Maine Senate race nastiest of all, study says

SOMESVILLE, Oct. 15, 2020 – The race between Susan Collins and Democratic challenger Sara Gideon ranks first as the most negative campaign with over two-thirds of the advertising on television being pure attack, according to the Wesleyan University media project.

Gideon has been more likely to go negative in her advertising, with more than half of her ads solely attacking compared to over a third of Collins’ ads.

Iowa’s contest between Joni Ernst and Theresa Greenfield ranks a close second at 61.5 percent negative overall despite the fact that Greenfield has not aired any pure attack ads and Ernst’s percentage of pure attacks is only 42 percent. The bulk of the negativity comes from outside groups and the party committees in that race. The Arizona, Alaska and North Carolina contests round out the top five in negativity with overall half of their ads being negative.

Table: Most Negative U.S. Senate Races (Pure Attack Only)

StateAiringsNeg %Neg %
(Dem Cand only)
Neg %
(Rep Cand only)
SOURCE: Based on ongoing Wesleyan Media Project coding of Kantar/CMAG data, which is subject to change.

This chart looks at the tone of Senate advertising in 2020 in comparison to the two previous presidential cycles. As measured through attack and contrast ads, 2020 is more negative during the comparable last few weeks in 2012 and 2016. On the other hand, pure attack spots are slightly down as a share of all ads in September and in the full cycle-to-date in 2020 compared to 2012 and 2016.

Numbers include ads aired on broadcast television and national cable between January 1 of the off year and September 27 of the election year in each cycle (left panel) and between September 5-27 of the election year in each year (right panel). Numbers include candidate, party, and group-sponsored ads.

This chart looks at the trend in negative messages (combining attack and contrast ads) in Senate races since the summer. As is often the case, negative spots make up a larger share of ads as the campaign progresses, such that in the last week they accounted for over 70 percent of all Senate ads. For a few weeks in late August, pro-Democratic ads were more negative than pro-GOP ads. This has reversed since the beginning of September, with about 4 of every 5 pro-Republican ads containing an attack on a Democratic Senate candidate.


Mount Desert’s out-sized influence on national politics …

SOMESVILLE. May 11, 2020 – Maine’s Second Congressional District was the only one which gave Donald Trump an electoral vote from the Northeast. And our county, Hancock, was the only one in CD2 Trump did not carry. Jared Golden is the district congressman because of the heavy support from Mount Desert. He won by only 3,500 votes in 2018.

And your vote will help decide whether the United States Senate will stay a Republican-controlled chamber. Hardly a day goes by when the national press fails to include Maine in their breathless coverage.

But the fact is that Maine is now regarded as a critical battleground state, and District 2 (in green below) – sans Portland and Augusta – is really the entire battleground.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is maine_us_congressional_district_2_since_2013.jpg

Hillary Clinton carried District 1 easily, and because she won the majority of the popular vote in Maine she also received the two at-large electoral votes. But she won the state by only 22,000 votes and she lost District 2 to Trump by 10 percent.

District 2 has other distinctions. The Trump victory in 2016 marked the first time Maine has split its electoral votes (3-1) – one of only two states with that mechanism. The other is Nebraska, with five votes. The Second District also has eight counties which were part of 206 “pivot counties” in the country which went from supporting Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016.

Pivot counties
  Trump margin of victory in 2016 Obama margin of victory in 2012 Obama margin of victory in 2008
Androscoggin County, Maine 9.38% 12.78% 15.22%
Aroostook County, Maine 17.19% 7.62% 9.58%
Franklin County, Maine 5.47% 18.41% 20.29%
Kennebec County, Maine 3.58% 13.46% 14.78%
Oxford County, Maine 12.94% 14.73% 16.04%
Penobscot County, Maine 10.91% 2.93% 5.12%
Somerset County, Maine 22.67% 1.68% 5.70%
Washington County, Maine 18.44% 1.60% 1.01%

Mount Desert Island is clearly out of step with the rest of District 2 with the exception of liked-minded Blue Hill.

If each vote carried a weight, there is none in the United States which indexes higher than a vote here on the Quietside. That is the reason I registered to vote here instead of Connecticut, where I have another house.

A reader challenged my assertion that Mount Desert made the difference in Jared Golden’s 2018 victory in Maine’s Congressional District 2:

“I dispute your conclusion that Golden won because of Mt. Desert support.  For the first time in Maine history, we had ranked choice voting.  Will Hoar (son-in-law of Dick Wolfe) and Tiffany Bond (both independents) amassed about 8% of the vote and thus, when those votes were added to Golden’s total,  the key 1% majority on the “second ballot”.

I thanked the reader for holding my feet to the fire when it comes to accuracy.

My reply:

First of all, not all of Bond and Hoar’s votes went to Golden. About 10,000 of Bond’s votes went to Golden and 5,000 to Bruce Poliquin. Hoar’s percentage was a bit higher for Golden. Counting their votes in the second ballot put Golden over the top by 2,906 votes, from a first ballot deficit of about 2,000. But a closer look at the vote count for Hancock County, particularly the four Mount Desert towns where Golden won by huge margins, shows a difference of about 3,400 votes on MDI. Bar Harbor went 2,060 for Golden versus 638 for Poliquin. Without that overwhelming support from these four towns, the votes from the second ballot from the two Independents wouldn’t have mattered.

I do regret one oversight. I should have included our neighbors to the west as like-minded. Blue Hill, Deer Isle, Penobscot, Stonington, Castine, Brooklin, Brooksville, Sedgwick and Surry also should be credited for the Golden victory.

So, while I acknowledge that the sui generis characteristics of Maine’s Ranked Choice voting made for a compelling story, the truth is that the influence of Mount Desert in the Second District was as stated in earlier report.

Here is how Hancock County voted in 2018:

                                                           Golden         Poliquin

Amherst 50 83
Aurora 21 29
Bar Harbor 2060 628
Blue Hill 1050 477
Brooklin 354 148
Brooksville 365 169
Bucksport 977 998
Castine 284 141
Cranberry Isles 28 19
Cranberry Isles 54 12
Dedham 438 445
Deer Isle 665 308
Eastbrook 45 86
Ellsworth 694 528
Ellsworth 274 278
Ellsworth 233 291
Ellsworth 536 513
Franklin 267 319
Frenchboro 10 1
Gouldsboro 411 430
Great Pond 12 22
Hancock 486 541
Lamoine 470 433
Mariaville 87 123
Mount Desert 863 317
Orland 584 471
Osborn 8 26
Osborn — T22 MD Twp 2 0
Otis 114 244
Penobscot 418 231
Sedgwick 394 221
Sorrento 91 74
Southwest Harbor 562 303
Stonington 316 142
Sullivan 289 226
Surry 491 353
Swans Island 85 101
Tremont 460 282
Trenton 380 311
Verona Island 126 124
Waltham 53 107
Winter Harbor 127 142

Ways to combat cabin fever? How about going back to school?

SOMESVILLE, Oct. 23, 2020 – I am anticipating my first winter in Maine with hope and not a small amount of dread. The band of hearty MDI year-round residents – of which I am not yet one – had no shortage of advice on FaceBook.

“Make sure you go outside every day,” was the most frequent and prominent.

