Category Archives: History

A Westport Island House Featured in a Digital Exhibit

The Maine Historical Society’s digital library features the Cornelius Tarbox, Jr. House

Cornelius Tarbox, Jr. HouseThe Maine Historical Society’s digital library, the Maine Memory Network (MMN), is featuring a digital exhibit that highlights a Westport Island treasure, the Cornelius Tarbox, Jr. House. As many long time islanders know, the entry hallway of the house is decorated with a panorama of marine murals that have captured the imagination of owners and visitors past and present. Current owners Bob and Callie Connor have become guardian angels of the murals.

West hallway mural with three masted schooner headed to a lighthouseThe Connors have invested in preserving the murals, and they have become avid “art history detectives” intent on identifying the artist who left his, or her, mark on Westport Island. Since purchasing the house in 2013, the Connors have educated themselves on 19th century folk and marine muralists working in this area. They have networked with and invited experts on the works of famed Maine muralists Rufus Porter; his nephew, Jonathan Poor; and others working in a similar school of painting to view the murals. Through their research, the Connors have determined that a mural in the Five Islands Baptist Church in Georgetown is by the same artist.

One day, the Connors hope to identify their home’s muralist. Ideally, the exhibit at MMN will bring the story of the murals before more history detectives and elicit more clues that may help to solve this muralist whodunit.

See the MMN exhibit: Mural Mystery in Westport Island’s Cornelius Tarbox, Jr. House

A Westport Island Mural Mystery

A folk art masterpiece in the Cornelius Tarbox house

When Callie and Bob Connor, classics professors from North Carolina, considered purchasing the historic Cornelius Tarbox home on Westport Island, their decision was as much about saving a colonial treasure as about having a waterfront refuge. The house — though in need of “TLC” — had good, solid colonial bones and was decorated with an expansive folk art/maritime mural in the front entry that captivated the Connors.

A floor-to-ceiling mural of a colorful coastal panorama extends through the front hallway and up the stairwell. The mural is done in a similar style to that of folk art muralist Rufus Porter who was active from 1825 to 1840. The Connors’ mural is unsigned — a mystery as to who painted it and as to the story that inspired it.

Emily Brummel of Westport’s Flutter Focus Photography documenting the Tarbox House murals

The clues? There is a schooner with flags bearing the initials “WFT”, presumably for Cornelius’s son who died at age 32 — William F. Tarbox (1832-1865), a U.S. flag, a red burgee and a blue rectangular flag with a white circle — possibly a merchant flag? The schooner “William F. Tarbox” was lost with all hands on board in 1857; and the person William F. Tarbox died in 1865 in Nova Scotia where he had moved to stake a gold claim.

The panoramic mural also depicts a lighthouse (Seguin?), a fisherman’s home, a fishing vessel, a seascape with many vessels fading into the background and some grand trees that have a tendency to lean. The type of trees — or the leaning — may be a clue or maybe the brushstrokes, the way people are depicted, or the mural’s resonance with other historical murals in area structures…

By poring through valuation and tax books at the Westport Island town office, Callie established that the Tarbox house was built between 1848 and 1850. Through additional research, the Connors found leads to two additional area murals painted in a similar style. One of the murals is at the Five Islands Baptist Church (built 1841) in Georgetown. That mural was believed to have been done some time after 1864 by “an anonymous itinerant painter”. The third mural is at the Alvah Morse house (built 1847-1852) in Bath. All of these murals are unsigned; experts believe the Connors’ mural and the Five Islands Baptist Church 1864 mural are likely by the same painter.

Are there more murals in our midst that might hold additional clues to who painted the Tarbox House mural? Are there others who may know more about the story or the symbols depicted? The Connors are dedicated to learning this story — a story that promises to add another interesting page to Westport Island history.

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Westport Community Association Celebrates 60 Years

…of putting the spirit of “community” into a town

Whether caretaking community landmarks, building community identity, showcasing Island talent or sparking community spirit, the Westport Community Association has played a key role.

