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

Rob Miller

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

Rob Miller

Sheep Island is a small Island off Cundy's Harbor, and it has 6 houses on it. Rob came to Sheep Island when he was a boy, and when he grew up he came to live in Cundy's Harbor because this was his favorite place in the world. There are the same number of houses on Sheep Island as there were 40 years ago. Rob told us some of the things he remembered from when he was a boy. There were lots of clams, but no crabs. There was a ferryboat that came to Sheep Island, There are baths on Sheep Island and they are the same ones that were there 40 years ago. There were no Red? Lobstermen fished out of skiffs. Lobstermen only could fish 100 traps because they had to haul them by hand. Not many boats were there, only 4 or 5. There were a few big boats 20 or 30 feet. One of the lobstermen was very old and had a beach umbrella on the back of his boat.

Rob joined the Fire Department about 20 years ago. There were only 4 or 5 members then. They had very bad trucks. We had an old Cadillac ambulance, which had to be our battery charger. We had an old tank truck that had faulty brakes on it. As you drove down the road the breaks would come on more and more until you finally couldn't drive it. There was a hammer in it, and you'd stop the truck and jump out and hammer on the brakes so they'd loosen up, and then you'd drive down the road another couple of miles. You can imagine that some times it took awhile to get to a fire. Now of course the state requires all kinds of training and protective gear. But at that time the government didn't require hardly anything and people would go in with just their shirts and pants, some rubber boots it they had them. It was pretty dangerous. The first thing I did when I joined the fire department was fix up the equipment a little bit. Then we insisted the second year that everybody get protective gear. Everything we bought we raised money for. We had beano and pancake suppers every Saturday night. Now, the town has been giving the fire department some money. Back when I started you could probably buy a fire truck for 10 or 15 thousand dollars. The one we bought last year was $150,000. Things have gotten a lot more expensive. There are the same number of trucks now, but they work now. There was a tank truck, a pumper, a pick up truck. You'd drive the pickup truck down the road, but you couldn't keep it off the road. It was already 32 years old when I got there.

I'll tell you a little about Cundy's Harbor when I was a boy. There were 2 draggers and about 4 lobster boats. It also had a fishery down at Watson's store. It was a big shed where lots of people worked. They'd go out and drag for fish and bring then in and the people there would cut their heads and tails off and pack them on ice. It was a big business. At that time there were a lot of fish. I remember when I was first unloading fish, they'd bring in shrimp and it wasn't unusual to get 10 or 100,000 lbs of shrimp. And now if they're lucky they'll bring in 1000 lbs. When I was a kid growing up I helped lobstermen, I unloaded fish, and I worked in the grocery store, all sorts of things. There was an IGA store where the Brunswick Deli is now at the end of James Street. I used to be on the island and I'd come over by skiff and get in the car and drive over. Often when I came home it would be dark. I remember one night I went home and I parked on the mainland and I got in the skiff and I got out in the fog, couldn't see, and I spent the whole night driving around in the fog, so finally I tied up to a lobster buoy and I was damp, cold and miserable and unhappy. I did that for a while, then I started off in the skiff again and I came upon an island and I recognized it as Long Island. knew some people on the island so I went around and tied up and I went into their living room and their dog was asleep on the blanket, and I yanked the blanket out from under the dog and I wrapped up in it and went to sleep. Another time, I was about your age. My mother, father, my sister Nancy and I went to the movies and came back. It was foggy, and we had a neighbor who knew we were coming back, so he stood out on the end of his pier and played the accordion, so we started out, then turned the motor off and listened, so we could kind of tell where we were, so we started off again, and finally he was able to help us get home.

When I was out on Sheep Island growing up we'd always build boats and as we'd find old boats ‑ I remember an old skiff washed up. It was so rotten that we got out an old saw and cut it in half, saved the bow. We put a stern on and we had a boat about 6 feet long. Then we got the idea we'd put a sail on, so we found a sheet. It didn't sail very well; we'd go around in a circle.

We learned to swim off of Bethel Point. The town gave swimming lessons. At the end they had a party. One year Andy's father and I made a Viking ship out of our boat. We made cardboard shields and stuck them on the side of the boat and had a cardboard dragon head on the front and we cut out a big square sail that we painted stripes on. We had a parade with all the other boats with parents on the shore. The wind came up, and we started to go out to sea, and we couldn't do anything. No body had a boat to get us in. We had aluminum foil that we'd made into helmets with horns coming out to either side. We were about your age. Finally someone got out to us, but we'd been headed out to Finland or Denmark or somewhere.