Blog Archives

An Island Home: Six Historic Houses of Westport Island, Maine


The Westport Island History Committee and friends are happily celebrating a successful first historic homes tour on the island. About 150 residents and visitors turned out on Sunday, September 16, to view six historic Island homes. The Community Church was also open for viewing and the Town Hall was dressed up with historic homes’ displays, flowers and table arrangements to welcome visitors with a light — and reportedly superb — luncheon. Making it all happen, took a village…

The seven-member House Tour Committee Co-Chaired by Callie Connor and Judy Hughes worked for a year and a half to stage this event. Committee members each brought talents to the table that wed history and historic preservation backgrounds with creative, accomplished Westport Island event planners. Essential to this effort were the homeowners, their families, about 62 volunteers, the History Committee, the Westport Volunteer Fire Department and the tasteful entertaining flair of Louana Frois with the help of Simply Susie’s Catering and flower arranger Posies in the Pines.

Visitors came from near and far. They came to see neighbors’ lovely homes, to see how other groups conduct historic home tours, to see an ancestor’s home, to see the fine features and workmanship of old houses — or all of the above. Effusive reviews were passed on to homeowners and volunteers throughout the tour and in succeeding days…

“Westport Island’s Home Tour was a delight! My guests were blown away with your wonderful selection of historic homes, your excellent signage, and lovely lunch included with the ticket
Well done‼
1. Excellent signage
2. Super Historical Map intro to understand owners and how land was passed around
3. Friendly & knowledgeable house greeters
4. Wonderful luncheon
5. Excellent parking staff, no question about where or how to park…”

“We thought the tour was a grand success and that the prep you all did was very impressive, thorough and very interesting…Bravo to all!”

I am sure I speak for the many that attended your wonderful tour. The houses were a joy to see, the owners/docents generous with their time and cordial attitude. As far as the luncheon, the tables were artfully and beautifully appointed and certainly befitting good food! Lastly, the tour revealed the real Westport.

Since Callie Connor joined the History Committee in 2015, she had a vision for conducting a Historic Homes Tour on Westport Island. Callie, a Professor Emerita of Classics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a devotee of historic preservation. She serves on the boards of multiple North Carolina organizations dedicated to illuminating and increasing appreciation of history as told through everyday homes and architecture. Callie and her husband, Bob, are both academics with a passion for history that carries forward into daily living. They bought the historic Cornelius Tarbox, Jr. home on Westport Island and have been working to preserve the home and solve the mystery of who painted the folk art marine murals decorating the entryway since they arrived.

The History Committee had never sponsored an historic homes tour, but was “all in” once fellow member and Island entrepreneur Judy Hughes heeded the call to join Callie in defining and developing the event. The House Tour Committee was born and enlisted veteran Island event organizers Ann Springhorn, Carole Dunbar, Tania Hayes, Ruth Nelson and Sally Howe. Callie developed the criteria for selecting the homes that would be highlighted on the tour, focusing on those with both external historic character and interior historic features that had been preserved. Multiple homes fit the bill, but the first selections each offer a very interesting vantage point on Island history.

All participants learned something new and interesting from the research done by House Tour and History Committee members, from the homeowners and from the brochure which provided thumbnail histories of each house. To all those that contributed, thank you and take a bow…

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Photo credits to: Mary Coventry, Jeff Tarbox, Archie Bonyun and Crissy Swartz.

Westport’s WWII Veteran Vera Cleaves’ Last Hurrah

Vera is celebrated in the Maine Historical Society’s Veteran’s Voices exhibit

On February 2, about 160 people turned out for the opening of the Maine Historical Society’s Veterans’ Voices exhibit. The exhibit highlighted first-person stories of 10 Maine veterans from World War II to Afghanistan — one of whom was Westport Island’s 102-year old WWII veteran Vera Cleaves.

Unfortunately, Vera died on January 23, about one and one-half weeks before she was to be honored at the exhibit’s opening. At the opening reception, Vera was also to receive medals from the State of Maine for her service in the armed forces and as a veteran of World War II. Her nephew, Brad Cleaves, and his wife, Patty Latham, received the medals and certificates on Vera’s behalf from Adria Horn, Director of Maine Veterans’ Services. They were sensitive to Vera’s pride in her military service and made attendance at the opening a priority to accept Vera’s honors on behalf of the family.

