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.
OF A MAINIAC
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. Theres a boy approaching from the shore. Hes 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.
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. Cecils
wife, Elizabeth, could not abide the mainland. She
was born and reared on an island farther out, way beyond Monhegan. Elizabeths childhood home had actually been
hardly more than a craggy rock, an outcropping the early seafarers called Ragged
In the early 1950s 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
fishermans 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).
Ive Heard It Said:
The history of Louds Island is
largely unwritten. Its 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 1600s 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-1800s 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 its 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 1700s and 1800s the place to live in Maine was on the
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. Its 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 Adams Island, but Im 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 churchs original
congregation on Adams 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 Adams 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 Adams 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
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 islands 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 cormorants 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. Weve spent our late summers on North Haven
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. Theres
a good restaurant next to the town dock and the islands post office must have 300
square feet of floor space. North
Havens library is larger than this meeting room.
Browns boatyard, well known up and down the coast, is still building dinghies
and lobster boats in cedar and oak.
In summer, the population of North
Haven triples. Its 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 Rockefellers
mother occupies a nice house overlooking North Havens 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
fathers 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 Grants 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 cant 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 ships carpenter from Waldoboro who
had come on the island to install some cabinets in a neighbors 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 didnt understand a word he said.
It wont be long now before the
ice melts on the mid-island pond that supplies North Havens 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 well do is get a tide chart
and then well 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.