Early bathers at Goose Rocks Beach
Goose Rocks Beach was already a summer resort in 1873 when the Kennebunkport Seashore Company subdivided Cape Arundel to make way for opulent shingle-style “cottages.” From the beginning, Goose Rocks was a casual place for parents to relax while their children discovered the meaning of life.
Daniel Dow of Newton, MA built the first summer cottage at Goose Rocks in 1865. The King’s Highway house was constructed on land owned by Kennebunkport farmer, Elbridge Proctor. Dow’s younger brothers, Sewell, Edward and Orlando and his sister Clarissa Fuller joined the family each summer. One year in the early 1870s, when just a handful of cottages stood at the beach, Daniel Dow’s adolescent son Francis made coming of age memories at Goose Rocks that his wife Eugenia later shared with the Biddeford Journal.
Francis and his older brother Billy were five years apart. Their single uncles were chronologically adult but one would never know it from their youthful antics. When eight girls, in assorted sizes, took the Lowe cottage next door for the summer, the boys were taken aback. They might as well have been asked to cohabitate with creatures from outer space.
The Dows owned a big canvas sailor’s hammock strung under a clump of Spruce trees in their yard. Once the girls moved in it was never empty. One by one they availed themselves of it without so much as a pretty please. Mother suggested that the girls might be hoping for an opportunity to get acquainted but the boys were outraged at the intrusion. After a week of restraint, Uncle Ed went out early one morning and drew the hammock up as taut as a fiddle string. One by one the girls made their way to the hammock and one by one, they were ejected by the booby-trapped swing. The boys watched from their hiding place behind the wild roses. “Edward and Orlando rolled on the grass in silent unholy glee,” remembered Francis “and we boys crammed things in our mouths and covered our head to smother our wild shrieks of laughter”.
Their plan worked. The hammock was empty once more but somehow it no longer held any appeal. They missed watching the girls and started feeling guilty for the prank. Francis and Billy watched the girls from afar for a while. Amazingly, their uncles were always at hand just when one of the girls needed rescuing. Ed courageously dragged the oldest girl out of the undertow and from that moment on he was by her side.
George T. Emmons owned a farm at one end of the beach. He kept an angry bull called “Old Shorty” in a pasture near the sea wall. The bull escaped often and Goose Rocks regulars knew to run for cover while George’s dog Nero corralled the beast home. One morning, the girls were lounging in the sand when Old Shorty charged them with Nero at his heels. Uncle Sewell appeared out of nowhere with his rifle and stepped between the bull and the most ample of the ladies. She had modestly refused to discard her red cape and slumped to the sand, resigned to her fate. Sewell shot the bull in the leg and rescued himself a devoted summer companion. After pulling a girl with mischievous eyes and dark bobbed hair out of a sinking boat, Orlando was the next to desert the boys.
One moonlit night, Billy and a fiery, freckle-faced redhead walked off down the beach together leaving Francis alone. He felt abandoned by his brother and bewildered by the events of the summer. As he stood at the water’s edge contemplating his plight he became aware of the littlest neighbour girl standing close behind him. “Are you lonely?” she asked. Francis nodded. Her voice was so soft and sympathetic. “Isn’t the moonlight wonderful? I wonder how it looks around the western bend; I have always wanted to see it, but I suppose it wouldn’t do for me to walk down there alone.” “It certainly wouldn’t,” Francis assured her. “Would you mind walking down there with me?” she hesitated- adding, “You are so very brave”. Well, he could hardly let her walk the beach alone. She took his arm which he did not remember offering. Francis felt he could go on walking forever with that little hand on his arm.
Too soon, the girls went home. The Dow boys went back to school in Newton, MA., as they had every September before. But that summer everything had changed.
Thanks to Goose Rocks Beach historians, John Pinel and Barbara Barwise for verifying the historical plausibility of Francis A. Dow’s account.
Read the original account from the Biddeford Weekly Journal (very long)