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)
John Josselyn’s natural history accounts of his 17th century voyages to the new world have informed historians and scientists alike, but some of his observations give pause.
Josselyn would have us believe that sea serpents inhabited the coast and that New England natives had come to respect their powers. A Massachusetts diarist referred to similar knowledge in 1641, but added that the Indians sometimes exaggerated to the Englishmen in sport.
“It pleaseth them to make ye white man stare,” he wrote.
Sea serpents have been reported on our shores ever since. During the Revolutionary War, Capt. Little of the U.S. Navy spotted one in Penobscot Bay and a 100-foot specimen allegedly visited Portsmouth Harbor in 1796. According to hundreds of witnesses, the waters off Cape Ann were virtually teeming with sea serpents in 1817 and sightings in Maine were plentiful during the years that followed. On the rare occasion that one of these slithering devils was captured it always magically transformed itself before scientists could authenticate. Isaac Wildes of Cape Porpoise killed one in 1822, but by the time he got it to shore it had morphed into a 370-pound seal.
The editor of the Eastern Argus swore to the veracity of one Mr. Gooch of Kennebunk when the latter described an alarming encounter a few miles off Kennebunk’s shore on July 21, 1830. Wells and Portsmouth fishermen had already reported being pestered by a sea serpent that week but none of them had had the courage to get as close to the beast as did Mr. Gooch. The two other men in his fishing smack rushed below when the monster approached, but Mr. Gooch remained on deck and returned the serpent’s stare.
“He came within six feet of the boat,” reported the fisherman. “He raised his head about four feet from the water and looked directly into the boat. He was about 60 feet long,” continued Mr. Gooch. “His head was about the size of a 10 gallon keg, having long flaps, or ears, hanging down, and his eyes about the size of those of an ox, bright and projecting from his head”.
It must have been a distant cousin of Gooch’s monster that encircled the fishing boat of Clement Perkins and Thomas Cleaves of Kennebunkport at the mouth of the Kennebunk River in 1850. In a letter to the editor of the New Hampshire Sentinel, Perkins and Cleaves wrote, “The portion of his body out of the water we judge to be 80 feet, his form that of a large bamboo, the distance between the joints two feet, his motion undulating, velocity that of a common walk of man, his head resembling the bill of a duck.”
Nine years later Mr. Gooch’s neighbor, Capt. Boothby of Lower Village, reported seeing a sea serpent frolicking with a school of whales off Boon Island Ledge.
In the 1870s there was a sea serpent population explosion. Curiously, the species had mutated a preference for summer resorts. Hotels in Fortunes Rocks, Wells Beach and Saco sent out press releases all but promising that sea serpents were summering in plain view of their breezy, wraparound piazzas. In 1880, a correspondent from Kennebunkport’s Ocean Bluff Hotel reported that Mr. Hiram Gooch, Skipper of the tourist yacht, Clara Bell, had pointed out a sea serpent to his delighted passengers. They couldn’t quite see his head and his tail was underwater, but the commotion the creature made convinced them they had seen a genuine York County sea serpent. The Boston Daily Globe report tactfully suggested that any doubters should “come to this gem of seaside places to see and be convinced.”
By 1900 every seaside hotel in New England employed a sea serpent. They swam to and fro along the beaches, each one bigger and more rambunctious that the last. Newspaper readers finally became a little suspicious when one of the serpents apparently had adapted to a lakeside resort habitat. A letter to the editor of the New York Times referred to the resort sea serpent as Leviathan the Counterfeiter. The jig was up. Sightings declined. Magical creatures from the deep fell out of favor, at least fore a while.
The hope of seeing a genuine sea serpent attracted hundreds of tourists to York County’s coast again in 1967. Biddeford Pool lobstermen had hauled mysterious remains ashore that looked just as a sea serpent skeleton should look. The monster was embalmed and proudly displayed until a Biddeford High School science teacher remarked that it bore a striking resemblance to skeletons belonging to the shark family.
