In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Blue Hill, Maine

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

Discover the Story of Blue Hill

Resourceful People, Creative Arts, and Devotion to Community

By members of the Blue Hill Historical Society, Blue Hill Public Library and the Jonathan Fisher House

The First Years
European settlement at Blue Hill began in the spring of 1762 when Joseph Wood and John Roundy sailed "downeast" from the Boston colony to a sheltering bay at the foot of the blue hill. Armed with a grant issued by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, they chose a site on Mill Island well known to Maine's Native Americans for thousands of years. Research at a burial ground on Mill Island where Roundy and Wood first landed indicate that the native American presence here dated back to almost 4000 years before they arrived.

The first European settlers, among them the Osgoods, Parkers, Peters, Holts, Candages, Hinckleys and Hortons, brought with them from Beverly and Andover the character traits of self-reliance, strong work ethic, and love of autonomy, as well as affinities for baked beans, apple pie, and annual town meetings inherited from long ago ancestors on England's eastern shore.

Blue Hill's settlers were at the forefront of a land rush in the 1760s along the coast between Castine and Calais. The population of colonial America was doubling with each generation. The French and Indian wars were winding down. Maine’s Native Americans, the Abenakis, had been decimated by European disease.

The original charter of Blue Hill stipulated that shares of land were to be set aside for a school, for Harvard College, for a church and for a learned protestant minister and his family. The journals of the first settled minister, Jonathan Fisher, are a valuable insight into the early days of Blue Hill life. On June 21, 1814, Fisher writes “About 100 hands collected & assisted in raising my house, with plank sides, which went up well & no person was materially hurt. After raising partook of a bountiful supper & after supper had pleasant singing.”

Not everyone found land to his liking in Blue Hill. In 1764, Jonathan Darling, a veteran of the Battle of Louisbourg, complained that the resident committee assigned him “a lot that is nothing but a mountain of rocks and not worth a sixpence.”

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.

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.

The 20th Century Brings New People, Benefactors, and Cultures to Town

At a commemorative clambake in 1886, Captain R.G.F. Candage described the enduring allure of Blue Hill that offset the privations of the first settlers: “….they saw what everyone else has seen who has visited this town, the charm of its situation, its sparkling bay, its inlets, its shores, its landscapes of hill, dale and plain…” The same qualities began to bring summer vacationers to town toward the end of the 19th century. They were eager to leave behind them the heat and the seasonal epidemics of the crowded cities.

The Summer Colony. The so-called rusticators came to Blue Hill's summer colony on steamships that met their passengers at the railhead in Rockland. They disembarked at the wharves on Peters’ Point or Parker Point where they might be met by horse-drawn carriages to take them up Tenney Hill to George Stover's new Blue Hill Inn on what is now South Street. The panoramic view of the harbor was spectacular.

The Inn was designed by William R. Emerson, who figured importantly in the development of the shingle style of architecture. It had its own livery stable to help take guests to Caterpillar Hill, Newbury Neck, Blue Hill Mountain or Castine. There were tennis courts and, in the evening, the Inn’s own orchestra played at dinner and dances.

During the early years of the twentieth century, upscale cottages were built along the shore. In 1913, Josiah Newton Davidson, a Pittsburgh banker and friend of Andrew Mellon, built the 7,000±-square-foot stone and shingle 5-chimney residence called Blythelyn. Mr. and Mrs. Coburn Haskell built Dundree on Parker Point in 1914. Mr. Haskell was the inventor and holder of the patent for the modern golf ball.

Annie Clough’s 1952 Blue Hill history, Head of the Bay, listed 135 summer residents’ houses, most of them on the shore between the Neck in South Blue Hill and Morgan Bay in East Blue Hill. The owners had permanent homes in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, and particularly Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The Blue Hill Country Club, on the west side of the inner harbor, began at the turn of the twentieth century. Robin Clements relates that Parker Point summer residents purchased a large chunk of land and by 1904 it was golfable. With purchase of additional land in 1920, the original golf course evolved into a reasonably challenging nine-hole layout.

The local yacht club began in 1920 with Dr. Seth Milliken’s purchase of two Brutal Beasts for his children and their cousins. The goal then and now was to teach children to sail. Former land and loading dock of the Blue Hill Granite Company were purchased and a clubhouse built in 1948.

The seasonal residents brought a different, sometimes conflicting, culture to the town. Their extravagant lifestyle, supported by house servants, chauffeurs and gardeners, was both envied and resented by the town's year-round residents. One of the latter describes lasting satisfaction from dangling a summer kid by his feet off the Mill Stream bridge because he would not give way to others on a sidewalk in the center of town. But some also cite the largess of the summer community that supported local institutions: hospital, library, churches and schools. Despite occasional tension between summer visitors and year-round residents, a spirit of cooperation and devotion to community reigned.

The Growth of Public Institutions. In 1920, a committee led by Mrs. F.B. Richards and Dr. Raymond Bliss determined to organize a hospital for the care of patients in Blue Hill. In 1922, Caroline Richards donated funds to buy the former home of Captain Thomas Coggin, a shipmaster who had commanded several Blue Hill vessels. Nearly 90 years later, Blue Hill Memorial Hospital (BHMH) is a 25-bed critical access hospital and the largest employer in the region.

The roots of the Blue Hill Public Library extend back to 1796 when interest in a public library was first proclaimed by Ebenezer Floyd, Reuben Dodge and forty other citizens. The project waxed and waned, even disappeared for a while, until the Ladies Social Library of Blue Hill was established in 1868 with Mary Jane Clough as President.

