A Short Personal History of Deer Isle

“We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because it is unfathomable.” ― Henry David ThoreauWalden: Or, Life in the Woods

            We ‘discovered’ Deer Isle in 1979 when I was a graduate student in Zoology at UM at Orono.  I needed specimens for my Masters Thesis project and we’d just come back from Peekskill, NY where we’d collected fingerling striped bass from the Hudson and I’d divided my ‘catch’ of a couple hundred tiny fish into three huge tanks, each tank set at very different temperatures.  The research plan was to measure in developing fish the effect of water temperature on their biochemistry (for those pescatophiles out there, you can read about this project in the Journal of Experimental Zoology…


             We were in dire need of a break so that summer we went on a camping trip - myself, Christine and our one-year-old son, Ian - to this magical place we had heard about called Deer Isle.   “Range Seven” on Deer Isle was a campground in name only.  There were no facilities except an outhouse and seven clearings for tents under some trees overlooking a perfect bay where we could collect shells and small crabs for Ian and sit in the evenings and watch the sun go down over the water.  We’d borrowed an old canvas tent and a Coleman stove with a double burner and had brought cooking pots and plates and cups etc. from our kitchen in University housing.   What more did we need?  We spent a blissful week there at our small campsite and vowed to return as often as we could.  Which we did - many times over the following years.

          “Range Seven” now no longer exists, we tried to find it thirty-five years after our first visit and strolled around the area where we thought it had been.  There were the same old trees and there was the same view of the bay but now the outhouse was gone and the spot had been spruced up and turned into a park, ‘Mariners Memorial Park’, which is not altogether a bad thing since now it is available for all to enjoy.  For one small piece of shore-front land to go from private ownership and ‘minimalist camping’ to become an area owned by a conservation land trust is not at all uncommon in Deer Isle and Stonington and that’s a good thing.     The Island Heritage Trust http://www.islandheritagetrust.org/faqs.html and The Maine Island Trail  http://www.mita.org are just two of the organizations which either own or administer land ‘for the public good’ and though progress of a different kind is clearly evident in other parts of the state, this is the kind of progress we as outdoors enthusiasts wholeheartedly appreciate and support. 


Christine, myself, Ian and Derek at Range Seven in 1983            

          In 2004 Chris and went back for a short visit to the area.  We were looking for a property which we could rent out in summers to vacationers and which we could use ourselves in the shoulder seasons – May, June, September and October.  On Deer Isle, we found just what we were looking for, an affordable house with some open land, near to the water which could serve as our ‘getaway home'.  The house we chose was located on Hardy’s Hill in Deer Isle and was still owned by the Hardy family.  It had once served, a century before, as an overnight stop for folks who’d taken had taken the ferry from the mainland to Ferry Landing at the bottom of Ferry Lane, just opposite what is now The Inn at Ferry Landing, which sits today at the bottom of the hill overlooking the site of the landing. For the whole of the first year after we’d bought what became ‘Hardy’s Hill House’, we traveled up from Gloucester most weekends to work on the house, which had not been lived in for almost ten years.  We weathered a major leak in the heating system the first winter, a collapsed basement wall the following year and then a dried-up water supply five years later.  Other activities like scraping off what seemed like acres of century-old layers of wallpaper, removing old carpets, re-sanding floors and replacing old plumbing fixtures became our ‘hobby’ and slowly the house came back to life.  We rented out the house ‘by the week’ to families for ten summers and then in 2014 we changed the model and now the house is open primarily for kayakers staying one or two nights for their kayaking trip with Driftwood Kayak.

            ‘Hardy’s Hill House’ continues to evolve and we like to think that it’s so fitting that once again the house serves travelers in a way similar to the way it did more than a century ago.