“Get grippers for your boots and fresh air every day. Take up a hobby and get a book wish list going,” wrote Geneva Chase Langley. “Winter is my favorite. I couldn’t do summer without a good winter!”

I’ll bet she was a cheerful type during middle school. There’s always an outlier.

Then there are the jokes. “My advice is move to Florida….” said Chuck Alley.

I’ll probably just hunker down in front of my laptop and check the weather forecast every 15 minutes.

That was my plan until I received a draft of the proposed winter courses offered by Acadia Senior College which I now intend to publish at the risk of the line-jumpers who will sit on the enrollment tab on registration day Dec. 2 and lock me out of a class.

There are seven courses planned and I am tempted to enroll in all. Earl Brechlin’s “So You think you know Maine” is a natural for the QSJ. By January we will be in either Trump’s second term or President Biden’s inaugural haze. Whichever way, I’ll need sustenance from historian Gregory Bush. And the enigmatic tales of Henry James and Joseph Conrad by Bill Dohmen will also get my attention.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is winter-offer.jpg

This is the 20th anniversary of the senior college which was started in 2001 by Jim and Dorothy Clunan, both of whom are struggling with health issues. There have been 8,271 registrations and 745 courses taught. Here is a good article in the Bangor Daily News when the college was launched.

Heated real estate market gobbles up inventory, building trades – ‘it’s insane!’

SOUTHWEST HARBOR, Oct. 23. 2020 – When was the last time every important data point was above double-digit percentage increase for homes sales on MDI towns?


In the above chart compiled for QSJ by broker Carol Schaefer of the Davis Agency in Southwest Harbor, the number of homes under contract for the first 10 months of 2020 increased 51 percent over 2019. Tremont led the way with a 93 percent increase, albeit on a smaller base.

Of course, the supply side of the market just couldn’t keep up with the demand as the following chart indicates the pressure on inventory. When you go to the market at the end of the day, everything’s been picked over.

Real estate agents and lawyers on MDI described the current market as “insane.” Buyers from big metros like New York and Boston are gobbling properties, some “sight unseen.”

“They like having more room in a home and they have learned they can work remotely,” said broker Carol Schaefer. “The internet is a must.”

The average price for a home sold on MDI this year was $671,578. Insane!

The average price for a home sold in the town of Mount Desert is approaching $1 million. Insane!

Total cost of homes sold in Tremont up by 124 percent. Insane!

The town of Mount Desert is a good proxy for home sale activity across the island because of its diverse inventory of affordable, mid-range and high-end homes from Hall Quarry to Seal Harbor.

Last year the town reported a record number of 55 homes sold, and assessor Kyle Avila expects this year will eclipse last year’s record. With more than two months to go in 2020, there have already been 53 homes under contract. See chart below for the last 10 years of sales in Mount Desert.


But the word on every real estate professional’s lips is “crash,” as they fully expect a bust in a year or two. The last time such a downtown occurred in 2008, the decline was marginal, said Kyle Avila. It took several years for the market to recover until it hit a boom in 2012. Except for a brief cooling off in 2013, the town has seen a steady rise since 2014, In 2009, the record of 55 homes sold beat 2018’s 43 sales.

4 Oak Hill Road - Photo 0 of 36

4 Oak Hill Road, Somesville, which had been on and off the market for five years, recently went under contract. Seller was askinhg $1,075,000

Then there are the collateral effects from this “monster” market as the buyers compete for builders and trades people to remodel or rebuild. Lawyers, banks are backed up for months. One lawyer told me she can’t take another new piece of real estate business until next year.

Some of the sales may be pushed into January for closing and will not reflect the actual amount of business in 2020. The market has cooled a bit the last two weeks but it’s anyone’s guess how long this bubble will last.

The biggest collateral damage is the hit to the island on affordable housing. Where do working people go to buy a house when the average sales price is $671,758? Of course some of that is the effect of homes sold at the high end.

79 Peabody Drive (Northeast Hrb) , Mount Desert, ME 04662 (MLS 1465559) #1

The highest priced home for sale on MDI during this extreme sellers’ market is 79 Peabody Drive in Northeast Harbor, just steps from Thuya Gardens. Seller is asking $8.3 million, which is more than double the latest assessment in the town of Mount Desert which values properties at 100 percent of “market value.”

Ashley Bryan’s long journey gets a boost from old friend, ex-teaching partner


SOMESVILLE, Oct. 21, 2020 – They shared a patois that only artists seem to understand, ruminating over the use of paint, light, depth and, of course, color. They spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours fussing over such details. Many days, Henry Isaacs would start with coffee for both. And many nights, they would end with rum.

Both lived in the village of Islesford on Little Cranberry Island. They taught art together. Perhaps someday they will be known as the Islesford School, like the Hudson River School or the Black Mountain School.

Today, neither is in Maine, both with health challenges. Isaacs is in Vermont, as he battles a neurological affliction. His former teaching partner, the venerated Ashley Bryan, is living with relatives in Houston, where he contracted Covid-19 in the spring but has since recovered. Ashley Bryan turned 97 in July. Gov. Janet Mills proclaimed his birthday “Ashley Bryan Day in Maine.” Last week, Bryan injured his painting wrist when he used it to break a fall. Like all of us, 2020 has not been a felicitous year for Ashley Bryan. It was the first year since 1988 he has not been in Maine.

I first saw Ashley Bryan in the Islesford Dock bar about 15 years ago when it was still owned by Dan and Cynthia Lief. He was a visual non-sequitur in my hardened expectation of Maine – an elderly African American in a restaurant which can be accessed only by boat for most customers. If Maine’s African American population is less than 2 percent, I can’t imagine what the percentage is for its islands.

About 10 years ago the Wendell Gilley Gallery in Southwest Harbor exhibited a retrospective of Bryan’s work curated by Isaacs. There were other small exhibits: College of the Atlantic and the Islesford Historical Museum.

“But none were the major hotspots of art,” Isaacs said.

That changed on Oct. 21 when the Bates College Museum of Art began a seven-month exhibition called “Beautiful Blackbird: Let’s Celebrate Ashley Bryan.”photograph

“Ashley Bryan was so marginalized in the art history of Maine,” said Henry Isaacs. “He hasn’t been in front of people – often by accident … he’s never been part of the commercial world, the mainstream art world.”

“For one thing he’s an African American,” Isaacs said. “And he has chosen not to be in the commercial world.”

The Bates exhibit is the first museum show of significance to exhibit Bryan’s art, Isaacs said. “This has been in the planning for a long time to make Ashley’s art available to the people of Maine.”

Ashley Bryan, Iris #1, n.d., acrylic on canvas, 48 1/2 x 36 3/4 in., Bates College Museum of Art, gift of Henry Isaacs and Donna Bartnoff Isaacs, 2020.2.9

Isaacs and Bryan are a generation apart. But they spent 45 years of their lives collaborating, as strange bedfellows on an island in Maine, which seems to draw a higher lot of talented artists.

“It’s an opportunity to take a look at his enormous influence at attracting artists to Maine,” said Isaacs who credits Bryan for his own development as an artist.