With an introduction from Brenda Bonyun, Tilly Laskey from the Maine Historical Society visited and interviewed Vera in December. Vera reviewed and edited the narrative from the 2-hour interview. She was honored and grateful to the Maine Historical Society for commemorating her WWII service. My last image of Vera was seeing her smile as she looked at the poster for the upcoming exhibit. Vera was looking forward to attending the opening on February 2 and speaking with fellow veterans. She died knowing her story will be remembered.

Read Vera’s story. The exhibit will run at the Maine Historical Society, 489 Congress Street, Portland through April 29.

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A Westport Island Farewell and Thank You

Senie Morton and Cheryl Greenleaf have gone west, but left some history on Westport Island

Sisters Senie Greenleaf Morton and Cheryl Greenleaf have moved to Arizona after a lifetime — and generations of family history — on Westport Island. Thankfully for us, they have also left the History Committee with an attic of family and community momentos. Members of the History Committee, along with family and friends, sent them off on Sunday, October 25, with a small thank you potluck for all they have given to their community.

Some may have seen Cheryl’s “Mitten Tree” at The First bank in Wiscasset last Christmas. Cheryl knitted over 400 pairs of mittens for those in need. Some decorated the bank’s Christmas tree alongside a sign to “take pair if you need a pair”. Cheryl’s mittens were given to area primary and middle school children, social service agencies and customers.

Maybe you bought a raffle ticket in years past in hopes of winning a quilt that Cheryl made for the benefit of the Westport Volunteer Fire Department. She was an active supporter of the fire department — volunteering her time for fundraising events, as well as cooking and crafting to support their fundraising.

Portrait of Verlie Colby GreenleafGenealogists whose searches lead them to Westport Island know the name “Senie” because of her photographs and histories on the “Find a Grave” site, where she has put pictures of gravestones and information on almost every gravesite in Westport’s 70 plus cemeteries.

And, for those who have admired the 2011 Westport Island community quilt in which 18 Island women created a quilted time capsule — three of the patches were made by Cheryl and Senie. Their patches were historical commemorations of the North End School, the Westport ferry and the Island’s logging and sawmill history.

Thanks to the family archives left to the History Committee by Senie (and her niece Dedee Greenleaf-Hodgdon), you may soon see more history relating to the schools, the ferry and the Island’s logging history. Some items from the “Colby-Greenleaf Collection” will be available for viewing on the Maine Memory Network in the coming months. The collection includes journals, photo albums and scrapbooks from Senie and Dedee’s grandmother, Verlie Colby Greenleaf, and Verlie’s sister, Jeannette Colby Fowle. Senie carried on her grandmother’s scrapbooking of Island history — including obituaries and news clippings — and has contributed her personal archives as well.

Best wishes and thank you to friends and benefactors, Cheryl and Senie. We’ll miss you.

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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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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 Memorial Day Tribute

Honoring our veterans

flagOn Wednesday, members of the Cemetery Committee spent their day hiking into the dozens of small cemeteries that dot Westport Island. They placed 50 flags to honor our veterans in readiness for today’s tradition of taking time to remember and celebrate the service of those who sacrifice and serve in our nation’s armed forces.

Following is a reprint of the Dedication from the 2003 Westport Island Town Report written by Bill Wright to give a face to one of the Islander’s who served: his father, Adrien Wright.

It was Adrien Wright’s wish that his land, the old ferry landing, now called “Wright Landing” be town property for the enjoyment of all its citizens…

In Memory of “Ade” and Mary Wright…

Dad was a gunner on a B17 bomber in World War II, was shot down over Germany and was in a prison camp for 1 1/2 years.

Mom and Dad (Adrien and Mary) moved to Westport Island in the summer of 1947. They purchased the Old Parsonage House, on top the hill on the left side of West Shore Road, from George Knight. We had great neighbors there across the road in the summer with Ester and Lewie Doyle and of course George Knight. Dad dug clams for two summers, purchased an old lobster boat and hauled clams up and down the river with friends, Amos Knight, George Spinney, Jack McEachern, Frank Fowler and sons and many others.

WrightDedicationIn 1950, Dad started digging saltwater worms for Fred Bolwin of Woolwich and liked that so much he started his own worm business in the spring of 1951. For many years, he purchased worms from diggers on Westport Island. Almost all the men, young and old, that lived on Westport Island dug worms for Dad at some time or another.

