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Blue Hill, Maine

“the charm of its situation, its sparkling bay..."

Discover the Story of Blue Hill

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Boom and Bust in the 19th Century

The first harvest was old growth timber. Felled trees were pulled out of the forests with teams of horses or oxen. Water powered sawmills were built on streams at the head of the harbor and Peters Cove. At the original settlement in Blue Hill Falls, mills were powered by the tidal currents alternately flooding and emptying the Salt Pond. The town's tax assessor in 1792 reported 50 houses, 8 mills, 6 stores, 95 oxen, 178 cows, 58 hogs, and 5 horses.

Shipbuilding and Seafaring . Shipyards were established on the sloping shores conveniently adjacent to the sawmills. Between 1792 and 1891, 133 wooden ocean-going sailing vessels were built in Blue Hill.

Captain John W. Kane, Blue Hill, ca. 1900
Captain John W. Kane, Blue Hill, ca. 1900
Blue Hill Historical Society

According to the Maine Register of 1850, there were 13 shipbuilders in Blue Hill, along with 8 shipping merchants, 5 ship joiners, 3 blacksmiths (who fashioned the iron fittings), 1 rigger, 1 caulker, and 1 sail manufacturer. Shipyard workers, like sailors of the time, were fueled by a daily ration of grog, served at eleven o’clock. Annie Clough remembered that her father, as a boy, served up the grog at the yard where her grandfather, Asa Clough, Jr., was ship’s carpenter and master builder.

Some of the vessels built in Blue Hill during the first half of the nineteenth century were three-masted barks and full-rigged ships but most were two-masted brigs and schooners for the coastal trade. Captain Candage, one of 52 Blue Hill ship captains of the era, went to sea at 18 years of age and worked his way up to commanding clipper ships carrying gold prospectors from New York to California, cotton from India to England, and bird guano from South America to Europe.

The stately federal-style houses that grace the shaded village streets of Blue Hill today were built in the early nineteenth century with profits made from shipbuilding and shipping. Thomas Lord, at first a ship’s carpenter, made sketches of classical buildings while on shore leave in the Mediterranean. In 1847, he built a house for himself on the corner of Union and High Streets. Two months before he died in 1880, Thomas Lord summed up his life work: “Have worked on 83 vessels more or less – 84 dwelling houses, 12 school houses, 14 meeting houses [among them the first congregational and baptist churches in blue hill] and other public buildings, 15 barns and sheds, 10 stern mouldings and heads, 230 coffins and 5 stores….”

Fishing was from early on an important pursuit in Blue Hill. A packet of receipts and share certificates in the archives of the Blue Hill Historical Society bears witness to the formation of the Bluehill Fishing Company in 1836. The 1850 Maine Register lists five pogey factories for rendering fish oil in town.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century the in-shore fisheries, herring and lobster, scallops and clams, remained strong. Local fishermen moved quickly and easily from one fishery to another. They worked a combination of weirs, stop-seines, trawls and traps. In winter, they might go north to cut wood. Early settlers of Blue Hill were forced to be resourceful in order to survive.

The Granite Industry. Running east along the northern edge of Blue Hill Harbor to Wood Point, then turning south along the length of Long Island glaciers left exposed a rich vein of blue-gray granite. In the early part of the nineteenth century, the stone was prized for the construction of bridges and large buildings in fast-growing American cities.

In 1836, eighteen large cargoes went out to be used in building the Charlestown Navy Yard. Later shipments included eight columns 28 feet long for the Dutch Reformed Church in New York, stone for a bridge in St. Louis, and eight shiploads of paving stones for New Orleans. Carrying stone over water was sometimes perilous: stone sloops sank more readily than the timber schooners in bad weather.

By the mid-point of the nineteenth century, several quarries were active along East Blue Hill Road. The Darling’s Blue Hill Granite Company had a wharf at the present site of the Kollegewidgwok Yacht Club. Next door, the White Granite Company had cutting sheds and a machine shop erected on their wharf.

The late Robert Slaven, descendant of previous owners of the Chase quarry on Wood Point, remembered that Blue Hill granite “rang like a bell” when struck with a hammer. At the Chase quarry it was cut out of ledges at the top of the hill and transported on cable cars down a track to a massive stone wharf where it was loaded on ships with a derrick.

The Mining Boom. In a series of newspaper articles published a hundred years later, William Hinckley tells the fascinating story of the Blue Hill mining frenzy of the late 1880s. In the summer of 1876, William Darling bought up mineral rights adjacent to Second and Third Ponds west of town. His brother, Frederick, had noticed a peculiar color of the earth and rock at that location. By September, the town was buzzing with discoveries of valuable deposits of ore. Soon, prospectors were converging on the town.

Benjamin Cutter of Bangor bought 66 acres east of Second Pond where he established the long running Blue Hill Copper Mining and Smelting Company. The Darlings selected a spot on the farm of Sylvanus Douglass to put down a shaft. Holt’s store became a hotel. Orin Clay opened a public house named the Copper and Gold Exchange

The U.S. Census of 1880 reported that the population of Blue Hill had grown by 507 people over the preceding ten years. The numbers of farmers had decreased from 201 to 177 and the number of sailors from 112 to 52. But there were 115 miners in town, not counting the laborers and teamsters employed by the mines.

In early 1880 there were 29 mining companies in Blue Hill. By the end of that summer 10 remained. Some ran out of capital. General depression swept the country. Some mines never got started. In the end, even the strong companies dwindled with diminishing markets and mismanagement.

National Trends Undercut Blue Hill's Industries. The Nineteenth Century was a story of boom and bust. Railroads were tracking westward to vast new sources of wood products. Steamboats with iron hulls replaced wooden sailing vessels. Reinforced concrete decreased the demand for granite. And market forces in the late 1800s depressed the price of copper. The Civil War shut down southern markets for fish and ice and insurance rates skyrocketed from Confederate predation on Yankee trading vessels. The residents of Blue Hill were forced to rely on the creativity, hard work and community spirit that defined the town’s history.

The late nineteenth-century decline of Maine’s maritime industry was the most poignant feature of the novels of Blue Hill-born Mary Ellen Chase. In Mary Peters, Silas Crockett, Windswept, and The Edge of Darkness, she wrote that there was something immeasurably sad in the sight of a grandson of a shipmaster shingling the roof of a summer cottage for his livelihood and there was something sadder in the knowledge that the owners knew little and cared less for the boy’s history.

Letters between John Morrison and his young wife, Ida Candage Morrison, describe hard times in South Blue Hill at the end of the nineteenth century. In her letters to John when he was away at a lumber camp in winter, Ida describes daily challenges: the cow drying up, firewood stolen from the porch, taking the cat into bed to keep warm on a cold winter’s night, facing tax and doctor bills, trying to find credit from the stressed local merchants.