60th Anniversary logoThe Community Association will be marking 60 years of community service this Sunday, August 16, with a celebration at the Town Hall and the Community Church, 1217 Main Road. The Town Hall will be showcasing old and new Island made quilts, arts, and crafts; while a “Musical Celebration” fills the church. Come one, come all — the events are free; refreshments will be served.

Interior of Westport Community ChurchThe Community Association was formed in 1955 primarily to restore the Westport Community Church. After being used for church services and Sunday School from 1864 to the 1900’s, the building had fallen into disrepair. After repairing and returning religious services to the church for ten years, the Maine Methodist Conference gave the church to the Community Association. Thanks to the stewardship of the Association, the church is an Island landmark used for weddings and memorial services as well as the yearly Island Christmas Program.

flag at entrance to Westport IslandBeyond the church, the Association has undertaken fundraising on behalf of countless projects for the betterment of Island life: the fire station; “comfort” renovations at the historic Town Hall (ceiling fans, a well, plumbing and modernized restrooms); and support of historical milestones such as Lincoln County’s Bicentennial in 1960 and the Island’s Sesquicentennial in 1978.

Westport Island welcome sign with invitation to Community Association anniversaryYou can’t pass onto Westport Island without seeing the flagpole and welcome sign. The original flag was purchased by Jack Smith on behalf of the Community Association for the country’s Bicentennial in 1976. The original welcome sign was made in 1960 by J. Louis Doyle (architect from Boston, summer resident of Westport and Community Association President at the time) for Lincoln County’s Bicentennial Celebration, which included Association sponsored events on the Island.

From square dances to Halloween parties, from the Island Christmas program to the fire department barbeque…and well beyond to programs that showcase Island talent and history — the Community Association makes the Island a better place. Now, that’s something to celebrate. Events will conclude with a singing of “Roots in the Rock” and “Rollin Home” and a champagne toast at 5:15…

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A Day to Remember on Westport Island

Thank you to all who serve

bluestarflag Westport Island, though small, has a large history of serving its country — dating back to the Revolutionary War.

Maybe noticed, maybe not, one Islander “who served” greets us when we vote and when we gather to celebrate, discuss and come together as neighbors. A flag and a photograph remember him: Donald Knight. Honored by his parents, Knight is memorialized by both a photograph and a blue star flag at the front of the Town Hall.

Blue star flags, the “War Mother’s Flags”, became an unofficial symbol of a child in the service in WWI. During WWI and WWII, many of the flags were hand made by mothers across the nation symbolizing the service of a child. The Service flag was also displayed by organizations — like our town — to honor members serving during a period of war or hostilities. Today, we recognize Donald Knight for his service in WWII as the poster child for those who have served their country…

A newspaper obituary of Donald Knight provides the following context for our Town Hall remembrance…

Donald F. Knight, “Bunker Hill” Casualty, Was Machine Shop’s Second War Fatality

Donald Francis Knight, M.M. 2/c, son of Mr. and Mrs. Lester H. Knight of Bath, was killed in action in the Pacific, when the carrier on which he was serving was bombed by the Japs on May 11, according to word received by his parents from the Navy Department. Donald was buried at sea on May 12, with full military honors.

Donald, who was a B.I.W. machinist, and the Machine Shop’s second fatal casualty, had taken part in 12 major battles before he was home on leave last January, and had been to Saipan, Link, Leyte, Negros, Wake, New Hebrides, Rabaul, Tarawa, Kavieng, Kuajalein, Guam, Peleliu, etc.

He was inducted into the U.S. Naval Reserve June 21, 1943, and after receiving boot training at Newport, R.I., he was assigned to an aircraft carrier and left for overseas on Sept. 3, 1943.

Besides his parents, he leaves a daughter, Donna Larraine, who was one year old on May 26, and who lives with her grandparents.