REGISTRATION IS OPEN !  2014 Islesford Painting Workshops With Henry Isaacs and Ashley Bryan

Ashley Bryan was born in Harlem in 1923. Here is Wikipedia’s account of his childhood:

Bryan attended the Cooper Union Art School, the only African-American student at that time. He had applied to other schools who had rejected him on the basis of race, but Cooper Union administered its scholarships in a blind test: “You put your work in a tray, sculpture, drawing, painting, and it was judged. They never saw you. If you met the requirements, tuition was free, and it still is to this day,” explained Bryan.

At the age of 19, World War II interrupted his studies. He was drafted into the U.S. Army and assigned to serve in a segregated unit as a member of a Port Battalion, landing at Omaha Beach on D-Day. He was so ill-suited to this work that his fellow soldiers often encouraged him to step aside and draw. He always kept a sketch pad in his gas mask.

Here is a moving interview of Bryan by the BBC in which he talks about his work as a American military stevedore in Scotland during the war and his impersonation of a Scotsman. The recording includes important historical information like how the Nazis never expected that the Americans could use a French beach as a loading zone for the war’s supply chain.

In 1946, he entered Columbia University’s graduate school to study philosophy. He wanted to understand war. After the war, Bryan received a Fulbright to study at the University of Marseille at Aix-en-Provence and later returning for two years to study at the University of Freiburg in Germany.

Bryan taught art at Queen’s College, Philadelphia College of Art, Lafayette College, and Dartmouth College. He retired as emeritus professor of art at Dartmouth in 1988. Those academic commitments cost Bryan time to devote to his own art, and to market his brand, Isaacs said, which he probably was loathe to do anyway.

Ashley Bryan and Zoe Paint Lil's Garden limited edition image 0

For good or for bad, artists who cajoled galleries to sell their art saw a path to being commercially successful. “I had 22 galleries around the world selling my paintings,” Issacs said. Meanwhile, Bryan was trying to run Dartmouth’s fledgling art department on a shoe-string budget, meager salary, and trying to teach something other than black studies.

Bryan was not published until he was 40 years old, according to Wikipedia. In 1962, he was the first African American to publish a children’s book as an author and illustrator. “I never gave up. Many were more gifted than I but they gave up. They dropped out. What they faced out there in the world–they gave up.”

In the late 1980s, when Bryan retired from Dartmouth, he moved to Little Cranberry. In addition to painting, writing and illustration he also enjoyed making puppets, building stained glass windows from beach glass, creating papier-mâché, and making collages. 

Ashley Bryan (center) walks with Islesford students

There he befriended Isaacs. They collaborated on a teaching partnership which lasted eight years, attracting students to Islesford. As Isaacs began to succeed commercially. he started to acquire some of Bryan’s art. Issacs and his wife, Donna, paid for the construction of a small museum called the Story Teller Pavilion on Islesford. Donna taught at the small school on the island and they worked to rename it Ashley Bryan School.


As Henry’s health began its downward spiral, he felt the urgency to do something profound with his collection of Bryan’s art. So he donated 50 pieces to Bates College which in less than a year curated and created the exhibition known simply as “Let’s Celebrate Ashley Bryan.” The physical exhibit is circumscribed by the limits posed by the pandemic but by Nov. 1, Bates expects to exhibit more than 50 of his art work and a virtual tour online.

Henry Issacs is pleased with the exclamation point indented on the life of his friend. His effort on behalf of Bryan was truly a labor of love.

Despite all this newfound energy and publicity, it’s still extremely difficult to buy one of Bryan’s paintings. The Ashley Bryan Center, which was formed in 2013 to “preserve, protect and care for Bryan’s art, his collections, his books and to promote his legacy” offered only eight pieces of block prints online and none of the fabulous paintings which I saw in the house next to the pavilion on Islesford. I wrote the center an email and got no response.

It would be tragedy to see the legacy of Ashley Bryan fall into the hands of the less committed. If not Henry Isaacs, he of a failing health, then whom? Issacs said Bryan once told him he would rather throw all his paintings into the ocean than see them atrophy. The time has come to share his abundant body of work with art lovers all over the world.

QSJ’s series on MDI cemeteries …

Brookside cemetery – first in a series …

When the leaves fall, the whole earth is a cemetery pleasant to walk in. I love to wander and muse over them in their graves. Here are no lying nor vain epitaphs.

Henry David Thoreau

SOMESVILLE, May 31, 2020 – Cemeteries occupied a more tactile presence in my brain after the deaths of my parents who are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, owing to my father’s service in three wars – WWII, Korea and Vietnam. The sweep of Arlington with its rows of perfectly aligned gravestones is a serious jolt to the senses – beauty, majesty and macabre memories of war all in the same space and time. It’s confusing, enervating and exhalting at once.

I had a less complicated reaction when I trekked through the Paris Metro to Père Lachaise cemetery to visit Jim Morrison’s grave. That was more of a pilgrimage. I played “This is the End” on my guitar near the gravesite. Chopin, Moliere, Edith Piaf, Rossini and Oscar Wilde’s graves nearby did not hold the same gravitas for me.

About 15 years ago, Steve Taylor, of the Taylor family which owned the Boston Globe, took my family on a sail on his 45-foot sloop to Frenchboro, where we had a fabulous lunch on the patio of the town’s only restaurant – a lobster shack. After lunch we walked around the tiny village and ended up at the cemetery. That was when I came upon the name Lunt because every other headstone had the name Lunt.

It was a vivid encounter with the colloquial integrity of Maine, its harshness demanding a simple and direct purpose and accomplishes it with stoicism and a plain vernacular.

According to the MDI Historical Society:

“Israel B. Lunt (1796-1861) and his brother Amos, were early settlers on Long Island (Frenchboro), arriving around 1822. Other family members soon followed and the Lunts were instrumental in establishing the community.

“Israel Lunt started a business of shipping wood, dried fish, and paving stones to various places on the Maine coast and to Boston. He also established a store on the island and owned a wharf and interest in several schooners. Lunt purchased the whole island in 1835 and employed many island residents in hauling fish to dry, unloading supplies and working on his vessels.”

As a storyteller, I am drawn by the pull of the cemeteries on the Quietside and elsewhere and how they define community – from the Somes, to the Stanleys, to the Lunts and, of course, the Fernalds.

There are 95 graves with the name Somes in the Brookside Cemetery – not exactly a surprise as it is located in the middle of Somesville. They are accompanied by clusters of Higgins, Fernald, Leland, Richardson, Smith, Mason, Holmes, Grant. Each had double digit number of headstones.

A stream nearby connects Somes Pond with Mill Pond. It’s a few hundreds yards from the iconic Somesville bridge and completes a visit to this historic village.

The cemetery is on land that was part of a 100-acre parcel owned by Abraham Somes in 1808 according to the Salem Towne Jr. map.

Virginia Somes Sanderson in her 1982 book The Living Past: Being the Story of Somesville Mount Desert, Maine and Its Relationships with Other Areas of the Island said that this cemetery was originally called the Somes Family Burying Ground, “known to have been in use in 1780 when an unnamed person had been interred there … The fifteen dollars a lot, charged in 1891, was not enough to ensure proper care. That year A. J. Whiting had built a retaining wall and path along the brook; he was also responsible for the erection of a graceful wrought iron fence and an entrance gate, on which the words ‘Brookside Cemetery’ can be seen today.”

