Author Archives: BetsyWelch

Ice houses and the ice box

Davis Brothers Furniture in Tenants Harbor

Prior to the invention of the modern refrigerator a lot of homes in St. George used the ice box, and they were in common use from the 1850s to the 1930s.

The ice man went door to door delivering the ice, which was kept in storage in local ice houses, packed in sawdust to insulate it and keep it from melting. It was common to keep ice stored this way throughout the year, with the ice house being refilled when the cold winter returned.

In St. George there were two main sources of ice—Howard’s Pond in Glenmere and the marsh in Tenants Harbor. Not only was ice from these locations made available to local residents, but there was quite a business in shipping the ice worldwide.

It appears that Samuel Trussell of Port Clyde started the ice business at Glenmere in the early 1870s. Records show Leonard Hupper gave a lease to Howard’s Pond to Samuel Loud of Boston in 1872 and in 1874 Samuel Trussell sold to Samuel Loud his interest to “all of the ice houses and wharf situated in [Deep Cove]… built by me,” along with ice plow, ice tongs, ice caulker and ice auger. In December of 1874 the trustees of the estate of Kilham Loud & Co sold these same assets and assigned the lease to Howard’s Pond to Josiah Hupper and F. O. Martin. Hupper and Martin may have started in the business earlier, as Elisha Seavey, in August of 1873, leased to Hupper “a right of way across his land” from the town road to the sea shore “used for the purpose of hauling ice from Howard’s Pond.”

The first evidence of a business venture at the Tenants Harbor marsh appears in June of 1890, when all the property owners surrounding the marsh gave a 10-year lease to the Davis Brothers for “the privilege of raising the water on said marsh about five ft. by building a dam across M[arsh] Creek near Ripley’s bridge for the purpose of their cutting and taking ice from said Marsh Creek.” The terms of the lease called for “paying therefor[e] the rent of (1½) one and one half cents per ton for all the ice sold or shipped.” Further conditions of the lease were that the rent was to be divided among all the property owners and “the bridge and town road at the head of said Marsh shall not be overflowed.”

In his History of St. George, Maine, Albert Smalley mentions George Rawley in Tenants Harbor as also being in the ice business. It is not known exactly where Rawley’s ice houses were located, although there is a late-19th century painting that shows what appears to be an ice house in the field where the Jackson Memorial Library now stands. We know that Rawley purchased the property that the library sits on in 1896 and he owned it until his death in 1917. And that same property included the land and buildings shown in the photo of the Davis Brothers Furniture Company (which was the old Grace Institute property), so it would probably be safe to assume that Rawley and the Davis Brothers had a business relationship.

Finally, It is also known that in the early 1900s John Morris had an ice house on the north side of Main Street across from the town office/fire station. This may have been the same location as an earlier ice house.

—John Falla

Winter songbirds and the cross-peninsula otter expressway

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

Golden-crowned kinglet

A participant on a recent tracking outing mentioned how in winter Maine forests can be quiet as far as songbirds are concerned. “Huh,” was my creative reply. On the one hand, birds aren’t really singing these days and many species that nest in local woods headed for warmer climes months ago. But during the calm between storms or wind bursts, overwintering songbirds do communicate with each other and add a much appreciated chatter to the woods. So I think I would go with “quieter” as opposed to “quiet.”

Folks with feeders know that songbirds like chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, cardinals, jays, crows and juncos (among others) will visit all winter as long as the feed keeps getting replaced. These same species can be found in the woods well away from any feeding stations where they are joined by songbirds that seldom go to humans for grub. Golden-crowned Kinglets, all 4.5 inches of them, spend the winter living off of insects they find between conifer needles and under bark. Shivering to generate heat is a part of their winter survival strategy, and I observed two different individuals shivering hard while looking for food during a significant freeze earlier this winter. Joining the kinglets on our peninsula this winter has also been a small number of Brown Creepers, a songbird that hunts for insects in nooks and crannies in tree bark. On sunny days I’ve seen small flocks of Cedar Waxwings in flight as well as larger flocks of overwintering American Robins. What a winter for robins and juncos!

