Spruce Head Summers

By Sandra Sylvester | Jun 14, 2010

Rockland, Maine — Spruce Head Summers

As much as I enjoyed playing down at Sandy Beach in the South End, I always looked forward to the times the family got to spend in Spruce Head.

When we were younger, the folks got to use “Whispering Spruces,” owned at that time by my grandfather, Herman Winchenbaugh. He rented several cottages he owned on Seal Cove. If there was a free week when they weren’t rented, he’d allow us to use it. My mother had two sisters and sometimes they would be in two other cottages at the same time we were. We in fact, had our own complex. It was great fun.

Never mind that we had no running water and my brothers had to carry water down from the well across the road at the entrance to our cottage road. We kept a pail of water up on the counter to use in the kitchen. We also had a ladle for dipping out drinking water. I believe we also had a rain barrel attached to the house from which we could drain water into the sink for uses other than drinking.

Of course, with no running water, we also had no water for an inside toilet, thus the outhouse. It was an adventure for us kids. We didn’t care about the inconveniences. We had the ocean at our feet and many nooks and crannies along the shore to explore.

At that time we could scramble over all the rocks all the way over to the store on Spruce Head Point. There was a short cut through the woods along the shore we’d sometimes use if the water was too high. We delighted in tricking  our unsuspecting visitors by bypassing through this route while they went the shore route and suddenly pop out in front of them along the way.

My grandfather usually had a rowboat we could use while we were there. We weren’t supposed to go outside the cove, but of course we didn’t always listen to that directive. Life preservers weren’t mandatory in those days either. We all could swim but it was dang cold in that water, especially out in the open water. That water was dark and deep and you were lucky if you knew where all the big rocks were so you didn’t run into them if the tide started to go down too low. One time, my brother Harlan and I were out in the rowboat and we went over by the big rock we called “Nature’s Bathtub” because it collected little pools of water. The tide was at its highest point and the waves were crashing against that rock something fierce that day. The water was very choppy. Harlan was maybe 13 at that time and he had all he could do to handle the boat in the chop.  Inevitable, we got too close to the rock and got stranded up on top of it. We were half way in the ocean and half way on the rock.

I know I probably screamed at him. I remembered all the stories I’d heard about boats crashing and sinking against the rocks of the Maine coastline. I was very scared. I don’t know how we ever got off that rock, but I think eventually the water came up under us enough for Harlan to push us off it. It’s a wonder we didn’t get a hole in the bottom of the boat and sink out there. We got home safe, however, and I don’t think either of us was brave enough to tell our mother what had happened to us. We wouldn’t be allowed to use the boat again if we did, so we kept it to ourselves.

Another of our favorite things to do was to dig clams in the flats at low tide. My grandfather at one time dug clams to sell and he always had a hod and rake we could use. Digging in that cove wasn’t forbidden like it is today.  I love steamers and we had many feasts from that cove over the years. In later years, my Dad took me out in the boat we had then to fish for mackerel. We never caught many. I was always afraid I’d hook up with a dogfish and get pulled overboard. One time we fished off a pier nearby somewhere and caught nothing but crabs. After we threw the first two or three in, we decided if all we were going to get was crabs, then we’d get enough to take home and cook in seaweed. We did and we had a feast of them too.

When I was a teenager, my folks bought Whispering Spruces and Carefree, the cottage above it in the woods, from my grandfather's estate for $2,000. The boys were out of the house by then so only Sally and I got to spend the whole summer down there. My Aunt Virginia Poletti also bought the two cottages next door to us, also from my grandfather's estate, for $2,500. My grandfather had put in a well years before then so we had running water. After some renovation so my mother could have a more up-to-date kitchen and a kitchen sink window and at last, a bathroom, we were ready to enjoy our new summer home.

 I was working summers by then and came down through those woods in the dark many a night. I knew where every root was. On many a summer night I’d get together with the other teenagers on the island. My friend and classmate, Violet Carr, lived over in the village and I became friends with other Spruce Head kids, including some who were there only for the summer. Our favorite thing to do at night was to “walk the island” from the village, down over the bridge, to the store down over the hill on the point. Violet’s family ran that store for a time and sometimes we’d hang out there in the day time. There was a lobster car float there we had fun on. Sometimes we’d sit on the end of that pier and make fun of the summer kids who came by. Their parents were always afraid they’d fall in or something. Sometimes they even put life preservers on them just to walk around in down there. We got a big laugh over that.

We were never bored. How could you be bored with that great ocean in front of you while you watched all the activity on the water and all the lobstermen who came and went. It was a great place to live and grow up in.

I have already written about the great pajama parties we had down there. There is extensive renovation going on at Whispering Spruces as I write. Someone from Pennsylvania bought it. I hope they enjoy it as much as we did.

Thanks for listening.


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