I actually knew someone who’s buried here – Mr. Higgins (Victor) of A.V. Higgins market whom I have referenced in earlier posts.

You may also trigger a lively debate as to who is the most famous person buried here.

Certainly the most famous person with an international reach is Marguerite Yourcenar, novelist, essayist, and short-story writer who became the first woman to be elected to the Académie Française (French Academy), an exclusive literary institution with a membership limited to 40.

The Encyclopedia Britannica wrote:

“Yourcenar’s literary works are notable for their rigorously classical style, their erudition, and their psychological subtlety. Her masterpiece is Mémoires d’Hadrien (1951; Memoirs of Hadrian), a historical novel constituting the fictionalized memoirs of that 2nd-century Roman emperor.

“Her works were translated by the American Grace Frick, Yourcenar’s secretary and life companion.”

I couldn’t find her grave on my last visit. But I will continue to look.

Tim Garrity, MDIHS’s historian, had this to say, “She is very famous in the Francophone world, though not so well known by Americans. French-speaking tourists often stop by the Somesville Museum and ask where she is buried. Carl Little wrote about her in a recent issue. 

Garrity introduced me to Cemeteries of the Cranberry Isles and Mount Desert Island, the most extensive book on local cemeteries by Tom Vining. “You might give a thought to Tom’s extraordinary commitment to documenting over 7,000 gravestones!”

Garrity also pointed out a monument to the Civil War soldier James M. Parker. “We have his correspondence with his sister. From his letters and other information we can gather, he was an admirable young man. His comrades named the local Grand Army of the Republic lodge after him. Here’s a story about him and some other young MDI men who were far from home in the war.  

The name with the most recognition is Theodore Roosevelt III, the president’s grandson.

Roosevelt was a Navy pilot during WWII and served as secretary of commerce for Pennsylvania. He was born in 1914 and died 2001. He is interred along with his wife Anne Babcock, who died the same year.

Margaret Ayre Barnes, who won the 1931 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel Years of Grace, is buried here as well. She was born in 1986 and died in 1967.

Cemeteries are the final great leveller, as our remains rest on an equal footing.


SOMESVILLE, June 6, 2020 – My fascination with cemeteries may be traced to my own rootless history.

I am part of the Overseas Chinese diaspora, which, next to Jews, may be the most traveled people in history. Perhaps as a result, the Chinese have an arcane practice of referring to their ancestral home for identity. Thus I am and will always remain a person from Tsingtao, China, even though I was born in Taiwan and did not visit Tsingtao until well into my Sixties.

My single mother married Ben Millstein, an American G.I. stationed in Taiwan, in 1959. We were whisked overnight to a community of American soldiers and their families. I went from Chinese school one day to an English-speaking missionary school without being able to utter an entire sentence in my new adopted language. But “military brats” are nothing if not adaptable. I learned to speak English fluently in nine months, and it became the foundation for my career as a journalist.

We moved every two years to my father’s various assignments – Fort Lewis in Washington, Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and of course Taiwan during the Vietnam War. Along the way, we saw some memorable sites – Clark Air Force Base outside of Manilla, Midway Island, Guam, Pearl Harbor, Kadena AFB on Okinawa, Incheon Marine base in Korea, Air Force Academy, West Point, Travis AFB and many more.

We did not accompany my dad on his tour of duty in 1969 to Long Binh, the huge supply base outside of Saigon, as families stayed home. While my dad was in Vietnam, I participated in a giant anti-war protest in Washington, D.C. My brother was on the other side as a National Guard weekend warrior called in to control the crowds.

An itinerant life filled with such vicissitudes with no pattern, no ample foundation and no consistency fuels my longing for deep knowledge about a single place – and I have chosen Mount Desert. When I tell people here I’m from away, I mean I’M FROM AWAY!

Charlie Richardson does not suffer from a lack of place in his existential makeup. Even his name – Charles Somes Richardson Jr. – makes a loud statement on MDI. As the scion of the oldest white family on the island he can trace his lineage back to 1761 when James Richardson and Abraham Somes from Gloucester came here to scout for a permanent settlement. I can trace my lineage only to my great-grandfather, a farmer in Tsingtao, born sometime in the second half of the Nineteenth Century.

On a partly sunny day last week, Charlie gave me a tour of his spread on Beech Hill and the family burial plot in particular. And I got a history lesson as well – from a Richardson no less.

Richardson and Somes sailed here on a Chebacco, a two-masted mass-produced boat which was the Ford F-150 of its time. When I questioned whether that was possible because Chebaccos did not come into prominance until after the Revolutionary War, Tim Garrity, MDI historical Society historian, assured me that was the case.

I was hooked. Not only did I want to know more about my neighbors up the road, I wanted to know more about the trip as a lifelong sailor.

This is where in this article you have permission to stop reading because things are about to get tedious.

The Chebacco is not the most famous of New England’s long line of working boats. The cat boat probably fills that spot.

Richardson and Somes, blessed by the governor of Massachusetts who wanted settlers to probe deeper into New England now that the British had gained an upper hand over the French, got into their boat and headed north. My guess that with favorable winds it was a two or three-day trip, hugging the coast.

For most of the time New England has a prevailing Southwesterly wind – from Greenwich to Marblehead. That means for most of the time when you sail down wind, you’re headed northeast – from Gloucester to Maine.

I imagined Abe Somes and James Richardson on their Chebacco setting their sail for a power course due east. Down wind and due east. Down East.

I tried to imagine their journey up the only natural fiord in North America. Without depths charts they must have had confidence that they would not crash onto rocks. They sailed up the sound with friendly tides until they reached a natural port and unloaded their gatherings. That would be today’s Somesville Village, the footing for MDI towns and villages.

I wondered why they didn’t port at today’s Bass Harbor. Perhaps they tried and turned away upon seeing the pile of rocks on the starboard side as you enter. From the water the fiord, which would later be named Somes Sound, seemed more inviting and less threatening.

To be sure they were not the first Europeans to set foot on MDI. Explorers and soldiers were here earlier. But they came here to settle, to seek a better life for their families.

Somes was a maker of barrels. Richardson milled timber. There was plenty of hardwood to be had, along with a stream of water running into Mill Pond. Richardson later would set up shop on the east side of the sound near a quarry.

By 1763, “there were nine households on Mount Desert and three on the Cranberry Isles,” according to the Maine Memory Network. “And two years after that the island’s first road stretched from Somesville to Southwest Harbor, by way of Beech Hill.

“Everyone cleared land and planted fruit trees and grew vegetables. They hunted. They made their clothing at home, beginning with raising the sheep and then weaving the wool. They caught cod from small boats and salted it. When they caught more than they could eat, they traded it for flour, sugar, soap, molasses, and oil. They eventually shipped fish to markets in Boston and New York and to Europe. So they built their own ships. There was plenty of timber on the island — enough, in fact, for them to ship that, too.”