On most trips to a nearby decaying deer (I spend way too much time with that deer), I have been hearing and seeing a pair of finch species known as crossbills. Earlier in the winter small flocks of up to five White-winged Crossbills came through searching for bounties of spruce cones, but now it appears that Red Crossbill is the species that may hang around for a bit. Both species of crossbills have upper and lower bills (or beaks or mandibles) that don’t line up when their bill is closed. This is an adaption to access seeds in conifer cones. Crossbills will stick their bills between scales of a cone and then close (or cross) their bills which in turn pries the scales apart. The crossbills then use their sticky tongues to extract seeds that the cone holds. Another adaptation crossbills have is a pocket-like structure midway down their throats called an “esophageal diverticulum.” This pouch is used to store seeds which then can be digested during severe weather episodes allowing the crossbills to feed without “going outside” in a sense. Crossbills are songbirds built for Maine winters!

Not necessarily known for their harmonic ditties, “Corvids” (family Corvidae) such as ravens, crows and Blue Jays are a family that (somewhat surprisingly) also falls into the category of “songbirds.” In other words, they have a “syrinx” to make vocalizations as all songbirds have. Corvids are known for their “mobbing” behavior where they gang up on any predator, often owls, that they come across. Twice recently Blue Jays have drawn my attention to Northern Goshawks that hunt songbirds! Good use of your syrinx, Jays!

A belly slide on the otter expressway

As if that wasn’t enough, imagine this: You are an otter and you just fished (under the ice obviously) your way up the entire length of the marsh. Are you going to turn around and go all the way back down through the marsh to Ripley Creek in order to get to your next fishing ground? Probably not. Instead you might think about taking a short cut through the woods to your next fishing hole. The pair of otters that frequent the Tenants Harbor marsh, Lefty and Poncho, routinely follow a half mile, meandering trail between the marsh and Seavey Cove. This trail is used year round, but is most easily observed in the snow and might be thought of as an energy-efficient route between fishing hot spots.

A third otter, presumed to be a large male who we call “Larry,” also uses that trail on a regular basis, but Larry is not satisfied with only visiting the marsh and Seavey Cove. Larry also spends time fishing in the St. George River (who can blame him) and follows a mile-long meandering trail that runs from the marsh, behind (and in) the Ponderosa and then to salt water southwest of Hawthorn Point. This route goes over a high point between the marsh and the ponderosa, and with the right snow conditions Larry was able to belly slide all the way down the 1,200-foot incline! Now that is the way to travel!

From following Larry’s tracks I could see that there was one night where he made his way from Seavey Cove, fished the upper reaches of the marsh and then headed over to the St. George. He completed the entire 1.5-mile “cross-peninsula otter expressway” in one effort, belly sliding as much as possible. Probably not the only otter expressway on the peninsula, just the one I live closest to.

Hope you are enjoying winter! We’ll see you out there!

John F. Shea: A retirement marked by an outgoing, lively interest in community life

Janet and John Shea

John F. Shea, Jr., 89, passed away in Portland on January 31. He and his wife of 63 years, Janet, moved to their “Pointed Fir” home in Martinsville in 1993, following Shea’s career as a civil engineer with the Polaroid Corporation. An outgoing person, Shea took a lively interest in community life from the moment he arrived in St. George.

The campaign to move the Jackson Memorial Library into a new facility was a particular passion. And once the library moved, Shea, for five years a library board member, was always willing to turn his engineer’s point of view to helping trouble-shoot problem issues with the new facility. He enthusiastically took on projects such as ventilating the room that houses the library’s electronics, installing automatic thermostats, and improving the heating system in the children’s room. Shea was also responsible for pulling together the library’s monthly men’s discussion group.