Mainers paid homage to the role trees had played in the history of their state by selecting the pine cone and tassel as Maine’s official floral emblem in 1895. For hundreds of years trees had provided timber for their homes, masts for their ships, fuel for their fires and food for their tables. Scientists, historians and journalists have recognized the significance of a few particular living landmarks on York County’s coast.
Stumps of ancient white pine trees rooted in peat were uncovered on Wells Beach by wave erosion in 1955. Radiocarbon dating performed in 1959 by geologist Arthur M. Hussey indicates that, 3,000 years ago, these trees were growing in a wooded upland, but were gradually drowned by the rising sea level. As the topography changed, the dunes moved up and over the ancient roots. Similar stumps have also been found in the intertidal area along Kennebunk Beach.
Charles Bradbury, in his 1837 “History of Kennebunkport,” wrote about a mysterious reference in 17th century town records to a marker at the “cursed fruit.” Historian Ruth Landon later identified the reference as an apple tree near Tyler Brook, the bitter fruit of which had inspired the name.
In her 1901 book, “Ropes Ends,” Kennebunkport librarian and author, Annie Peabody Brooks, published a photograph of a little bonsai-like cedar tree growing out of the rocks at Cape Arundel. Her caption read, “Old as Capt. Gosnold.” Starting in the 1890s, the same photo was periodically printed in tourist publications and the scraggly cedar became an icon of Cape Arundel’s picturesque rocky shoreline. The tenacious little conifer was still clinging to the rocks in 1950 when artist Frank Handlen captured its likeness in a pastel now owned by the Kennebunkport Historical Society.
A notable landmark at Beachwood (aka Goose Rocks Beach) was described by a Boston Daily Globe correspondent 1911. “In a broad expanse of eye-pleasing landscape in the village of Beachwood, a part of the town of Kennebunkport, Me, stands a group of old birches, long known to the native dwellers and summer sojourners as the ‘Twelve Apostles.’ From good viewpoints they can be seen from miles around and old time residents of the village say that originally there were 12 trees, healthy, white of bark and glorious in green foliage when the months of bloom rolled their courses.”
The majestic anatomy of elm trees often qualified them for landmark status. On May 17, 1826, a giant elm located 1½ miles from the Wells shore was uprooted in a late spring gale. The New Hampshire Statesman and Concord Register reported the loss. “The Great Elm, in Wells Me, which has long been a landmark for vessels entering that harbor, was blown down in the gale on the 17th ult. It was estimated to be 100 feet in height and rose 60 feet clear of limbs. Its circumference was 27 feet, 4 inches.”
Kennebunk has had its own iconic elms. Vintage postcards of the tree growing through the roof of the first Storer Mansion barn are still among the most prized eBay finds. The barn was built in 1855 by owner Captain Lord. Wishing to save the stately elm that stood in the way of his barn expansion, Lord left a hole in the middle of the new structure allowing the tree to grow unimpeded. Lattice and lead flashing wrapped around the opening had to be adjusted periodically as the trunk expanded. Kennebunk Town Historian, Kathy Ostrander, writes in her 2005 book, “Kennebunk,” that the barn was torn down in 1929.
In the field next to the Storer Mansion stood the Lafayette Elm named for the French General who served under George Washington during the Revolutionary War and who furthered French commitment to American interests. The wildly popular Marquis de Lafayette visited towns all over New England in 1825. At Kennebunk, an elaborate celebration was planned to honor his service to America. All the well-heeled ladies in town were invited to the Storer Mansion to meet the French dignitary, whose admiration of women was notorious. They reportedly dined in the shade of an already formidable elm tree. The Lafayette Elm succumbed to Dutch elm disease in 1971, but a slice of its trunk was saved by the Brick Store Museum. Naming an elm tree in honor of Lafayette’s excursion was apparently not an idea that originated in Kennebunk. The “Lafayette Elms” scattered all over Massachusetts and New Hampshire might lead a student of history to conclude that General Lafayette toured the elm trees of New England in 1825.