I am taking notes, properly masked and socially distanced as Charlie Richardson leads me down a freshly mowed path to the Richardson Family burial site. Charlie is a hearty storyteller and a truthful one. He shared the view that the extended family occasionally got too familiar – cousins marrying cousins. Or that the fecundity of the two original families were colossal. Abe Somes had two wives and 14 children, and James Richardson and Rachel Gott had 13.

Charlie showed me the oldest grave belonging to John G. Richardson who died in 1828 at age 67. He was the son of James’s brother Stephen. A flag planted by a veterans group stood guard to acknowledge that he fought in the Revolutionary War.

“He would have been 16 or 17,” Charlie said of John G. “It’s unclear whether he actually fired a shot.”

SWH’s Union Cemetery: ‘I have yet begun to fight’ – third in a series …

MANSET, June 19, 2020 – The sight of a Revolutionary War soldier’s grave here took me back to 1959 when I saw the movie, “John Paul Jones,” starring Robert Stack as the war’s most celebrated naval officer. It was one of the first American movies I saw. The grave of Jonathan Brown, said to have been a sailor who served under John Paul Jones, was officially marked by the Daughters of the American Revolution as that of a veteran of the war.

Beyond that I could not find out more about the sailor. Specifically I was interested in learning whether Brown served on the Bonhomme Richard in Jones’s most famous battle in which he uttered – apocryphally – the famous words, “I have yet begun to fight” when asked to surrender by the opposing British ship. While the movie concentrated mostly on this battle, Jones was a well traveled naval commander. I longed to know if Jon Brown sailed with him on many of his other ships.

Five other Browns are buried here in Union Cemetery – all children of Capt. William N. and Joan Brown whose stones are not apparent, according to Thomas F. Vining’s book on cemeteries of Mount Desert and Cranberry Isles.

Jon Brown’s gravestone is in remarkably good condition compared to many of the other stones. “Stones in this cemetery are generally in poorer condition – both in readability and in position – than stones in most other cemeteries in the area,” Vining wrote.

There are 11 such burial grounds throughout Southwest Harbor, said Aimee Williams, president of the local historic society. She is also member of a cemetery committee charged by the selectmen to oversee improvements and maintenance of the plots.

Williams was born on the island and now feels the burden of maintaining its history and legacy. She was the force behind the acquisition of the Manset church two years ago which sits in front of the cemetery. The United Church of Christ Congregational was at one time the oldest continuous church on MDI. Williams grew up a mile up Seawall Road. Her grandmother was a devotee of the church and spearheaded many of the programs there.

Aimee Williams did not want to see the building turned into a B&B or the like so she organized a campaign to acquire the building. She worked the phones and landed one significant $75,000 gift which enabled the acquisition for slightly more than $100,000.

The building is now the Southwest Harbor Historic Society meeting house. Under the rubric “no good deed goes unpunished,” Aimee Williams was made president of the Southwest Harbor Historical Society.

Town Hill cemeteries – fourth of series …

TOWN HILL – It’s not difficult to call out the two graves of dead Civil War soldiers at the Oak Hill Road Cemetery here. The flags from veterans groups are ample indicators. The dates and places of death are adequate confirmation. George F. Heath was the first to die, on Oct. 10, 1862 in Beaufort, South Carolina. Thomas Vining’s book on MDI cemeteries lists him as a member of the 8th Maine Regiment which was formed in Augusta in 1861, with 770 Maine volunteers shipped to South Carolina to fortify Union operations.

It’s not clear how he died, as there was rampant disease at the time. Lewis F. Heath – either a cousin or brother – died in June 10, 1864 in Cole Harbor, Virginia during the campaign there. He was a member of the 8th.

Oak Hill is one of three cemeteries within a half mile on Town Hill. A Jesse Higgins is buried at the family plot at the corner of Indian Point Road and Oak Hill Road. It’s not clear to me whether he was the Jesse Higgins said to have settled on Mount Desert from Cape Cod along with Joseph Mayo and David Higgins. The Bangor Historical Magazine in 1890 reported the three moved during the Revolutionary war. But the grave on Town Hill has the Jesse Higgins as 89 when he died in 1868. That would have made his birth year at 1779 during the middle of the war. Both his and his wife’s graves are marked by stones which are still in excellent shape.

The tallest structure is a metal family monument with a hole “presumably a bullet hole,” according to Thomas Vining. Someone had it in for one of the Higginses.

Not far east of the Higgins Cemtery is a small burial plot called Higgins-Marcyes Burial Ground down a private road. The most notable stone here is that of Royal Higgins who died in 1878. His wife Sarah died two years later.

Islesford’s history unfolds in its buried past – Part 5 of cemetery series


ISLESFORD, Maine – After a late lunch at the Islesford Dock restaurant where they have done a superb job of covid-proofing, with alfresco dining on the pier, I started my journey.

But not before I popped into Marian Baker’s studio where’s she’s been making pottery for 31 years, splitting her time between summer here and Yarmouth, Maine. during the winter. I spotted two beautiful bowls, and asked Marian to have them wrapped by the time I came back from my trek.

I walked up the main road (which is called Main Road).

I asked the kid on the jungle gym at the side of the road whether I was on the right path to the cemetery.

“Yes,” the kid said, with a touch of ennui. Years from now he will he remember this as being the best summer of his life, I told myself.

“It’s right down there,” he pointed.

“Right side or left?”

“It’s on the right,” kid said.

I walked another quarter mile and came upon the cemetery – on the left.

The kid was facing me, so it was to his right.

It was like a skit out of “Bert and I.”

The Stanley-Gilley Cemetery was well tended, and groomed for the most part. I searched for the older graves and could find only a handful dating back to the 18th Century. The one that caught my attention was that of Richard A. Stanley, a Vietnam vet who was born the same year as I was.

Richard A.  Stanley

  He was born in Boston, son of Francis A. Stanley Sr. and Margaret F. (Souther) Stanley of Islesford. He served in Vietnam as a Diesel Mechanic in the 33rd Engineering Battalion. After returning home he moved back to Islesford, where he became a lobster fisherman naming his boat the Dawn Marie after one of his godchildren. I was in college when he was in Vietnam. I drew a high number, 238, in the draft lottery and did not serve, becoming a newspaperman. The obit said he died unexpectedly. I wondered about what the cause of death might have been.

The surprise bonus of my journey was in the discovery of a small Catholic chapel next to the cemetery. 

Our Lady Star of the Sea
Little Cranberry Catholic Church Interior

The Chapel of Our Lady Star of the Sea was built in 1942. Ben Heimsath, an Austin-based architect who summers on Islesford, wrote, “It has unfinished interior walls.  The wood, however, is painted a monotone grey.  Pronounced down-lighting focuses attention on the modern altar.  The basics here also include a tabernacle in one corner behind the altar, and a statue of the Virgin Mary in the other.  Darkly-tinted stained glass windows make the small interior feel even more close and intimate.”

Regular mass is held only in July and August. 

Fred Morse was said to be the first Catholic to come to Islesford. He married Irish maid Mary Smyth in 1907. In 1909 Fred and Mary took over a store (previously owned by the Stanleys) and began raising a family.  More Catholics came and joined in both the winter and summer populations. 

A small cemetery was located at the end of what was known as Morse’s Field and would be known as the Catholic Cemetery. The first burial there was of Fred Morse in 1929.  Most recently, Irene (Morse) Bartlett was buried there beside her husband Frank in 1998, according to local historian Hugh L. Dwelley.