An avid vegetable gardener, Shea’s curiosity about the natural world of this peninsula led him to also become involved with the town’s Conservation Commission. Restoring a run of alewives into the Tenants Harbor marsh was one of his priorities. He spearheaded a campaign to restock the marsh with spawn-ready fish from 2009 to 2013, and strongly advocated for the replacement of the obstructive culvert at Ripley Creek that finally occurred in 2015. He particularly encouraged and enjoyed the involvement of the St. George School, where he also volunteered as a math tutor, in these restoration efforts.

Shea’s service in the U.S. Navy from 1946 to 1948, too, was the foundation of his fierce pride in being a veteran and a member of the Kinney-Melquist American Legion Post-34 in St. George.

The Sheas moved to Portland, Maine, in 2017 to be closer to their two daughters and more accessible to their three sons and grandchildren in the Boston area. —JW

Ice fishing is my favorite thing to do in winter

by Dylan Lord

Ice fishing has been my favorite thing thing to do in the winter for 80 percent of my life. This cold winter sport is a very fun activity to do on a weekend. There is a lot of enjoyment that you can look back on throughout the week.

Last Saturday when I went ice fishing, the frigid breeze was freezing the tip of my nose. My father and I just got on the perfectly smooth ice. There was no snow on the ice, but there was two inches of crusty, dry snow on the hard, frosty ground. I just finished drilling holes on the ice. The ice was a solid eight inches. One other person was on the part of the lake we were on.

I scooped out the ice holes with an ice scoop, which looks like a one-and-a-half-foot tall ladle with small holes in the scoop to let the water out and keep the slush and ice bits in. I went back to our blue-and-black tent that we had our pack baskets next to. I set my lucky ice-fishing trap, that I have a new flag for because the original flag dry-rotted off.

I tried setting my third trap, but on my lucky trap the flag whooshed up. I dashed over, losing traction with each stride. The reel on the ice fishing trap was spinning really fast. I picked up the trap and started pulling up the line. The fish was definitely on the line and was putting up a great fight. I pulled up the fish and it was a bass, a largemouth bass.

I ended up catching 20 fish on that cold breezy day. It is a very fun, social sport. I love ice fishing and I hope you will try it too.

(Lord is a 6th-grade student at St. George School)

Finn Cushman with a three-pound bass he caught while fishing with his dad and friends at North Pond in Warren.

Got internet?

Home tech volunteers from left: Jeff Boulet, Alane Kennedy, John Maltais and Van Thompson.

Got internet? If you don’t, and would like to learn what it would take to get it, one of your St. George neighbors can help—at no charge. If you already have internet, but are having issues connecting, you can ask for a free home tech visit and diagnosis. This outreach project is brought to you by the St. George Community Development Corporation. The goal is to make residents more self-sufficient with technology and improve internet access for all. For more information or to schedule an appointment for a home tech diagnosis, please call 372-2193 or email info@stgerogecommunity.org.

Land conservation effort could secure permanent public access to Clark Island

By Rich Knox

Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT), a statewide land conservation organization, is working to assure permanent public access to the majority of 175-acre Clark Island in St. George. MCHT has entered into an option agreement with the current landowners, which gives it until March of 2020 to raise the $4.8 million required to purchase and assure its long-term future as a public preserve.

Clark Island, home to only a few residences, has long been a destination for people who live and visit the mid-coast region as a place to walk, hike, and beachcomb while enjoying spectacular natural surroundings. Most visitors assume the island is public and protected from development, when, in fact, it is privately owned, and public access is not guaranteed for the future. The current landowners hope to sell Clark Island to MCHT to conserve it, and ensure that the tradition of public access and recreation they have voluntarily granted for decades will be permanently assured.

Joanne O’Shea, owner of the nearby Craignair Inn & Restaurant supports the conservation effort and says it benefits her customers and her business. “The Clark Island landowners have always graciously invited our guests to enjoy the island, allowing access to the beaches, the swimming hole and the many trails.  Many of our return guests stay with us specifically because of the beauty and diversity the island offers.  It is our feeling, as well as that of our neighbors here in the Village of Clark Island, that MCHT’s conservation of the island would benefit the area tremendously.”