Knight (748x800)

Donald Knight’s parents were Lester and Marcia White Knight. Lester Knight grew up on Westport. Although Donald was born in Bath, he married Mary Jane Greenleaf of Westport. Based on the donation of the photograph, the flag and Donald’s military name and rank tags to the Town of Westport Island, it is clear that the family’s psychological home was on the Island. We are proud to call them ours.

On this Memorial Day, thank you Donald Knight and to all who have served and to those who now serve…

A Westport Island Birthday Remembrance

Remembering Verlie Greenleaf

a young Verlie GreenleafIf she was still alive, Verlie Greenleaf would have been 124 years old today. When she celebrated her 100th birthday in 1991, there were probably some who thought she might live to celebrate her 124th. Verlie lived to be 101. She served as Westport’s Treasurer and Tax Collector for 45 years, retiring at age 87. She played piano at Island dances for years and years, first at Camp Molly on the North End and later at the Town Hall — Verlie even played for her own 100th birthday celebration.

Verlie was interviewed by Louise and John Swanton in 1987 about growing up on Westport Island. And, she wrote her own notes to pass on. Here are a few of those captured remembrances…

My mother said I was born in a snowstorm, a good snowstorm, the 19th of February, 1891, and she said it really was a snowstorm. They used to get the doctor. The women had their babies at home. The doctor came from Wiscasset, and then you had to row him across because we didn’t have any ferry. You had to meet him across the river. He would come down to Bailey’s land, they’d row across and pick him up and bring him over…

…[We] didn’t have any ferry. When I was first growing up, they had rowboats at the shores. Everybody had rowboats. …years ago when there was nothing but oxen and there were two horses, the south end was just as far away as Boston would be for us. …There was the north end and the south end. Everybody walked…

There was a Post Office of course, down at the Center but it was easier for my father to row to Wiscasset to get his groceries and he had a post office box up in Wiscasset, and that’s where his mail came in. Sometimes if he was busy my mother would row up and get the mail. She wouldn’t be going there in the middle of winter…

They didn’t plow [then]. When I was a kid I can see them now. Nehemiah Colby had a yoke of oxen and they had something looked like a long sled…and in front of it they’d tied on — I don’t know whether it was a plank or whether it was a log right in front, and the oxen — I can see them going down by the house now — used to go down by the house, those oxen, and just push the snow down. That’s all we had…

Up on Uncle Jake’s hill there, we used to go up there and slide down the hill, come way down where I lived, way down to the farmhouse… Many years we’ve gone sleighing Thanksgiving… We had horses. But there were several yoke of oxen on the island, and then they used to break the road with the horses. We used to call them heaters, with that log in front.

I was in my teens when the first car came on the island. It was owned by Arthur B. Fels of Yarmouth who married Josie Fowle of Fowle’s Point.

Verlie Greenleaf at her 100th birthday celebrationVerlie (1891-1992) lives on in the words, deeds and photographic record she left behind. Her granddaughters, Dedee Greenleaf-Hodgdon and Senie Morton, have donated a large collection of her photographs and memorabilia to the Westport Island History Committee. Verlie’s written remembrances, as well as the care put into identifying the people and places in this collection, make it a very valuable addition to the Island’s historical record. Thank you.

Westport Island Says Thank You

To Mary Ellen Barnes for “putting its history in order”

Westport Island has an “attic” of photographs, news articles, genealogy, artifacts and letters that tell stories of our Island’s people and their times from the early 1800’s to today. There have been residents in times past that have compiled and shared this history in writing — Bea Harriman, John and Louise Swanton, and Ron and Cora Tarbox among them — whose books continue to be the mainstay of Westport history. There have been others who have organized events, tours or special preservation efforts for landmarks like the Town Hall,the Community Church and the Squire Tarbox Inn.

Mary Ellen Conducting History Program on Westport IslandWhen Mary Ellen Barnes came to this Island in 2003, she brought a professional background in history and historical preservation and a vision for preserving Westport Island’s historical artifacts. She had worked at the Maine Folklife Center, the Maine Forest and Logging Museum and the Yarmouth Historical Society. Her passion for history helped to motivate the formation of a History project started under the Conservation Commission in 2005. When the History Committee was formed in 2008, Mary Ellen was elected Chair and has served in that capacity until this last month. She will continue to serve on the History Committee as a member.