I can only imagine how the rest of the island treated the Catholics during that time. Somesville author Judith S. Goldstein, in her excellent book, “Crossing Lines,” chronicled the vice grip – socially and economically – held by Protestants across three communities, Bangor, Mount Desert, Calais. Although the book is mostly about Jewish history in these towns, Goldstein’s book was an exhaustive account of the rich and famous who came to Maine over a 100-year period. I bought a used copy on Amazon.

On my way back to the dock, I toyed with the idea of walking to the southern tip, Maypole Point, to visit the single grave of the Stanley family patriarch. The name Stanley is ubiquitous on Islesford, as it is common for Maine Islands to be dominated by one family legacy. Half of the graves in Frenchboro are those of the Lunts, for instance.

In 1999, Dwelley wrote that John Standley (11/19/1735 – 5/7/1793) was buried near where he is thought to have lived on Maypole. “His wife, Marguerite (LaCraw) [aka LaCroix – BK] Standley, may or may not be buried with him. Marguerite lived her last years with daughter Margaret Dolliver in Southwest Harbor. The stone on John Standley’s grave was placed there by a descendant, Belver Williston in 1919. The following words were etched:

To the Memory of
John Standley
who died
aged 47 years
“May Guardian Angels
watch over the Sleeper”

(Standley’s descendants dropped the “d” from their name.)

Kelley Cemetery in Seal Cove: Sixth in a series ..

SEAL COVE, Sept. 22, 2020 – It’s not one of the venerated cemeteries on MDI but the picket fence catches your eye as you drive by. The cross road from Seal Cove to Southwest Harbor is open only when Acadia National Park is open because the cemetery is technically on federal land.

In 2010, the town of Tremont took ownership of the cemetery, a lonely tract with little obvious patronage. Maine state law states that the local municipality must assume responsibility for maintenance when “an ancient burying ground” lies fallow.

Tremont is unusual on MDI in that it cares for cemeteries as a public responsibility. Bar Harbor, for instance, has no such attachment. All its cemeteries are private. Tremont has 22 cemeteries and the town maintains half of them.

But ownership does not mean unrestrained commitment. Kelley Cemetery has never been surveyed by the town. And there is no plan to expend money to do that, until there is demand.

I called the town manager to inquire as to the cost of a plot and he told me that in three years I was the first person to inquire.

The 10,000 square-foot lot has only 19 graves, so most of the land will be dormant for a long time.

I was taken by the graveyard, in particular a grave with a wooden marker, that of G. Kelley, born in 1881 and died in 1963. What a span of time, to go from a post Civil War era to traveling on jet airlines? It wasn’t clear to me whether the person was male or female.


What can Hall Quarry learn from Lamoine in zoning fight against MacQuinn Co.?

Hall Quarry Company Store, Mount Desert, ca. 1900


SOMESVILLE, Oct. 14, 2020 – Cyrus J. Hall needed a post office in the little hamlet on the western side of Somes Sound to help sustain his quarry business and in 1892 the post office was built. But it needed a name and thus, according to historian Henry Raup, Hall Quarry came to being.

“Founded in 1870 by Cyrus Hall, the quarry provided granite for some of this country’s national landmarks: the Congressional Library in Washington, D.C., the United States Mint in Philadelphia,” Raup wrote.

The post office closed in 1967. But the name lives on.

Only a few denizens of the Quietside may be able to recite this slice of history, but many are familiar with the NIMBY row that has become the most contentious one on MDI since the notorious lawsuit by billionaire Mitchell Rales against his noisy party-happy neighbors in Northeast Harbor five years ago. That suit was settled in 2016.

Today’s combatants are the mining company Harold MacQuinn Inc., the lessee Freshwater Stone company, which wants to resurrect a stone-cutting operation, against neighbors who oppose the operation and the noise and truck traffic which would come with it.

Across Frenchman’s Bay, Carol Korty has advice for Hall Quarry residents: Organize and educate. Korty is the Erin Brockovich of Lamoine. She spearheaded the decade-long citizens effort that resulted in the Maine Supreme Court decision in May to deny MacQuinn’s application to expand its 68-acre gravel pit to 108 acres, carving out a huge chunk of Lamoine’s Cousins Hill. Bill Trotter of the Bangor Daily News wrote this comprehensive article about Lamoine’s victory.

Maine’s top court denies expansion of contentious Lamoine gravel pit

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Korty was the vessel for a grassroots battle against MacQuinn. There were citizens petitions and referenda, leafleting at the town dump, packed public hearings, ground water studies and legal challenges. She gave birth to Friends of Lamoine which has a robust website and hundreds of devout followers.

I was surprised by the number of stakeholders in the Hall Quarry dispute who had never heard of the MacQuinn battle over Cousins Hill in Lamoine. It was similar to what unraveled in Hall Quarry. That made me wonder if the decentralized approach in Hall Quarry is the right strategy.

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Carol Korty told me she attended one of the Mount Desert planning board hearings regarding Hall Quarry out of curiosity and was surprised at how the parties were so “disorganized.”

The Lamoine case had a similar trajectory. There was a controversial planning board decision to deny MacQuinn the application to expand in 2014. That was followed by an appeals board decision overturning the planning board. Then that was struck down by a state court. Finally, the issue was decided by the state Supreme Court which sided with the lower court denying the application.

In the Hall Quarry case, the planning board first rejected the company’s claim that its proposed use was “grandfathered.” MacQuinn appealed and the Superior Court surrogate, the Maine Business & Consumer Court, ruled against the planning board’s “grandfather” rejection and threw it back for more consideration.

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The planning board then decided to focus on the main areas of contention: noise, and buffering and screening.

Mechanical saws piercing a piece of granite emit a high-pitch screech that can carry for miles, well beyond the immediate neighborhood of Hall Quarry.

When the wind is in a prevailing southwesterly blow, that screech can easily carry across the water of Somes Sound and reach the shores of Sargent Point, where Hans Utsch, ensconced in his resplendent waterfront manse, has to repeat himself while on his cell phone managing his investments because no one can hear him. His neighbor Larry Goldfarb has attended planning board hearings to protest against the application as well.

Goldfarb said at a hearing last year the resumption of quarrying would affect virtually everyone in Mount Desert in some way.

“Obviously, the value of properties in Hall Quarry is going to go down,” he was quoted in the Mount Desert Islander. “That is ultimately going to result in tax assessments going down, which will result in tax revenue going down. And the gap is going to be made up by everybody who is not in the sound wave of the quarry; their taxes are going to go up.”

Utsch is the latest among the aggrieved parties to have hired a lawyer. He is also one of the wealthiest residents of MDI. His deep pockets ensured that this battle is in for the “long haul,” as described by Matthew D. Manahan, a principal at the Portland law firm Pierce Atwood. Manahan is a heavyweight on land-use issues and argued the planning board erred on its recent decision to approve MacQuinn’s noise mitigation plan. So did Dan Pileggi and Roger Katz, attorneys who represent neighbors who don’t want their lives disrupted by screeching saws and trucks carrying the stones out.