If successful, this effort will result in 85 per cent of the 175-acre island being permanently protected, with 120 acres secured for public access. “This area would be a wonderful recreational asset for the townspeople; I hope the voters will help support its acquisition, as they have done for other MCHT projects, like High Island,” says Richard Bates, chair of the St. George Select Board.

Clark Island has a long and fascinating history, with original settlement dating back to the 1780s, and quarrying operations beginning in the 1830s. By 1890, 100 stone cutters and their families, plus supporting crews of quarrymen and sculptors, along with 51 children, lived on Clark Island. In 1892, the town of St. George paid for a granite causeway from the mainland to Clark Island, and by 1900, 400 people—300 of them stone cutters—were employed in the quarry operation. Today the island is mostly undeveloped with just a few remaining residences.

More recently, the island has been a destination for those seeking unique midcoast recreational experiences. Visitors can access the island by boat or the granite causeway from the mainland to enjoy hiking, birding, hunting, beachcombing, swimming, kayaking and cross-country skiing. The island trails have been utilized in the past for organized birding trips and annual artist retreats.

As one of the few remaining unfragmented coastal habitat blocks in the region, Clark Island supports a diversity of marine and terrestrial wildlife. Much of the intertidal salt marsh, mudflat, and beach natural community types are designated as Significant Tidal Waterfowl and Wading Bird Habitat by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife; functional vernal pools occur throughout the island; and there is a rich diversity of both breeding and migratory bird species that utilize the island throughout the year.

MCHT is grateful that the owners agreed to sell the property for $400,000 less than appraised value to help jump-start fundraising efforts. MCHT seeks to raise an additional $4.4 million by March of 2020 to purchase the 120 acres on Clark, and to assure long-term stewardship of the property. MCHT will be reaching out to individuals and organizations, as well as to state and federal conservation agencies to help meet the goal. Those interested in donating to the effort should contact David Warren at MCHT (607-4365).

(Knox is Director of Communications, Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Maine Coast Heritage Trust is a statewide land conservation organization committed to protecting the character of Maine. Since 1970, Maine Coast Heritage Trust has helped conserve more than 147,000 acres in Maine, from the Isles of Shoals to Cobscook Bay, including more than 300 entire coastal islands. For more information, visit www.mcht.org.)
PHOTOS: Ken Woisard Photography

St. George School — 60 years old

The era of one-room schoolhouses in St. George ended in 1957 when the St. George Elementary School opened. Students from grades 1 through 6 moved into this building from the schoolhouses at Port Clyde, Wiley’s Corner, Tenants Harbor, and Clark Island. The picture above is taken from the current school entrance road on Main Street. From right to left you can see the cafeteria, kitchen, janitor’s room, supply room, bathrooms, first grade and second grade. On the other side of the building, from left to right, were the third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, principal’s office and the covered entrance to the building.

The “Annex”

The building has undergone several changes since 1957. At the north end of the building a two-story addition housed a library and kindergarten in the late 1970s. Another addition was made at the south end adding the students from the Annex Building in the early 1980s. This addition included a gymnasium that was part of the original design of the 1950s, but was scrapped due to cost. The Annex Building, as it was called, was the old high school on School Street and housed students from grades 6 to 8 in the first floor rooms beginning when the St. George High School closed in the early 1960s and St. George sent their high school students to Georges Valley High School in Thomaston. The last renovation that was in 1996 updated the “old” building and added several improvements which included the removal of classroom trailers.

The history of schools in St. George could fill several volumes. At one point in the early 1800s there were 20 school districts in town. Because of the size of the town, this many schools were needed. The district boundaries were always changing, too, based on the changes of the population within the neighborhoods. And there were several islands—such as Allen, Hupper and Teel—that had their own schools. The St. George Historical Society’s new web site (www.stgeorgehistory.com) has a picture section that includes pictures of some of the old schoolhouses plus some old school photos of the students. The Marshall Point Lighthouse museum collection also includes quite a bit of information on the schools of St. George.

