Harpswell Historical Society

Incorporated 1979

929 Harpswell Neck Road
Harpswell, Maine  04079

The Harpswell Historical Society is dedicated to the discovery, identification, collection, preservation, interpretation, and dissemination of materials relating to the history of Harpswell and its people.

Table of Contents

Historic Park 
and Museum

Links to 
related sites


Life in Harpswell Maine in the Early to Mid 1900's
Bernard Johnson

By the Third, Fourth and Fifth Graders at
Harpswell Islands &
West Harpswell Schools

A 1997-98 Harpswell History Project

Gladys Abby Allen
Allen's Seafood
Henry Barnes
Alice Catlin
Donald Coffin
Daniel Darling
The Dead Ship of Harpswell
Clem Dunning
Judith Howard
Harpswell Hotels
Bernard Johnson
Roy Knight & Cliff Moody
Arnold LeMay
Arnold LeMay
Becky Longley
Currier McEwen
Rob Miller
Barbara Munsey
Don Rogers
Alice Swallow
Dick Westcott
Malcolm Whidden
Ken & Marge Wille
Mary Wilson
Mary & Eleanor Wilson
The Witch Of Harpswell
Gerry York

Bernard Johnson

Bernard Johnson lives and was born on Bailey's Island (he was almost born on the ocean but his mom just made it to shore). He has one brother and one sister and he was born in 1927. He got one bath a week.

There was no electricity, instead there were kerosene lamps, no furnaces, and wood stoves instead and the toilets were outside. There were outhouses instead of johns. His family stored food in their basement where it was cold to keep the food cold. Some nights in the winter he and his family would have a fire in the wood stove all night long. He says that lights and electricity did not come until some time in the 30's, so Bernard was used to having no electricity in the ice storm of 1998. Even in a blizzard he'd have to go through the kitchen door and outside just to go to the bathroom. He'd have to take baths in an old copper kettle pot because there were no showers or running water for baths, His bed was about one and a half feet thick with blankets because there were no heaters.

There was a man who came to Bailey Island and delivered wood to the people who needed wood for their fire or whatever they needed wood for. “And of course seventy one years ago there was no chain saws so every thing was done with the old buck saw,” said Bernard. He had his chores! In the morning he would have to make sure they had the kindling and wood ready for the fireplace. Just about everybody had a garden back then. In his garden he always had potatoes. His garden had a lot of other things because it was fifty by thirty feet. One of his jobs was fishing. He caught codfish, haddock, salmon and. all kinds of fish. His dad taught him everything. He caught lobsters with a lobster trap, mackerel with a mackerel trap so he just used a different trap or lure for different fish. As for his parents, well, his dad was a fisherman and his mom was a seamstress.

He'd almost been around the world when he was in the Army. His first boat that he got, he fished out of when he was seventeen years old. The boat was thirty-two feet long. He has built three boats in his life. The last two he helped build. One of the boats was sixty something feet long.

His Grandmother and Grandfather had cows, pigs, sheep and a lot more farm animals. He also picked lots of apples from the apple tree,

He and his family bought almost all their food at the Sinnett store. Almost all of the food that came from the Sinnett store came from Portland by steamboat. The steamboat came in at Mackerel Cove. The steamboat was at least sixty-five or seventy-five feet long. The prices were a lot lower than today back then. For a quart of milk it was a quarter, for a loaf of bread it was ten cents. He ate always according to season. For food his family always had pigs and beef. He even ate horses! “Once the horses were old and no good for working, it was good meat,” said Bernard. He was also in a club, a tuna club, and he had to eat tuna fish eyeballs. His family caught a lot of fish and what fish they caught, they ate. One time in the winter, Mackerel Cove was frozen right over. He remembers his mom coming home and saying “no dinner tonight” and then his dad said, “wait I think the last time I tied the boat up, I threw an old casket over the side of the boat” So he went down there and there it was the casket. They had one more meal for the night and that's the way things were back then. Of course his family always had sugar by the barrel, salted pork by the barrel, bread, meat.

Bernard went to Bailey Island School. There was an upstairs and a downstairs. On each floor there were four rooms. There were about twenty-five to thirty students per class. For the children's discipline the teacher had a ruler and she would slap the kids across the knuckles. Bernard went to school for sixteen years. Very few kids went to high school or college. By the time kids got to high school they were working full time jobs! He went to Brunswick High School and Bowdoin College. He always went to school even in a bad or serious storm. There also was a great big potbelly stove to keep the class warm and cozy. Bernard said the teachers were like witches. The teacher came a half an hour early to light the stove each day. Worst of all the toilets were outside.

Bernard's great grandfather was told by George Washington, “To protect the Island people from the Indians”. Bernard told about Native Americans that lived in Harpswell. The name of the tribe was Mingo. “Southeast from the telephone office in Harpswell you will see two or three boats with lobster traps and that's what they call Mingo Cove,” said Bernard. The Indians were very nice and lived right there in Mingo Cove. They were close to where he lives. Now the tribe has pretty much moved away. In nineteen twenty seven the Great Island Bridge was built

One time his dad and he were fishing and they picked up five dead women out of the ocean water. He did not sleep for weeks. Their boat sank and there were thirty-two people in it. There were sixteen men and sixteen women. They did not find any of the men. Bernard said, “It was very scary!” There is a true book about that.