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All are waiting for the next steps. Will the planning board deny the permit despite its recent 3-2 decision favoring MacQuinn’s noise mitigation plan? What will the zoning board of appeals do when it inevitably has to deal with the case?

As already reported, there is ample appetite to take this to the “long haul.”

The good folks of Hall Quarry, along with the residents on the other side of the Sound with shared interests, made their homes on the promise of a certain quality of life.

But the town of Mount Desert is an odd collection of hamlets which do not speak to each other well, nor with any frequency. Residents of Pretty Marsh are not stakeholders in the fight for the soul of Hall Quarry. Nor was there any support from Northeast Harbor except for a handful of residents on Sargent Point.

They should all take a deep, introspective dive into the reality of the place which was settled by Abe Somes in 1761 and wonder how many ghost deeds and easements still exist so that another modern day doppleganger may rear his head and say, “Hey, I’m back” – like Freddy Krueger.

The Harold MacQuinn Company wanted to take down a mountain of gravel in Lamoine. Friends of Lamoine said no. It drew a line in the sand. And the Friends prevailed.

It remains to be seen if Mount Desert will have the same outcome.


MDI towns in 2060, surrounded by rising seas, plugging leaks like a sinking ship …


TREMONT, Maine – It is the Year 2060. President Arabella Rose Kushner, the grand daughter of Donald Trump, steps off the Marine One helicopter to visit the devastation left behind by one of the mightiest storm surges in history which nearly wiped out the villages here.

Ten persons lost their lives – swept out to sea – and both the villages of Bernard and Bass Harbor will have to be either rebuilt or abandoned as unsalvageable.

“Well, it is what it is,” President Kushner said. “We can’t control acts of God. I’ll send some FEMA people here and see what we can do about cleaning up this mess.

“Those climate fanatics … what did they really accomplish?” Kushner said. “We built the breakwater like they wanted, and here we still have this mess.”

Kushner posed for a photo in front of the signature local business – a lobster pound which collapsed, its yellow awning flapping in the wind – then boarded the helicopter after 20 minutes for her flight back to Bangor where Air Force One awaited to take her to Washington. She turns to an aide: “get me out of this sh–hole.”


Fifty-six years ago scientists had warned that Tremont would be the worst hit town on MDI as the result of a rising sea.

They specifically called out Tremont Consolidated School as a building facing disaster (see photo below). Multiple storm surges since then made the building uninhabitable. In 2034, the town was forced to disperse its students to schools in neighboring towns on the island.


The 2006 study concluded that Tremont would lose 371 acres of land or 4 percent of the town if the sea rose 3 feet. The study by the natural Resource Council of Maine used simple topography maps to render its findings in 2006.

In total, the towns of MDI would lose 1,074 acres if the sea were to rise by 3 feet. Here was a calculator of multiple scenarios used at the time.

In August 2020, an important committee of scientists recommended that the Maine Climate Council “consider preparing to manage for 3.0 feet of relative sea level rise by 2050, and 8.8 feet of sea level rise by the year 2100.” That was its most dire prediction.

In fact the actual sea rise was much worse. The water around MDI had risen almost 5 feet by 2055.

There was ample warning even after that first report. Photos from that era showed buildings only a foot or two above the water in Bass Harbor and Bernard. On Aug. 14, 2020, the average temperature taken in the Gulf of Maine was almost 70 degrees (69.87). The prior record was 68.99 degrees Fahrenheit on Aug. 23, 2012. The records date back to 1982, when scientists began collecting satellite data on the gulf’s surface temperature.


Humans were already late in checking carbon emissions and other causes of climate change, but the coup de grace was delivered by the United States in 2017 when it pulled out of the Paris climate agreement. Eight years under Donald Trump were devastating as the U.S. walked back all its commitments and even induced more carbon emissions. That was followed by eight years of President William Barr, who sought to imprison anyone who suggested climate change was caused by human kind.

But back in 2020, the Maine Climate Council did not equivocate on the potential devastation wrought by the rising seas.

“A 1-foot increase in sea level in the future will lead to a 15-fold increase in the frequency of “nuisance” flooding,” the committee said. “A 1-foot increase in sea level, which could occur by 2050, would cause a “100-year storm” flood level to have a probability of occurring once in every 10 years. Not accounting for changes in storm intensity or frequency, this would result in a 10-fold increase in coastal flooding in Maine in the next 30 years.”

And the increase would come in fits and starts, it said.

“Abrupt sea level change on the order of months, rather than years, can also occur on top of the long-term rise. Several months between 2009 and 2011 saw higher than normal sea levels, with a peak in 2010 of nearly a foot above the level in previous winters. Along the East Coast of the United States, this abrupt change was most pronounced in the Gulf of Maine.”

For those interested in historical references you may read the full subcommittee report here.

In fact that’s exactly what happened. The Gulf of Maine saw another surge in temperature and sea rise in 2029-30, flooding much of the low-lying areas from Tremont to Pretty Marsh. Roads were made inaccessible. The Army Corps of Engineers erected several temporary bridges to evacuate persons trapped by the surge.

The rise in sea level also has had profound implications for Acadia National Park, whic had to shut down periodically to tend to unexpected circumstances. That has cut attendance by half – to under 2 million visitors a year from an average of 3.5 million a year.

As a result, Bar Harbor has had to make up for the loss in tourism revenue by increasing the number of cruise ships to 400 a year. To sate the tourists’ appetite for ephemeral honky tonk experiences, similar to that of the Atlantic City boardwalk, Bar Harbor built an amusement park with a ferris wheel on the grounds which was the waterfront Agamont Park.

Meanwhile, the carriage roads of the park, buried under a tidal wave of rainfall, could not be maintained by the limited staff and were shut down permanently in 2040.

In 2015, the Northeast Climate Adaption Science Center had written:

“Longer warm seasons raise public demand to open the park earlier and close later, affecting traditional staffing and maintenance schedules. Warming also puts the Park’s ecosystems at risk of diseases and invasive species, as well as changed habitat suitability. Rainfall events are occurring in heavier downpours, washing out the Park’s historic carriage roads and hiking trails. Along the coast, the popular ‘Thunder Hole’ and other exhibits along the Park’s main loop road, including the road itself, are at risk of inundation as sea level rises and storm surges intensify.”

The park service simply did not have the staffing nor resources to continue to repair attractions like the Thunder Hole platform which were regularly destroyed by storm surges.

MDI also lost 30 percent of its natural vegetation and animal species which has been extant on the island for 5,000 years. The increased penetration of salt water into the aquifers and marshes around its low-lying areas destroyed habitats and fresh water wells.

The main entry and egress on and off Mount Desert – Trenton Bridge – was only open during low tide. Delivery trucks, off-island workers and visitors backed up for miles to await the low tide. MDI became the Mont-Saint-Michel of Maine which actually drew more tourists who wanted to experience going onto a water-locked island at tide-controlled periods.


In 2020, the Maine Climate Council had warned:

“Over about the last century, sea levels along the Maine coast have been rising at about 0.6 to 0.7 feet/century (1.8 to 2 mm/ year) or two times faster than during the past 5,000 years. Over the past few decades, the rate has accelerated to about 1 foot/ century (3 to 4 mm/year) or three times the millennial rate.”

