held and everyone will attend on pain of banishment:  whether he or she is a humanist, an Orthodox, an Agnostic, a Pentecostal or an Anglican.  Everyone!  An Evangelical coastal mission provides the clergy during the summer.  The church is the social center for the whole island, the place of potlucks and raffles, amateur hours and fundraisers, auctions and business meetings.  Our daughters, when they were respectively 7, 12, and 16, sang and danced in a variety show produced at the church and attended by many who boated in from the surrounding islands.  The proceeds from the show bought new gas lamps for the church to brighten the Sunday evening hymn singing and sermons.

     The church building itself has a history like no other.  It was first erected on an island about 30 miles from Louds, to the northeast.   I want to call it Adam’s Island, but I’m unsure of the name.  The name of the place is not critical because the name of islands are frequently settled upon and then changed.  In any event, the church’s original congregation on Adam’s Island was suspect in terms of mental competence even when a mission put up the building.  Generations of inbreeding had, to put it mildly, slowed the Adam’s islanders, and when Teddy Roosevelt was President, his National Board of Health insisted that something be done about the degenerate conditions on the island.  Eventually Roosevelt sent in some sort of shock troops and forcibly evicted every last soul from the island.  Presumably there was no ACLU around at that time to complain.  So there was the church, now left behind, and fairly new, as well.  When news of the eradication of the Adam’s islanders reached Louds, the  Loudvillians sent over barges and carted the church off, piece-by-piece, and then rebuilt it on the prettiest spot on Louds.  Thus a sad beginning led to the happiest of endings.

    A New Island is Chosen:

    Betty and I reluctantly bid Louds Island goodbye when we moved to California.  We were preparing to buy an abandoned shell of a house perched on a spectacular promontory from which we could watch the blinking of the lighthouse on far off Monhegan Island, just over the southeast horizon.  But such a restoration project would be nearly impossible for us as we relocated 3,000 miles away.

    The Maine islands remained, nevertheless, in our dreams.  We joined a sailing club at Newport Beach and spent many happy days poking out of Newport Harbor in good and bad winds.  But Catalina and the Channel Islands only made us homesick.  So it was that ten years ago, Betty, ever the navigator, charted out a new adventure.  We were to spend five weeks or more exploring more accessible islands not far from Louds.  The trip took us to the island of Isle au Haut, Deer Island, Mt. Desert (the locals pronounce it as they would a sweet food at the end of a meal), Swans Island, Monhegan, and the Fox Islands, Vinalhaven and North Haven.  On Vinalhaven we saw the remains of the granite quarries which, in the early years of the twentieth century, supplied the tons and tons of building blocks for the State capitals in Indianapolis and Albany, the Board of Trade building in Chicago, the New York Stock Exchange, the Library of Congress, and the Triborough, George Washington and Brooklyn bridges.  On Isle au Haut we slept in the oil house where the fuel for the island’s famed lighthouse had been stored.  The oil house was converted to a tiny cottage many years ago, but our shower was installed outdoors, hidden in the deep woods behind our little house.  We stayed at a place on Monhegan called an “Inn”, though the accommodations were rustic.  When I called for a reservation (there are telephones on Monhegan), I asked whether we should bring anything (such as soap).  The proprietor said “no” and then added, “Well, you might bring you sleeping bags.”   Betty befriended a couple on Monhegan who bought their summer place from Rockwell Kent, the author and illustrator best known for his woodblock prints.  We were given a personal tour of the house one afternoon after “tea.” 

    Of all the islands we explored, our favorite was North Haven.  Set almost astride the mouth of Penobscot Bay and shaped roughly like a cormorant’s wing, North Haven is only an hour by ferry from Rockland, which boasts its reputation as the “Lobster Capital of the World.”  And we found on North Haven a wonderful century-old farmhouse on 18 acres, fronting on a harbor, with a classic wooden sailboat moored just beyond the low tide line, all for rent.  We’ve spent our late summers on North Haven ever since.

    Unlike Louds, North Haven Island is a “working” island with a permanent population of some 300 people.  And life on North Haven is not a step back into the 19th century.  No more outhouses with “honey pots” to clean.  No more water wells a brisk walk away down a rocky path.   No more kerosene lamps to clean and trim and no more news headlines lost in a fog between the mainland and the island.  North Haven has a store and a K-12 school.  The graduating senior class sometimes numbers four.  There’s a good restaurant next to the town dock and the island’s post office must have 300 square feet of floor space.  North Haven’s library is larger than this meeting room.  Brown’s boatyard, well known up and down the coast, is still building dinghies and lobster boats in cedar and oak.

    Who’s Who:

    In summer, the population of North Haven triples.  It’s been a quiet escape for a great many city folk for a hundred years.  You will recognize some of the names.  The Cabots of Boston have a compound of cottages on the island.   The locals call it “Cabotville.” Governor Jay Rockefeller’s mother occupies a nice house overlooking North Haven’s Pulpit Harbor, one of the deepest and most well-protected harbors on the whole east coast.  Pete Du Pont, former governor of Delaware, has been vacationing on North Haven for years, as has an uncle of our new President.  The great Thomas Watson of IBM built a private airstrip on the north end of the island and Anne Morrow Lindbergh grew up on her father’s summer estate just south of Pulpit Harbor.  In fact, Charles Lindbergh used a field beside the Morrow house when he flew in and out of North Haven during their courtship.  “Lindy” and Anne took off from North Haven at the start of their trip which Anne later named “North to the Orient.”  President U.S. Grant and half his cabinet spent a night or two on North Haven when a storm drove their vessel ashore one stormy night.  An island native has preserved the butt of one of Grant’s cigars to this very day.  The Hollywood actor Robert Montgomery summered on North Haven for years and his widow has kept their comfortable and secluded home on the island in immaculate condition.

    But in the summer, down in the village, you can’t tell any celebrity or a blue-blood “off-islander” from a native.  An old native on any Maine island can only be identified by his accent.  As in “Aaya, yestiddy ‘twas truly thick-a-fog!”

    I am reminded of a time back on Louds Island when my wife, Betty, herself a native of central Massachusetts, became involved in a long conversation with Leland, an old retired ship’s carpenter from Waldoboro who had come “on” the island to install some cabinets in a neighbor’s house.  After some thirty minutes, Betty returned to our kitchen and I asked her what her meeting was all about.   “I have no idea,” Betty answered.   “I guess he just felt like talking.   I didn’t understand a word he said.”

    Renewal Beckons:

    It won’t be long now before the ice melts on the mid-island pond that supplies North Haven’s water.  Betty and I will begin our preparations to return.  The pinewoods and the giant boulders along the shore and the cold waves will be there to greet us.  The first thing we’ll do is get a tide chart and then we’ll check to see whether the Blue Heron, who lives in a marsh just south of us, is there as before, standing so still and erect like a sentinel.

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