Many of the beautiful trees we wiz by in our cars every day were admired by horseback-riding residents of the Province of Maine and should be treasured as a link to our ancestors.
The Governor Robie went ashore at Timber Island in the wee hours of March 5, 1889. The Bath, Maine, built ship had sailed from Philadelphia for Hiogo, Japan on April 3, 1888 and arrived at the end of July after an uneventful voyage.
There she loaded a cargo of camphor wax, bamboo seeds, rags for Maine’s Cumberland Paper Mill and valuable Japanese curios for a New York concern; one pair of vases alone were worth $1,000.
Captain William H. Blanchard of Searsport, his wife Clara and daughter Eleanora had been away from home for nearly a year but they traveled in relative comfort aboard the 6-year-old fully rigged ship. Their cabin was elegantly furnished with some of the comforts of home, like a piano and a well stocked library. This was in sharp contrast to the quarters provided for the crew.
The Governor Robie sailed from Japan for Portland, Maine, in October. She carried 16 men before the mast, eight of whom were Japanese sailors. There were also three mates and a captain’s steward. This leg of the journey was fraught with setbacks.
One of the crewmen took sick and had to be left at Santiago, Cuba. A week before the wreck a Japanese sailor became fouled by the wheel and broke his shoulder blade, an arm and a leg. Several of the crewmen were sick but had to remain at their posts because their numbers had already dwindled to dangerous levels on the 228-foot ship.
A reporter for the Biddeford Journal interviewed Mr. Phillips, the third mate, who told him the ship was making about four knots and was under full sail when she struck the rocks at 1:50 a.m.
There was no sound in the darkness to indicate that they were near land. “Without an instant warning,” he said, “the ship struck upon a ledge glancing off for fully one hundred yards, and finally bringing up firmly upon the rocks.”
Life boats arrived from Biddeford Pool just as Mr. William Sinnett from Cape Porpoise was attempting to get his fishing dory close enough to the ship to load the people off.
The sick crewmen were taken to the Pool’s life-saving station and Captain Blanchard and his family, were delivered to the Curtis House on Timber Point. Two tug boats came out of Portland that afternoon but were unsuccessful in their attempts to float the Governor Robie off at high tide.
Samuel Adams Drake, in his book “The Pine-Tree Coast,” lamented the secret hope held by onlookers that the ship would break up.
He wrote: “Land-sharks along shore look upon a wreck as their peculiar prey. A strange sort of ethics, truly! If a man should be caught in the act of robbing a wrecked railway train, he would deserve to be lynched on the spot, and public sentiment would doubtless justify the saving of time and trouble to the state. But if some unlucky ship meets a like fate, under conditions involving peril, hardship, and even life itself, the unwritten code of the shore delivers her up to be plundered by the first comers.”
Thousands flocked to Goose Rocks Beach to witness the salvage efforts during the 10 days that followed, many of whom tried to board the disabled vessel. Daily reports in the Biddeford Journal predicted a disastrous outcome.
Two more tug boats were sent from Boston each with a lighter in tow. The marine underwriting firm of Leavitt Chase & Co. began loading the fully insured cargo onto the lighters and employed watchmen to protect the ship from looters.
Three hundred bales of rags were temporarily stored on the dock at Biddeford Pool. The people of Biddeford protested fearing that the rags carried the contagious disease that had afflicted the crew. Mayor Goodwin ordered a consultation with the city physician and based on his assurances allowed the wreckers to continue their work. At each high tide another attempt was made to float the Governor Robie off ,but even with four tugboats on the job they had no success. Between tides the underwriters worked continuously to lighten the load. Finally, on the morning of March 15, 1889, after one of the tugs had been called back to Boston the Governor Robie slipped off her bed of rocks and was towed to Portland.
Read the original newspaper accounts of the wreck of the Gov Robie