As Mary Ellen steps down as Chair, Selectman George Richardson, the History Committee and community members took a moment to say thank you. She has worked tirelessly in her “spare” time to advance the preservation of our history, grow the collection, and advocate for improved and expanded storage space to protect our history and make it more available to residents and researchers. The “attic” is now cleaner and more organized. The beginnings of internet – and broad-based — access to our historical collections are underway and our digital library will continue to grow on the Maine Memory Network.

Mary Ellen with the 2010 Westport Island quiltA very special thank you gift was created by Sandy Besecker and Jill Cooney with the help of all the quilters who created the 2010 Westport Island quilt, the newest member of our historical quilt collection. All 18 quilters signed a remnant fabric square from the 2010 quilt. The squares were stitched into a signature quilt wall hanging that will memorialize the work and cooperation that made the quilt — and makes the caretaking of our history — possible.

Mary Ellen will continue to work as a part of the History Committee to see her vision through: more storage space, improved preservation conditions, and a small exhibit space that makes our rich heritage available and visible to all.

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A Westport Island Farewell

Colby’s Groceries passes into history

Colby's Groceries, probably in the 1950's, when it was operationalAlthough there is not currently a general store on the Island, there have been several over the years. One of them, Colby’s Groceries, still stood until recently. The wear of the years finally forced its current owners to have the decaying structure demolished last month.

There are still residents on the Island who have memories of buying candy and ice cream at Colby’s as children. In 2014, the only sign inside the small structure of its former commercial history was a Cigarette License still clinging to the wall. The license was issued to Ellsworth Colby on February 26, 1947. Earl Grant turned the license over to the History Committee as a momento of the little store’s past. Farewell Colby’s Groceries…

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A Venerable Westport Island Building

Looking back on a one-time Island store

Westport post office pictured on right side of Main Road (early 1900's)In the post civil war years, the building pictured on the right at the corner of Main and Post Office Roads was owned by Civil War Veteran, William McKinney. Around 1870, he opened a store in the building where he sold such things as candy, food staples, tobacco, sewing and school supplies, fish lines and patent medicines. When McKinney became the Postmaster in 1889, his store also became the post office. It dispensed stamps and postal supplies until the Island’s post office was discontinued in 1907 — two years after rural free delivery service started.

Although McKinney died in 1904, according to Cora Tarbox’s 2011 Westport Island History, someone else in the family may have operated the store until 1930. The building was then vacant until 1949 when Herbert Cromwell, Sr. purchased it. A year later, Herb Cromwell moved the building to his home property at 638 Main Road.

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Herbert Cromwell’s Grocery Store operated as the largest store on the Island until the first supermarkets in Bath took hold in the early 1960’s. At Herb’s store, residents could get all the basics — and fill up their cars with gas. His daughter, Virginia, also operated a small snack bar next door to the main store until the late 1950’s when the snack bar building was moved north on the Main Road. (There for almost 20 years it was part of Edwin and Jenny Cromwell’s Bayside Oaks Snack Bar and Picnic Area overlooking Montsweag Bay.)

old post office/store on left with lower roofed addition on right that serves as food pantry todayToday, the old post office, aka Herb Cromwell’s store, waits for its next life. The building has been vacant and used only for storage. It is familiar to Island residents because the addition on the right side currently serves as the Westport Island food pantry. If wishes come true, the newest residents in the old Cromwell house may add another chapter to the store’s history.

Credits to: “Westport Island Maine 1605-1972” by Cora J. Tarbox (2011) and the history and photographs provided by Calvin Cromwell

A Westport Island Native Son at Gettysburg

Looking back on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg

Eighteen-year old William McKinney (McKenny) was the first Westport Islander to enlist in the Civil War. On August 2, 1862, he mustered into Company K, 19th Regiment of the Maine Volunteer Infantry.