Enter Miss Adelaide Pearson, social worker, musician, world traveler, author, lecturer and founder of Blue Hill’s Rowantree Pottery. She campaigned zealously and successfully to raise funds that resulted in the attractive brick library building on the corner of Main Street and Parker Point Road that opened its doors in 1939. It is now widely recognized as among the busiest small-town libraries in the country.

After a series of fires in the village, Mr. Edwin Brooks offered to work with some summer residents and purchase fire fighting equipment if the town would build a firehouse. The Blue Hill Volunteer Fire Department, established in 1910, used horses to pull its equipment until purchasing its first motorized vehicle in 1929.

A Musical Culture. The stage was set for Blue Hill to emerge as a center of music appreciation and performance from the founding of the Parker Point summer colony. Two Bostonians who bought some of the first lots on the Point in 1886 -- Junius Hill, a professor of music at Wellesley, and John Holman -- were well-connected in musical circles. Mrs. Virgil Kline, a descendant of Joseph Wood, one of Blue Hill's founders, was director of an opera company in Boston. They were soon joined by other prominent musicians including renowned violinist Franz Kneisel, who started bringing students with him for summer classes in the early 20th Century. Today Kneisel Hall draws chamber music faculty and students from across the country and the town is known for the diversity and richness of its musical life.

A Tight-Knit Community. For most of the 20th Century, the town's summer colony helped make Blue Hill a busy place for two months in the summer, but year-round jobs were scarce and the town's resident population declined as many young people left to seek their fortune elsewhere. Blue Hill's population, which peaked at just over 2200 during the 19th Century mining boom, entered a period of slow decline during the first half of the 20th Century and reached a low point of 1270 in 1960.

Summer residents were one of the biggest employers in town in the early part of the Century. A few mills still operated along Mill Stream in the center of town. Fish packing plants in South Blue Hill canned clams, mackerel, and herring. Local men fished through the ice for smelt in the winter, packing them with snow in boxes and shipping them by train from Ellsworth to Boston. Some farmers hung on and there were at least five commercial dairies in town before the Second World War. Blueberries were always a commercial crop, some hand picked by local residents and shipped out of state. Some local men went to jobs at the Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Bar Harbor during the 1930s helping build the infrastructure for Acadia National Park.

The Odd Fellows and Rebekahs, the Masons and Eastern Star, the Granges in East, South, and North Blue Hill, and the Baptist and Congregational churches were the center of social life and the focus of community service. The Ladies Public Improvement Society, an organization that got its start as a suffragette group, was and still is a focus of community life in South Blue Hill.

New In-migrations since the 1950s. A series of migrations from urban areas along the Eastern Seaboard and as far west as California has brought new life to Blue Hill since the end of the Second World War. Many of these new migrants, unlike the rusticators, have come to live year-round. In the late 1950s and 1960s, Merle Grindle, Jr. and other members of the town's Chamber of Commerce mounted a sustained effort to attract doctors, dentists, attorneys, and other professionals to town. Like the rusticators these new residents were drawn to town by the "the charm of its situation" but they were also looking for good schools and the right place to raise their children.

This new group of migrants included professions that enriched the town's community life. Jerry and Gayle Durnbaugh moved to town in 1960 and started Blue Hill's first newspaper since a short-lived attempt in the 19th Century. Local residents volunteered their time to help The Packet get up and running. It continues to serve as the town's journal of record. Later in the decade, Jerry Durnbaugh and Bob Bannister founded the Peninsula Ambulance Corps. The organization they started with one Pontiac ambulance and an all-volunteer staff has grown into a service with state-of-the-art equipment and a paid staff of EMTs that serves citizens across the peninsula regardless of their ability to pay.

The Back to the Land Movement. In the late 1960s and 1970s, this new migration to Blue Hill was swelled by devotees of the "back-to-the-land" movement. They came to town with long hair and a different background than the town's first settlers, but like those settlers they were looking for a place where they could farm and live closer to the land, and they found a warm welcome. One group of these new residents bought property on the ridge above South Street and established "Circle Farm." They grew much of their own food and like other Blue Hill residents that preceded them they learned a variety of professions in order to make a living. George and Karen Frangoulis started a new publication, Farmstead Magazine, whose mission was to support Mainers who wanted to grow their own food and make a living off the land.

In the last two decades, new residents have continued to discover Blue Hill. Many of them grew up in town and went away to find jobs but have been drawn back to their roots as they retired. Others grew up summering or vacationing in Blue Hill and ultimately determined to make the town their permanent home. Many of the town's new residents are retirees from successful careers in cities to the south.

This post-war immigration has helped support a thriving public library, quality public and private education, a cooperative food market, a rebirth of local farming, two historical societies, a music lending library, and myriad volunteer organizations. And it has spurred the growth of the local economy. Yet, the people of Blue Hill still pride themselves on self-sufficiency and hard work. The town continues to draw summer visitors but for most of the year life in Blue Hill is quiet. People catch up with neighbors and friends at the post office or grocery store and community-minded residents organize benefit dinners or concerts to help a family in need.

The new in-migration has also revived Blue Hill's population and its real estate values. The town's population was over 2300 in the 2000 Census, finally surpassing the previous peak at the time of the 19th Century mining boom. The assessed value of real property in town increased from just over a million dollars in 1950 to just under 400 Million dollars in 2007.

While changes over the last 50 years have been substantial, the town's new residents, just like the old, know they have to be resourceful to make a living in a small town in downeast Maine. The mix of long-time residents and new migrants has helped make Blue Hill a thriving commercial, social, and cultural center. And both old residents and new share a strong appreciation for the values and advantages of life in a small town nestled between the mountain and the sea.