April 16, 2014
Swan Island: Pearl of Merrymeeting Bay: Illustrated and Described
On Thursday May 1, 2014 from 6:15pm – 7:30pm; upstairs at The Old Goat, 33 Main Street, Richmond; join ‘place based’ historian Jay Robbins of Richmond as he shares gleanings from over 35 years of research on Swan Island, that 4 mile by ¾ mile island located in the Kennebec River between Richmond and Dresden at the head of Merrymeeting Bay. Once a Native American stronghold, the Island appears on every early map of Maine from the time of first European contacts. Soon it was resettled by the ‘New Peoples’.
Jay will explore the 17th and 18th century history of Swan Island, including a close look at the Noble/Whidden “Massacre” of 1750. You’ll see how the Pejepscot and Kennebec Proprietors finally settled their competing claims for ownership, and how the Island later became a summer “resort.” The Gardiner/Dumaresq house (c. 1763) is perhaps the oldest surviving house in New England built specifically as a summer home. Soon the Island grew into the Town of Perkins (inc. 1847) with a population of almost 100. It was an Island of subsistence farmers who supplemented income through fishing and shipbuilding. Then the ice industry came to the Island. After that, decline. In 1918, when there were not enough people on Island to fill the required Town offices, the Town of Perkins disorganized and became the unorganized territory of Perkins Township.
Folks tried sheep farming and fox farming, but with the opening of the Richmond-Dresden Bridge in 1930, ferry service ended and the last of the Island residents moved off Island. In the early 1940s what is now Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife purchased the Island. It was improved for migratory waterfowl habitat, a deer repellant was developed to keep those pesky critters out of farmer’s fields, and one of Maine’s first moose was raised in captivity. Jerry the (Swan Island) Moose was moved to the Bronx Zoo in 1948.
Today, Swan Island is still a place of magic. Now known as the Steve Powell Wildlife Management Area, tours and camping opportunities await those who visit. Jay will discuss State and volunteer group efforts to save the remaining historic buildings and to keep the agrarian landscape of this National Register of Historic Places site open for public enjoyment.
SWAN ISLAND GENERAL INFORMATION Swan Island, known for its abundant and often quite visible wildlife, is actually an abandoned 18th and 19th century town called Perkins Township, and has long been recognized for its varied and interesting history. There are five standing homes that date back to the 1700s. The wildlife management area, about 1,755 acres in size, is located in the Kennebec River between the towns of Richmond and Dresden. The Island's public visitation season generally runs from May 15th through Labor Day (with limited access through the fall). There are ten Adirondack type shelters available for overnight use; picnic facilities for day use; modern bathroom facilities at campground; and drinking water.
If you wish to visit the Swan Island Wildlife Management Area, you must make reservations for the ferry and/or campground. You may access the island, for day use, via personal canoe or kayak without a reservation; admission fees may be deposited in iron rangers. All visitor fees are as follows: day use, 3 years and under – free; 4 years and older - $ 8.00. For overnight camping, 3 years and under – free; 4 years and older - $14.00. Please visit our website at www.maine.gov/swanisland for more information and details about the island; or like us on Facebook!
Swan Island, the Steve Powell Wildlife Management Area, is owned and maintained by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Its operation and maintenance are supported by your fees as well as revenue from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, and federal monies under the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program.