Just under a year later, on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 2, 1863, McKinney was wounded in the chest. He was transferred to Washington, DC for recuperation and then transferred into Company F, 24th Regiment of the Veteran’s Reserve Corp. The Reserve Corp allowed partially disabled soldiers to serve light duty and freed able-bodies soldiers for the front lines.

McKinney served with the 1st Brigade U.S. Veterans Reserve Department 22nd Corp. This brigade defended the Capitol during Confederate Commander Jubal Early’s offensive in the Shenandoah Valley from July to November 1864. This campaign, ultimately unsuccessful, was an effort to secure railroad lines and provisions to support the Virginia-based confederate forces and to take pressure off General Lee’s forces. McKinney served at the battle near Fort Stevens when General Early attempted a raid on Washington, DC on July 11-12, 1864. Early was repelled and forced to withdraw back to Virginia.

McKinney later served in the Guard of President Lincoln during his 2nd inauguration March 4, 1865 and was assigned to the search for John Wilkes Booth and other conspirators on April 22, 1865. He was honorably discharged July 28, 1865.

In 1994, McKinney’s great grandniece, Alyn Jewett McNeish, proudly wrote in a letter, now in the possession of the History Committee:

…we have his record, which is a long one, framed and hanging in our home along with the rifle he carried (hanging over our kitchen fireplace). Sitting beside the rifle in frames are two pieces of confederate money he brought home. ..

McKinney served Westport Island in other ways on his return from military service. He was town clerk from 1901-1904; postmaster from 1889 (probably until 1904 when he died); one of five proprietors of the Union Meeting House (the Town Hall) who gave the building to the town in 1885; and the proprietor of a store at Main and Post Office Roads established about 1870, selling candy, needles, thread, shoe laces, calico, school supplies, tobacco, fish lines and patent medicines. In 1994, his grandniece still had the apothecary jars McKinney used for penny candy in his store which she used as cookie jars.

William McKinney is one of many who have contributed to “big history” on a “little island”…

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Calling Westport Island Volunteers…

to the business of governing…

You stated that we had a young board of officers, to rule the town…there is but one… the rest are sly and underminded and do not know what they are in office for…they will not have much influence upon the business of the bridge; for there are two to one in favor of the roads, and also the bridge…They that are opposed to the roads and bridge being built…have but one…and he would have no more influence, on the minds of the people, than a child.

Roads, bridges and strong opinions…Could be any year in the life of the Island. It just happens to be 1848, and the sentiments come from Franklin Tarbox writing to his sister Sarah.

Built in 1840, the first Westport bridge had a price tag of $6,000 – a pretty hefty purse in those days. Then, as now, those that wanted to be geographically isolated from the troubles of the mainland were pitted against those that wanted aesthetics and privacy with convenient access to services. …And, those that wanted to invest for the future and what they considered the communal greater good were pitted against those that carefully minded their purses and costs vs. benefits. There are always issues to divide.

Tis the season once again to nominate a selectman, a road commissioner and two budget committee members; pontificate…and meet about the town’s business. Town voting will be June 28; town meeting June 29.

Ten plus committees of volunteers and another 10 to 15 volunteer officers are sworn in each July 1 and form the core of our town government. Volunteers contemplate and formulate planning and development regulations; maintain our 70 plus cemeteries; monitor shellfish harvesting; operate safety — and safety net — services; advocate for preserving land and a community trails system; hear planning appeals; and do much more. New committee members are always welcome on all committees. The Planning Board in particular is looking for an interested planner or two.

Also Wanted: two Budget Committee members; nomination papers available from the Town Clerk and due May 14 (25 to 100 signatures needed). Benefits: Learn the town’s budget, engage in dialogue with citizens and selectmen, and offer suggestions to the Selectmen.

Compensation for all town positions: An opportunity to “pay it forward” for living in such a pretty, peaceful place — where people may disagree, but nonetheless care about the Island.

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