A Place Time Left Behind

 

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We’d heard about it for years: Swan Island in Richmond, Maine. An island that once was occupied, but now wasn’t. Antique houses with no residents. Natural beauty. Rich history. Trails and fields. A place accessible only by boat or ferry. Finally, this past Sunday, we traveled there.

Swan Island Map.jpgThe island is about 4 miles long and the ferry sets you down at one end of it. We set off to explore, intent on seeing the entire island. The dirt road sloped up from the dock and led us through towering pines and swathes of fern. Hidden birds serenaded us, darting between the trees, until the vista opened to a field full of milkweed. The scent reached us first, heavy and sweet in the warm air. Then, we saw the monarchs, flitting from blossom to blossom.

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Walking further uphill, we saw the first house amidst trees. Was there an abandoned air about it, or did I just imagine it?

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The Tubbs-Reed House, built just after 1800

We wandered around the base of the home, past overgrown apple trees, peeking in the windows, noticing the huge central fireplace, an old spinning wheel, bed frames. Remnants of long ago lives.

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The homes or past home sites are spread along the length of the island. Most of the houses are no longer there, but at each house or site, plaques gave a brief overview of the home and its owners. As we stopped and read, we imagined all the lives lived here, reading between the lines of text. The layers of experiences, the hopes and dreams and the tragedies of each home and its residents, seemed present in the air. The houses aren’t open, except on a few special occasions, but some of them weren’t secured, and we could easily have entered. We didn’t. It wasn’t so much a “following the rules” kind of thing, but I, for one, felt reluctant to stir the dust of these places.

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The Gardiner-Dumaresq House, built between 1758 and 1763  (That’s Kurt, peeking in the windows.)

The island is a peaceful place, though, rich in natural beauty. We walked for hours, enjoying the scenery and the beautiful Maine summer day. We talked about the stories we’d read, wondering about how life once was here. We enjoyed a picnic overlooking a field mosaiced with dozens of shades of green, purples, and pinks. We saw a bald eagle, a great blue heron, turkeys, and a hawk and heard and saw masses of unidentified birds. Assorted butterflies in a rainbow of colors fluttered over the milkweed-laden fields. Red squirrels and chipmunks popped up all over the place, and fish swam in the shallow waters of ponds. Leaving the road, we walked along woodland trails, which periodically cut through sunlit flower-strewn meadows.

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The brilliant green just left of center is wild rice, which surrounds the island. Experts believe it was first acquired by the Abenaki in trade as the strain is identical to wild rice found in Minnesota.

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Yet, under the beauty, there’s a poignant mood to the island. Somehow without the veil of the present, the past becomes more tangible. The weight of human history lingers. Lives begun and ended. Stories long forgotten. Once beloved homes, now empty houses. Beautiful. Sad. Lost. Melancholy.

My husband put it best. “This is a place that time left behind.”

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Note: Swan Island has a fascinating history and you can read more about it here. There are stories of Abenaki princesses, visits from Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr, drownings, kidnappings, and then the more routine ice harvesting, ship building and farming.

I was particularly fascinated by the tale of one island resident, Frances Noble, who in 1755, at about one year old, was kidnapped by the Indians (along with the rest of her family), and sold to a French couple in Montreal, Canada. She was adopted by them and raised as their daughter. When she was 13 years old, she was found by government agents and though she didn’t want to leave her Canadian parents, was returned to Swan Island. In her absence, her mother had died, and her father was now living in poverty. Frances eventually became a teacher. What a story!

 

14 thoughts on “A Place Time Left Behind

  1. Tell us more about the ferry. When does it run? Where would you suggest we park when we come to visit? Thanks for introducing me to this adventure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      The ferry leaves from Richmond and there’s free parking there. You do have to make a reservation. (The online system is annoying but you can also call.) It’s a quick ride across the river and leaves four times a day: 9:15, 11:15, 1:15 and 3:15. (It leaves the island at 9, 11, 1, and 3.) We arrived at 9:15 and departed at 3. Let me know if you go! I’d love to hear what you think.

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    • mbhmaine says:

      Also, ferry is a bit of a grand term–it’s a very low-key affair!

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  2. Oooo. I need to go there! We go to Wiscasset often, and it’s not that far from there. Fascinating history. Thank you for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Amanda Potts says:

    What a rich description of this place. I felt like I was exploring with you – and now I really want to go. I love the photographs, too. 7 hours from my house… for now, I’ll have to visit through you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Christine says:

    You leave me wanting to visit here as well! Your descriptions are rich and the words and photos leave a slightly eerie feeling in my soul! I must discover more and put this place on my to visit list!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for sharing this adventure, Molly! Like everyone else, I’d love to visit this beautiful island myself. One more reason to go to Maine!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. margaretsmn says:

    You have discovered a wonderful setting for a historical fiction novel. You definitely captured the eery, lonely mood in your post. I think there’s a story waiting there for you to tell. Have you read “Beyond the Bright Sea” by Lauren Wolk? This island reminded me of that book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      I haven’t read “Beyond the Bright Sea” though I’ve intended to for a year or more! I actually bought it for my colleague when it came out because we both loved “Wolf Hollow” so much. Thanks for reminding me!

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  7. […] … with this being a nature focused post I’m also sharing my nature-infused poetry swap from Molly Hogan. She sent a keen poem called The Artist, along with some richly layered and gorgeous photo […]

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