And the debate on consolidation of schools apparently has always been there. A newspaper article in January 1957 spoke of the resistance coming from Port Clyde because they had a two-room school that was only 10 years old. This was confirmed to me in the 1990s when, at a town meeting, I spoke to an older gentlemen from Port Clyde who said that it was the first town meeting he had been to since they closed the Port Clyde School! Imagine—closing one- and two-room schoolhouses and consolidating them into one building in a central location in town? Some discussions never change.

—John Falla

Leslie C. Hyde: A conservation activist with a concrete love for St. George

When St. George resident Leslie C. Hyde passed away this past Christmas Day, the conservation community in the midcoast lost a great friend, supporter and activist.

The loss for St. George was particularly acute. For one thing, this is where Hyde’s love for this part of Maine was first kindled through time spent exploring Mosquito Island in the 1970s.

This is also where, in his work as environmental educator for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension service, Hyde played an instrumental role in ensuring that Blueberry Cove Camp could get a new lease on life with an ongoing mission to inspire a love and care for nature in young campers.

And this is where Hyde’s conservation activism—in league with the George’s River Land Trust (of which he was a founding member), St. George’s Conservation Commission (of which, at his death, he was both a member and past chair), the Maine Coast Heritage Trust and students at the St. George School—led to the acquisition for public use and enjoyment of many local conservation easements and preserves, along with efforts to restore a run of alewives into the Tenants Harbor marsh, preserve vernal pools, and limit the incursion of invasive vegetation.

The list of places in St. George that will always be associated with Hyde’s care and concern is long: Roaring Spot, Fort Point, Tommy’s Island, the Jones Brook Trail, the Bamford Preserve in Long Cove, the Meadow Brook estuary in the Otis Cove section, High Island. He died hopeful that a campaign to raise funds to conserve most of Clark Island for public benefit and an effort to make passage of alewives up Ripley Creek into the town marsh more feasible would also be successful.

There is no doubt Hyde loved St. George. He and his wife of 36 years, Anne Cogger, raised a family in Long Cove, enthusiastically sailed these waters and came to know the peninsula’s landscapes intimately. And the St. George community can be grateful that Hyde’s love for this place is something he didn’t keep to himself—it is something he concretely shared with us all.—JW

PHOTO: Lily Hyde Sytsma

Dead buck tells some tales

Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen

The forecast for December 23rd called for a three-hour window of calm between the previous night’s snow and the arrival of rain and warmth. Predictions like this call for the obvious—track hard before the snow and the stories melted away. So off and onto the marsh we (the royal “we”) went. On the ice I crossed several “soft trails” left by critters that were active before the snow and winds had settled. To me “soft trails” are ones lacking in detail, trails that are often reduced to fragments separated by long stretches of nothingness where direction of movement can even be hard to tell.

After a bit I hooked up with an extremely soft otter trail and was able to piece together the route it took to a latrine I monitor about a quarter mile away. The trail was a dead end from there—winds had apparently kept trail fragments exposed on the ice but whatever woodland routes the otter took were completely gone (what I refer to as a “no” trail). With the tracking window starting to close, I decided to visually sweep the marsh shoreline in hopes of finding any other otter sign. I spotted what, from a distance, appeared to be a very fresh deer trail just a little off into the woods. As luck would have it, it was no deer trail at all. Instead, it was a super fresh fisher trail, with tracks so detailed I knew it couldn’t have been more than an hour or two ahead of me. The fisher and I were active in the same weather window and this one might have even seen me (or more likely smelled me) as I was working the soft trails on the ice. I bailed on the otters immediately.