“This is just part of a weather cycle which has been with human kind forever,” said Bill Peterson, a lobsterman who fishes out of Southwest Harbor. “We’re just about to turn the corner when the weather will start to cool. Trump was a great president who refused to lead us down an expensive and unproven path. Thank god his family is still running this country.”

Rising Seas Part 2 …

An exceptionally high tide in the Damariscotta River in January 2018 flooded the town’s riverside parking lot and the bottom floors of some of buildings on the south side of Main Street. Credit: Courtesy of the town of Damariscotta

SOMESVILLE, Oct. 10, 2020 – I got quite a visceral reaction on social media from climate deniers to my attempt last week to foreshadow our island in 2060 when the seas will have risen 5.5 feet around us.

The wags were out in full force when I posited that rising seas will doom parts of MDI :

“It’s called tides … “

“Polar ice has been melting forever …”

“If you don’t like the water level, wait six hours …”

“It’s not the rising seas, those buildings shouldn’t have built there …”

Then there was this email from a reader:

“As I live on Shore Road the picture you posted from the corner of Mansell and Shore hit home as the area frequently floods with a high tide and full moon,” she wrote.  “It will only get worse as our seas continue to rise.   

“I attended (via Zoom) a discussion that the SWH library hosted by the Nature Conservancy which also addressed this issue.  The folks at the Nature Conservancy have a wonderful website at that shows what areas would be inaccessible to emergency services with rising sea levels.   If you go to the website click on Coastal Risk Explorer on the bottom left hand side, input Southwest Harbor as the town and you can see what the impact would be at different levels of sea level rise.  It’s a sobering scenario.”

Two days after my fictionalized account, Bill Trotter of the Bangor Daily News reported that the town of Damariscotta is spending $4 million to protect its downtown from the rising sea.

In September Trotter filed this …

The wags may be right. The sea is not rising. Oh, and Covid is no worse than the flu.

MDI historian Tim Garrity is retiring … (so he may nerd out on more history)


SOMESVILLE, OCT 2, 2020 – When I started writing this blog in April, Tim Garrity was one of my first guide posts. I forgot who gave me his name but it was a huge advantage to start something on this island with credible sources.

Tim guided me through my series on MDI cemeteries. You can learn a lot by traipsing through the graveyards and tracking down their genealogy. It lends a touch of humanity to our daily pursuits and teaches us about the humility of time. In the end, we will finally all be equal.

In this edition, I wrote about the consequences of orphaned properties on MDI and how one property owner is going through the hassle of clearing a single title. Who knew two small parcels touched so many lives? Is there another Coffee Pot extant, the heirloom which allowed the Pierce family to build their first cottage?

Tim Garrity spent the last 11 years affirming the stories behind the orphaned tales of MDI and other historical pursuits. Which ship captain, settler, Revolutionary War soldier, writer, Civil War soldier, Native American influenced what became today’s Mount Desert. Tim Garrity learned where the bodies were buried.

He gave up a 25-year career as a health career executive, and at Age 53, with the support of his wife Lynn Boulger, enrolled at the University of Maine to pursue a master’s degree in history. He worked as an interpretive ranger at Acadia National Park and also as a census worker until the opportunity came along to be executive director of the MDI Historical Society.

He was the only employee of an organization in 2009 which was on unstable financial ground. He had to figure out for himself how to print an envelope with the proper return address, among other tedious tasks for which he had no support.

One of his proudest legacies he leaves behind is the relentless pursuit of accurate history. He is particularly fond of the many collaborations with other organizations, especially one with the Abbe Museum, which in 2013 became the first and only Smithsonian Affiliate in Maine. 

MDI was uniquely positioned to benefit from multiple sources of documentation such as the Abbe’s history and cultures of the Native people in Maine, the Wabanaki, and the work of the Champlain Society in the late 19th Century – “the Harvard kids,” according to Garrity.

The collections of Virginia Somes Sanderson, a direct descendant of the first European MDI settler Abe Somes, and the Savage family as chronicled by Rick Savage of Northeast Harbor were among others who helped tell the history of the island.

The autobiography of Rick Savage’s ancestor, Augustus Chase (AC) Savage (1832-1910) was an especially important document.

Prefaced with an introduction written in 1972 by Rick’s uncle, Charles Savage, AC’s “Memories of a Lifetime” recalls a past when “the path from Northeast to Seal [Harbor] was marked by blazed trees.” AC married Emily Manchester in 1854 and together they weathered the Civil War, founded the Asticou Inn, and raised a family of considerable accomplishment. At the end of life, AC called Emily, “The Guiding Star,” according to MDI Historical Society.

And, of course, no article about MDI history would be complete without referencing the Champlain Society, the “Harvard kids” led by their captain, Charles Eliot, son of then Harvard president Charles W. Eliot. They came here from 1880-1889, studying plants, birds, insects, fish, geology, hydrology, and meteorology and wrote their findings in hand-written notebooks.

“Though they were not the first scientists to come here, they were the first to spend extended periods of time, engaging deeply in this place,” according to the Friends of Acadia. The best encapsulation of the Champlain Society was written by By Catherine Schmitt and Maureen Fournier in spring 2015 for the Friends of Acadia Journal. “In partnership with the Northeast Harbor Library and the Maine Historical Society, we have been working to digitize and transcribe the notebooks, a gift of the Eliot family to the Mount Desert Island Historical Society.”

The shards of information memorializing human history would be of little value unless they can be categorized, archived and rendered usable by the public. Thus, Garrity’s various relationships with students, researchers and professors at UMaine would come of great value. They would become the modern-day Champlain Society.

Garrity recruited and marshaled UMaine students and resources to join his pursuit of historical research on MDI. It was captured so well in his letter in 2018 to assistant professor of New England History Mary T. Freeman, seeking her support:

“It was a pleasure to meet you last Monday at the History Department lecture. I’ve enclosed Chebacco, the annual magazine of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society. This magazine represents a significant connection between the University of Maine and the Mount Desert Island community. 

“All three of the magazine’s editors are Black Bears, as is its copy editor, ten members of the editorial review board, and six of its authors. 
“As you establish new links between the university and community, please keep us in mind as a source of support for your work. Our connection with the University of Maine is one of our most valued institutional relationships.

“Each year, we offer a $1,000 stipend to a Visiting History Scholar and a $5,000 stipend to an Eliot Fellow … We host an annual visit by UMaine students to the island. Last Sunday, forty students attended this event. Maine students bring us their energy, curiosity, and cutting-edge education, while we provide them with a fresh field of research material and a setting where they can launch their careers. 

Those who succeed as leaders of non-profits must possess creativity and imagination.

Garrity served a decade as executive director during which time the society’s revenue exceeded expenses every year and developed a good bench. In 2019 he took the title “historian” and made a “peaceful” transition to Raney Bench as the new director.

Garrity said the exemplary board led by MDI stalwart Bill Horner was one of the best non-profit boards on the island and gave him great support.

Advice to Tim Garrity: Retirement can be a little disorienting. But it also offers new horizons and unencumbered intellectual opportunities. Choose your projects wisely. May you have fair winds and following seas on your continuous journey in your well-tested Chebacco of life!