Our islands

By Barbara F. Dyer | Nov 07, 2019
Courtesy of: Barbara Dyer Pictured are Elijah and Rebecca Dyer.

“All I could see from where I stood

Was three long mountains and a wood:

I turned and looked another way,

And saw three islands in the bay.”

That is the beginning of one of the most famous poems, “ Renascence,” written by Camden's Edna Saint Vincent Millay. We claim her because she lived here from the age of 11 until she left for college at the age of 21. She had graduated from Camden High School in the Class of 1909. With a great deal of research I wrote a book about her, “Through The Eyes of Vincent,” (written in the first person, as if she were telling the story).

Today my column is about the “islands in the bay,” but there are more than three.

First description is of Vinalhaven. I am here because my great-great-grandfather, Joshua, sailed from Provincetown, Mass., with his wife Jane and three children in 1812. His transportation was his fishing boat, because he had been told that fishing was better in Vinalhaven than Cape Cod. He first settled on the White Island, building a shelter out of whatever he could find. Then he settled on a causeway of Vinalhaven, that is still known as “Dyer's Island.” There is a book called “Town of Vinalhaven,” written on its 100th anniversary. This is the larger of the group called “Fox Islands,” and the village of Vinalhaven is in Carver's Harbor, about 15 miles from Rockland. Its length is about 7 ½ miles and width about 5 miles. A survey made in 1785 said the island contained 10,000 acres, with several fresh-water ponds. There are several days in August when the birds can't fly because they are shedding their feathers. That accounts for the story told by Joshua of how he killed many ducks with one shot.

North Haven was set off as part of Vinalhaven in 1846, and Hurricane Island in 1878. There was also Isle Au Haut and Deer Island in the division. There were a few saw and grist mills on Vinalhaven, the lobster industry and fishing was good. They cured (dried) the fish to market it, but a prominent industry was Bodwell Granite Works, as there was much granite to be had. Joshua's son “Uncle Tim Dyer,” at age 91 years, caught a 332 pound halibut, all alone in his dory and towed it to shore in Vinalhaven.

A man called “Uncle Dave” wrote “Vinalhaven The Isle of Happiness,” a pictorial history, and he also wrote another book on the history itself.

Islesboro is another island to which I am connected. Joshua's son, Elijah, and grandson, Charles, moved to that island. My father, Milton, was born on Billy Job's Island, a very small island just off Islesboro. It has two good history books, an early one written by Farrow, and later “History of Islesboro, Maine 1893-1983” by the Islesboro Historical Society.

Islesboro is probably about 15 miles long, and it has suburbs. On the southern part they call it Dark Harbor, other sections they call Pritet, Up Island and Down Island, and Turtle Head. Then there is Gilkey Harbor and more little harbors. Also there is Ginnie, Rebel Hill, and Hughes Point.

Islesboro has the school where nearby islands also send their children. It has two Baptist churches and a vestry where wedding receptions, etc., can be held. It also has a nice library, two grocery stores and the Islesboro Community Center that includes a restaurant

Another part separated by water and probably a 10-minute boat ride is 700 Acre Island. That is primarily owned by the Gibson descendants, and a few other families live there. My grandfather was captain for Charles Dana Gibson, one of five most famous illustrators in that day (1920-30's). He was known for the sketches of the Gibson Girls. The Emery’s are his children and grandchildren and my cousin Lloyd was their caretaker. The Emery’s also became owners of the Norton Boat Yard, named now the Dark Harbor Boat Yard. My cousin's daughter and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Macaulay, ran the Yard for several years for the Emery’s. She, Carol Macaulay, wrote a wonderful book called “Hardship and Fortitude” about the families of Elijah Dyer from 1814 to 2011. It describes island living for generations of our Dyer families and her life on 700 Acre Island, a place she so loved. The Dyers also lived on nearby small islands such as Minot, Middle, LaSalle and Warren. Another book, “My Childhood Memories Living on Seven Hundred Acre Island,” has been written by Doris Decker Dyer, my sister-in-law.

Warren Island is another island close to Islesboro, but separated by water. It now, I believe, is owned by the State of Maine as a state park area. It was once owned by the Warren family and Great-Grandfather, Elijah, lived on it at one time.

Of course there are other islands in the bay such as: Matinicus, Monhegan, Little Monhegan and others. Most of these islands have their own expressions. “Off-islander” (or summer person), “islander” (but you live there and go lobstering, or have to put in at least one winter with the natives). Then there is “yahoo” which is a young “idiot,” who lives in the top of trap shops and irritates his neighbors with drinking, loud motorcycles, or fast cars. “Thick-a-fog,” when you can't see 50 feet in front of you, or “dungeon thick-a-fog,” when you can't see 50 feet ahead and it is raining; or “school teacher,” as there is only one, and for the first year she gets no name or personality and is referred to as “the school teacher.” “Tea” is when fishermen are drinking, and two or more are rafted together on a Saturday afternoon. “Dub” is anyone who doesn't do things your way. “Goin' to Hell in a hand bucket” is when everything goes wrong for the fisherman. “Fog in your fish house” means you are hung over. “Ain't wrapped up too tight” is a scatterbrain, not “playing with a full deck.” (Taken from “Tales of Matinicus Island. History Lore and Legend” by D. K. Rogers.)

Maybe this will hold you for a while, as my brain is getting “foggy” keeping up with the islands.


Barbara F. Dyer has lived all her life, so far, in Camden and is the official town historian.

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Nov 08, 2019 15:25

Foggy Brain Barbara?  Never....  I absorb your history stories and so enjoy the old "down east talk" . I miss my talks with the farmers when they took their morning break. We sat around the furnace grate and enjoyed the moment. (Pot Belly Stove removed.)  As Post Master and Store owner of Hope. I enjoyed the morning breaks and the "Down East' easiness over morning coffee or soda, as the choice may be.  I look forward to the next read!

Mary "Mickey" (Brown) McKeever +;).....

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