Originally published in The Weekly Packet, August 2, 2018
A history of Long Island, told in stories
Denny Robertson tells tales, tall and otherwise
by Anne Berleant
Denny Robertson’s family history is entwined with Long Island, a near-5,000-acre island about a mile off the South Blue Hill shore, and the largest Maine island not connected to the mainland by bridge or ferry.
Once a thriving community, with a quarry, fishermen, a post office, school, and Giles Webber’s Store, the houses that remain give it the air of a ghost town—or perhaps that comes from the sepia-tinged photographs Robertson displayed at the Kollegewidgwok Yacht Club, where his talk highlighted the July 23 Friends of Blue Hill Bay annual meeting.
Robertson’s “thumbnail sketch” of the island and its history included “some fact, some fiction, and a helluva lot of opinion.”
It also kept the audience laughing, as Robertson interspersed history and historical photographs with personal anecdotes of his family, Prohibition-era smuggling, and transportation over a frozen bay (think peapod boat and clam hoes).
“There were shingle mills in Billings Pond,” Robertson recalled, and shingles dumped in the bay would find their way to the Long Island shore, where Robertson’s father would use them to make toy sail boats.
“These are things in your youth you remember,” he said.
A sawmill operated in 1768, and granite quarries from 1890 to the early 1900s, with the paving stones carried off by schooner to distant cities. This was a time when Blue Hill School District 12, the Granite School, had up to 33 students, each costing the island $90 per year.
“Fishing was a mainstay,” he recalled, “herring and mackerel,” with his uncle among the men who used weirs along the shoreline to catch fish.
The island had its own boat shop, Allen Cole’s, circa 1910, and a post office and a dance hall. “On Saturday nights, they had an old pump organ and harmonicas and they’d have dances,” Robertson said.
In the first decades of the 1900s, steamboats from the Eastern Steamship Co. traveled from Maine to Boston. “These boats were very important to the islands,” Robertson said.
Nearly everyone had moved off-island by 1920, and the last steamboat stop was in the early 1930s, but Robertson noted he stayed on Long Island with his mother “during the war.”
A former Blue Hill fire chief, unofficial poet laureate of South Blue Hill, and the present Blue Hill harbormaster, Robertson said he and his family still spend time at a Long Island family camp, the place that holds enough memories for him to tell some history, a few stories and perhaps a tall tale or two.