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Muscongus Bay

The St. George and Medomak Rivers and several small rivers empty into Muscongus Bay, which derives its name from the Indian word for “fishing place.”  The rivers are warmer than the Gulf of Maine, and Muscongus Bay is shallow, creating an ideal habitat for lobsters. 

Captain George Weymouth, impressed by the abundance of fish, lingered among the St. George islands for four weeks in May 1605 as he considered possibilities for English settlement.  James Rosier, who chronicled the expedition, wrote that “near Burnt Island with a small net…very nigh the shore, we got about thirty very good and great Lobsters.”  Four centuries later the floor of Muscongus Bay is exceptionally thick with lobster traps.

Settlement of the St. George islands began about the time of the Revolutionary War, but the numbers were very small compared with the number of mainlanders who resided on the islands during the fishing season.   Access to fresh water was an important consideration for people living on islands.

Many islands were suitable for grazing animals, especially sheep, or raising hay. Salt hay brought money to island farmers who could ship their crop on coasters Boston-bound for sale in the Haymarket.  Many islands have names that reflect their agricultural past.  Burnt island is named for the regular burnings that were done to enrich the thin island soil for hay.   There are many islands named Ewe, Ram, Cow, Sheep, or Hog.   By the late 1800s Muscongus Bay’s Hog Island was a vacation destination and  home of the Point Breeze Inn and Bungalows.  In 1910 Mabel Loomis Todd, the original editor of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, purchased land on the island to prevent timber cutting.  She and her husband built a rustic summer camp, which family members occupied into the 1960s.  The couple’s daughter, Millicent Todd Bingham collaborated with the National Audubon Society to make the island into a nature education center.

In contrast, Harbor Island supported a successful farm in the mid-1800s.  The 1850 census showed a valuation of $1500 and eleven cattle, a yoke of oxen, and two dozen sheep on the island belonging to Richard Davis.  Around this time the family built a house from island stone.  It is said that some family members went to California during the Gold Rush, as did a number of people from Maine Islands, and returned with money to build a fine new home.  About a hundred years later another Davis family purchased the island and restored the house, which they continue to use.

Many of the Muscongus Bay Islands were part of the Waldo Patent, 576,000 acres of land owned by  General Samuel Walton.   Long Island was Island No. 90 in the Waldo Patent, with Bremen added to the name after the town of Bremen incorporated in 1828 because there were many Long Islands along the Maine coast.  From 1790 to 1910 the island was home to about one hundred families who made their living from farming, fishing and boatbuilding.  Small sloops and sailing dories were trademarks of Muscongus Bay boatbuilding.  School and boat shops on the island were active into the 1930s.