History of Harpswell, Maine
From
A Gazetteer of the
State of Maine

By Geo. J. Varney
Published by B. B. Russell, 57 Cornhill,
Boston 1886




Harpswell is the south-easterly town of Cumberland County. It consists of a peninsula 9 miles in length, extending south-westward, with a parallel line of islands on each side. These are known as Harpswell Neck, and, on the east, Great Island, Orr’s Island, with numerous smaller ones. Between the peninsula and the Islands named is the long Harpswell Harbor. On the west side of the peninsula is Middle Bay. These two bodies of water at their northern extremity approach so near to each other that where it joins Brunswick, the peninsula is little more than 45 rods wide. Great Island, the largest of the islands, and the most easterly part of the town, is separated from West Bath by New Meadows River. The three larger islands have their greatest length nearly north and south, and succeed each other in the same direction. The two first are connected with each other, and the first with the mainland by bridges. Each is penetrated from the north and from the south by several harbors and inlets, and their surfaces are varied by hill, valley and forest. Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe has spent many summer months upon these islands, making the middle one of the line the scenery of her delightful story, “The Pearl of Orr’s Island.” She says that the scenery of Harpswell is “of more varied and singular beauty than can ordinarily be found on the shores of any land whatever.” At a distance of about four miles from the railroad station at Brunswick, “the traveller crosses an arm of the sea, and comes upon the first of the interlacing group of islands which beautifies the shore. A ride across this island is a constant succession of pictures, whose wild and solitary beauty entirely distances all power of description. The magnificence of the evergreen forests, the rich intermingling ever and anon of groves of birch, beech and oak, in picturesque knots and tufts, as if set for effect by some skilful landscape gardener, produce a sort of strange, dreamy wonder; while the sea, breaking forth on the right hand and on the left of the road into the most romantic glimpses, seems to flash and glitter like some strange gem which every moment shows itself through the frame-work of a new setting.” Ragged Island, which lies broad off in the ocean east of Bailey’s Island, is supposed to be the “Elm Island” of Rev. Elijah Kellogg’s stories. A legend of these isles is preserved in his vigorous verse by Whittier, in “ The Dead Ship of Harpswell” — a spectre ship which comes driving in as an omen of death, but never reaches land :—

“In vain o’er Harpswell Neck the Star
Of evening guides her in,
In vain for her the lamps are lit
Within thy tower, Seguin
In vain the harbor-boat shall hail;
In vain the pilot call;
No hand shall reef her spectral sail,
Or let her anchor fall.”

The Neck affords many attractive points for summer sojourn, especially at the southern part. On the western side, about midway of the length of the Neck, is Lookout Point, a small, abrupt, rocky promontory pointing north, and enclosing a pebbly cove fringed by a belt of spruces. On the south side of the point the shore for some distance is high, and of perpendicular rock, over whose edge the tall grasses wave, dropping their blooms into the foamy tide below. A few feet back the tall birch, maple, spruce and hemlock wave their graceful branches and spread their broad arms toward each other with the most sylvan effect. A valuable mineral spring has recently been discovered on Bailey’s Island. In summer there is steamer connection with Portland, 14 miles distant; and it is nearly the same distance from the landing at the southern extremity of the town to the railroad station at Brunswick, with which there is a stage connection. The Neck formerly bore the aboriginal name of Merryconeag, and Great Island was called Erascohegan and Sebascodiggin.

The soil of Harpswell consists of gravelly loam in the higher lands and clay loam in the lower parts, and is tolerably productive. Agriculture, the fisheries, ship and boat building are the principal occupations of the people, though the increasing number of health and pleasure seekers are furnishing the town with another source of profit. At the Basin, on the south-western side of the peninsula, is a grist-mill run by tide-power, which grinds 800 bushels of corn daily.

The first preacher in Harpswell was Richard Pateshall, who graduated at Harvard College in 1735. A church was formed in 1753, and Rev. Elisha Eaton ordained over it. He remained until his death in 1754, and was succeeded by his son, Samuel Eaton, who also remained until his death, which occurred in 1822, at the age of eightyfive years. There are now a Congregationalist, Baptist, Free Baptist, Universalist, a Union, and two Methodist churches in the town. Harpswell has sixteen public schoolhouses, of the estimated value of $7,600. The valuation of estates in 1870 was $454,001. In 1880 it was $499,621. The rate of taxation in 1880 was 98 cents per $100. The population in 1870 was 1,749. In the census of 1880 it is given as 1,772.

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