The fisher’s bounding trail was a determined and focused jaunt through the woods, stopping only a few times to mark stumps with urine or rolling its soiled, and presumably stinky, body in the snow. Figuring (hoping, really) this trail would end at a den, I followed quickly as temps were starting to rise. At the half mile mark the fisher stopped for a meal at a male white-tailed deer carcass partially buried in snow. The fisher had obviously feasted here before as a good chunk of the buck’s rump had been removed and the trail was so direct. Yes, it was like a dream come true.

Time was slippin’ and the rain was drippin’, so I zipped home to get my trail camera and my wife and then booked it back to the carcass to aim the motion-triggered lens at the fisher’s future feast. We were spending the holidays with family and were to return late on the 29th. Six days to document carcass visitors. Perfect.

Loaded with an intense case of giddipation, I woke up way too early on the 30th and had to slap on a headlamp as well as my snowshoes to charge out into the -12-degree 5:30am darkness. When I got to the carcass the camera showed that it had taken 35 photos in those six days. A lower number than what I had hoped for, especially when you realize that some photos were of my mug while putting up and taking down the camera! The photos didn’t reveal much—a fat raccoon stopped and took a nibble, and a snowshoe hare hopped onto the snow covered head of the buck, but outside of that the deer appeared to have been ignored. Perhaps it had been too cold, or possibly the fisher was full. I read that fishers will sometimes sleep for days after a big meal so maybe this fisher was riding out the cold in some burrow in the ground with a full belly. Maybe. With the cold continuing (and continuing), I waited to put the camera back up until it was forecast to warm up for a few days in a row. When I returned there were 1320 pictures waiting on the camera. Yes, it was truly a dream come true.

Eleven hundred of the photos were of the fisher as it gorged on the deer on the night of January 3rd. And what a feast it was after such a long, cold stretch! The fisher ate on the deer for over two hours, even opening up a second access point by the deer’s chest to get at the tasty treats inside. Another 200 shots were of a return visit of fisher the next morning (see photo), and the final 20 were of my bald, icy-bearded grub. By far the most success I have had with the camera, I was extremely pleased with the results.

Needless to say the camera is back up and we will continue to document the “feast that keeps on giving” until there is no more to document. If you are interested in seeing more of the fisher photos or photos of tracking on the marsh in general check out www.vinalhavensightings.blogspot.com or follow us at “Baldfulmar”on the Instagram thing. Alright! See you out there!

PHOTOS: Kirk Gentalen

Letters

To the editor:
How cool! I googled ‘giddipation’ this morning, and The Dragon is the only reference that comes up. Way to go, Kirk Gentalen and St. George Dragon, for getting a new word into our lexicon.

Susan K. Bates

Editor’s note: See the previous article for another instance of this term. It refers to “giddy anticipation”.

Winter in St. George

On a Winter’s Night

The wind thrusts the diamond dust in flurries down the hill.
It dances and it twirls until it settles still.
The winter snow comes down slowly and soft,
And the graceful, luscious flakes fall gently on evergreen lofts.
The snow is crusted over with a powdery glaze,
While the deer gracefully canter and then stop to gaze.
The golden stars twinkle in the dark blue sky,
And the silver lined clouds slowly graze by.
The warm lights glow in a small village ahead,
As each kind soul settles into a cozy bed.
And as the full moon lingers low,
It casts a light like silk on the snow.
For you may only see this beautiful sight,
On a peaceful winter’s night.

—Addie McPhail

Nothing Better

There’s nothing better,
Than a hot cup of cocoa,
A cozy blanket,
And itchy wool socks…
Except for t-shirts, sandals and fresh lobster.

—Willow McConochie

A Blank New Year

As a new year starts
And yesteryear parts,
A fresh snow canvas
Blankets the trees and grass
We paint the new years
And when the next year nears
We start again.

—Lute Campbell

Snow

Gentle feathers, dots of white,
Illuminated by headlights,
The first snowflakes melt on impact,
The second snowflakes slowly stack
Upon the ground, and can be packed
Into snowballs, and thrown

—Grace Yanz

(McPhail, McConochie, Campbell and Yanz are 7th grade students at St. George School.)

PHTO: Betsy Welch