The Magic of Monhegan Island

posted in: Maine | 2

Monhegan Island is a small rocky island (no surprise there if it is in Maine) that lies miles from the nearest mainland and is barely a square mile in area. Named from the Algonquin word for “out-to-sea island,” it was first visited by European explorers in 1603. For many early voyagers coming across the Atlantic, Monhegan was the first sight of land.

The current year round population is about 69, after fluctuating between 90 and 133 until 1940, after which it has declined. Seasonal residents increase the number of people to 250 between June and September. Monhegan is said to be one of Maine’s most unchanged and magical natural places. It is known for lobstering, tourism, and artists.

The cruising guides inform you that there is no safe place to anchor and no guest or rental moorings. Here we were in Boothbay where one of the daily Monhegan ferries sails from, so I booked us tickets on the Balmy Seas for Tuesday when the forecast was for a sunny pleasant day. Forecasts are wrong, often. Our time in Boothbay was consistently overcast, but off we went to Monhegan Island anyway.

The Balmy Seas. Everyone wore masks onboard.
With overcast skies, there was little to see on the ferry ride out, but after 90 minutes the rocky shores of Monhegan appeared.
About to enter the harbor.
Across the harbor from the ferry dock perched a small gray building on the hillside. Looks like a very steep climb up to reach it!
The Island Inn up on the right.

We walked up the hill and into the “center” of town. Monhegan Island felt rustic and remote. A quote from an unnamed islander in the Maine Cruising Guide says it all – ” What makes Monhegan different is that it’s hard to get to and hard to live on, and anything that makes is easier is a step in the wrong direction.”

In spite of that quote, Monhegan Islanders do seem to welcome visitors. This cute oval FAQ sign is clearly designed to provide some assistance to tourists.
Top – Monhegan Memorial Library, a public library open year-round
Bottom – Monhegan Island School, a one-room, public school serving students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
As we walked around, we noticed that lobster traps are often used as fencing. Multipurpose recycling!

The island is known for its12 miles of hiking trails through woods, rocky ledges, hills and flatter areas. Trying to find the path to the lighthouse, we accidentally took this wooded path.

We had a pleasant accidental hike along this path until we came upon a friendly resident who helped us find the direction to the lighthouse.

The climb to the lighthouse was much steeper and not as smooth, understandably because lighthouses need to stand tall and be visible. Monhegan Light stands upon a 140-foot hill in the center of the island. Authorized in 1822, the light went into operation in 1824 and was automated in 1959. The present tower dates to 1850.

We were rewarded with this view of the harbor from the top.
The assistant light keeper’s house is now the museum shop.
The lighthouse keeper’s house and the long building that connects it to the lighthouse are now a museum filled with artifacts and keepsakes.
Another building on the premises is now an art gallery. This watercolor of the Monhegan Light was painted by William Lester Stevens  (1889-1969). It was my favorite in the gallery.
In 1855, a fog bell station was established at Manana Island, just west of Monhegan. The 2,500-pound bell was moved back and forth between Manana and Monhegan and now rests in peace at the museum.
Three generations of the Wyeth family, all renowned painters, N.C. Wyeth, his son Andrew and his grandson Jamie have all spent time on Monhegan Island. The three paintings of the bell (above) are all works by Jamie Wyeth.

After our hike up to the lighthouse we returned to the “center” and walked in the opposite direction to find the Monhegan Brewery a family-owned business. Matt and Mary Weber, year-round residents of Monhegan Island, run the brewery from April to November. In the off-season, Matt is a lobsterman. We had packed a picnic lunch and cold beers would be perfect to wash it down. The brewery has a food truck but allows you to BYO your food.

Outdoor seating at picnic tables. Notice the lobster trap fencing/wall on the left.
That small room holds the entire brewing process. Monhegan beer is not distributed off island and is only available from April to November. We had a flight of sample beers because we can’t make a decision. Not really. It is just more fun to have a flight!
Al enjoys fries from the food truck with his beer.

We heard there was shipwreck in Lobster Cove, a hike past the brewery down to the shore. So we did.

The path to the cove was muddy but the Queen Anne’s lace made me smile. I have always loved that wild flower.
Lobster Cove
There it was, the steel hull along the shore and pieces scattered farther inland. On November 7, 1948, a dense fog around the island caused D.T. Sheridan, a diesel-propelled tug boat, to run aground. All members of the crew were safely rescued.

We did see some amusing sights, or so I thought, as we walked around Monhegan Island.

LOOK!- Amazon delivers out here!
The steps up to this house are flanked by trolls. Wouldn’t you like to know this story?
The Maine water may be very cold but it didn’t deter this gentleman, even on a cloudy overcast day.
This isn’t amusing, but curious. Al wondered if this is a water system for the island. There are levers to turn the flow off and on.

Monhegan is considered to be an artists’ community and we did see many beautiful things, man-made and nature-made. inside galleries and just here and there.

A whimsical large rock cairn and a whimsical little sculpture of a woman and bird .
Nature’s art
We loved this bench!
Finally! Art in progress.

And there were just different sights that caught our fancy.

We wonder why we often see piles of lobster buoys and lines just piled up in a yard.

We both agreed that Monhegan Island reminds us of Cuttyhunk Island. Remote, rustic, weathered gray cedar shingles.

Sweet houses on a remote island.
As we sat on the ferry waiting to depart, we saw one more thing that reminded us of Cuttyhunk. These boys were ready to jump off the pilings into the water. I remember my week long stay on Cuttyhunk in 1996 with my son Adam and his friends. That was what they loved to do.

Wow, I had no idea this blog post would turn out to be so long. We are very glad we took the ferry out to Monhegan Island and spent the day there. It may have been cloudy and overcast, but the magic was still all around.

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