In the spring of 1962, Adrien and Bill Wright started Wrights’ Bait, Inc. We started buying sea worms from all along the coast of Maine. In 1969 both families, Mom and Dad, Bill, Jeanine and kids all lived in Addison, Maine and ran a large Marine Worm Business there.

Westport Island clam flatsIn 1976, Ade and Mary moved back to Westport Island, retired from the worm business and remained on Westport Island enjoying many happy days with friends and family. Mom was a self-taught pianist and enjoyed playing the piano at family gatherings. She also enjoyed her flowers and flower gardens. Their home at this time was at the property of the old ferry landing.

The last time I was with Dad, i took him out on his deck and we looked up and down the Sheepscot River. He said, “Bill look how beautiful this is”.

Many Happy Memories
Bill Wright
Son of Adrien and Mary Wright

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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Westport Island Vote 2012

stuffed loon that has presided over the town hall since the turn of the 20th centuryUnder the watchful eyes of the loon…

Townspeople filed into the Old Town Hall on November 6 to cast their votes — hoping to hand their chosen candidates a “win;” and judging from the comments, hoping to put an end to this year’s political advertising.

The loon has been presiding over town elections since 1889. According to the Westport Island history compiled by John and Louise Swanton, the loon was shot at Squam Creek by Everett McCarthy of the Post Office Road; and “young” Cornelius Tarbox of West Shore Road mounted the bird and presented it to the Town. It’s been sitting atop the beam framing the town hall’s stage as unofficial mascot ever since.

Including absentee voters, Westport Islanders cast a total of 489 votes in this election — representing a voter turnout of over 75 percent. Election officials were primarily volunteers. We owe the integrity of the ballot box, the incoming voter’s list, the ballot count, and the accommodating Westport voting experience to our neighbors. Thank you all…

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How Islanders voted the contested races:

President Gary E. Johnson (L) 7
Barack Obama (D) 254
Mitt Romney (R) 221
Jill Stein (G) 4
U.S. Senate Danny Francis Dalton (N) 3
Cynthia Ann Dill (D) 20
Andrew Ian Dodge (I) 5
Angus King (I) 276
Charles E. Summers (R) 163
Stephen M. Woods (I) 9
U.S. House District #1 Jonathan T. E. Courtney (R) 196
Chellie Pingree (D) 275
Maine Senate District #20 Leslie T. Fossel (R) 255
Christopher K. Johnson (D) 208
Maine House District #61 Stephanie Hawke (R) 202
W. Bruce MacDonald (D) 262
Question 1: Same-sex marriage Yes 251
No 222
Question 2: Higher education bond Yes 220
No 241
Question 3: Conservation bond Yes 296
No 170
Question 4: Transportation bond Yes 339
No 124
Question 5: Water systems bond Yes 299
No 164
RSU #12 revised cost sharing formula Yes 379
No 79

Upcoming Westport Island History Project

Sponsored by the Maine Memory Network


“Everything just the same here, only more people. The girls are dancing all the time as usual and are just as fickle as ever.” …That was the note written on this postcard from Westport in August, 1909. More people? Dancing all the time? Fickle romance on rock island Westport? Makes me want to know more…and if all goes as planned, the Westport Island History Committee will soon be bringing snapshots and snippets of the Island’s yesteryear to a computer near you.

The Westport Island History Committee has been awarded a grant from the Maine Memory Network (MMN) for $650 to purchase a high quality scanner. The scanner and bundled software will allow the committee to upload photos and documents from our collection to the Maine Memory Network’s digital library.

The MMN is an on-line, digital library curated and maintained by the Maine Historical Society. Such libraries are revolutionizing access to historical information in small towns like ours that can’t afford a library or historical society building to showcase old photographs, family letters, and artifacts.

The History Committee will soon start the process of assembling a historical “town photo album”. This will be a significant undertaking. Committee members will be scanning photographs and documents, cataloguing scanned items, and chasing down identifying information and narratives.

The goal is to bring stories from the Island’s past alive, to make the information accessible, and to invite more interest and commentary from those with information, stories, and memorabilia to share. The quest is on to bring our lantern slides, photographs, and antique objects to life. This is so cool. Where to begin?…shall it be with….

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