ver the past few months I have attempted to stay alive by walking. I don my baseball cap and head out into the town I call home.
For the past few weeks many of the tourists must think I am a bit of a curiosity because they stop me on the road to ask me how to get to some place by the sea. Perkins Cove seems to have become a favorite. In fact, every year more and more people seem to be visiting what used to be a very quiet and artistic community. It is still very artistic with its quaint shops and wonderful restaurants but many forget its origins.
It hasn’t always been called Perkins Cove. In the past it was simply called the Cove or the Fish Cove by the old dory fishermen who moored their small boats there. In the late 1800’s, Mrs. Daniel Perkins and her fisherman husband, whose house overlooked the Cove, started to take in borders. They called their house, “The Cove House”.
This enterprise was so successful that their neighbor, Moses Lyman Staples, decided to open his own house to boarders too. He also called his house the “Cove House”. This made Mrs. Perkins a bit angry to the point that she changed the name of her boarding house to the “Perkins’ Cove House”. The rest is history for the future dubbed this remarkably beautiful part of Maine, Perkin’s Cove.
The history of the Cove started well before the late 1800’s. Josiah Littlefield came down to Ogunquit from Wells in 1643. He built a sawmill by the falls of the little river whose origin is on Mr. Agamenticus. The little river was eventually named in the memory of Josiah. Back then the land over on the ocean side was nothing more than a pile of rubble and rocks with no apparent value to anyone. In fact, there was no harbor at all.
On June 6, 1857, at the first meeting of the Fish Cove Harbor Company, a canal was planned to connect the waters of Flat Pond with the waters of the Fish Cove and give the fishermen of the area easy access to a protected beach. It seemed only natural that the artists and the fisherman formed a community at the Cove. It was the fishermen who created the scene with brightly colored dories in the Fish Cove between the nets and sails and lattice-worked fish flakes that covered the weathered fish houses.
In 1889, Charles Woodbury, a Massachusetts art teacher proclaimed the Cove an artist’s paradise. By 1893, he purchased land on the west side of the Cove and founded the Ogunquit Art Association. From that time on Perkins Cove became one of America’s most important art colonies. Mr. Hamilton Easter Field, a painter, patron, teacher, and critic was credited with bringing in two main new movements of modern art to the Cove, expressionism and abstraction.
Field built the Ogunquit School of Painting and Sculpture in which almost every important painter of the day visited or worked at the Cove and helped to establish its reputation as an early center of progressive American art. Hamilton Field loved the Cove and the fishermen quickly befriended him. He brought town water to the Cove and had a pole installed in the fishing village for a light that he burned all night.
He also built what is still known as the Ice House and filled it with huge blocks of ice for the fishermen. Mr. Field also had his problems. The art school had nude models posing which created a great new sport for the local boys, peeking. After awhile Hamilton had to use guards to keep the kids away. Hamilton Field died from pneumonia in 1922. He was childless but named his ‘adopted’ son Robert Laurent as his sole heir.
Robert and four artists who lived and worked in the Cove established the Hamilton Easter Field Foundation. This foundation was run by artists, in honor of an artist, to aid fellow artists by buying their work. The paintings in the collection can be viewed at the Barn Gallery on Shore Road. The people of the Cove became as colorful as the Cove itself. Charlie Adams, or Captain Tunker as he was known was one.
Everyone knew of him as the fat fisherman. They say he was as broad as he was high but could manipulate his enormous weight in and out of the dories with tremendous agility. Charlie also modeled at the art school. In fact, there is a painting of him and Bish Young by Gaston Longchamps in the Hamilton Easter Field collection at the Barn Gallery. It is said that one day Charlie was posing for a group of ladies in the life drawing class.
It was remarkably hot but the enormous Charlie was managing to retain his motionless pose. Finally a very proper and thoughtful lady asked, “Charlie, aren’t you terribly uncomfortable? What must you be doing to help the time go by?” Charlie answered in his usual matter-of-fact way. “Well, I’m just settin’ here countin’ the beads a’ sweat drippin’ down through the crack a’ my ass.”
Because of the combination of fishermen and artists who lived on the Cove, it was one of the hardest drinking places on the Maine coast. Even in Prohibition times the old fishermen could find something that they could get a kick out of. They used either canned heat or paregoric or hard cider or automobile alcohol, which was supposed to make them blind. Most simply got blind drunk.
The interesting part of this story is that most of them lived into their nineties and most didn’t get sick before they died. They just dropped dead, more than not while working in their boats. A favorite story of the Cove had to do with Prohibition. There was a search and seizure mission on a night during Prohibition because the boat, Dixie III was thrown onto the rocks at Phillips Cove.
The Cove fishermen made up the search party. Word traveled fast that three gallon tins floating in the moonlight did not contain water. In minutes every dory, punt, rowboat, plank, and anything that would stay afloat, was headed toward the scene. The revenuers also heard the same rumor and started their own search.
The fishermen found spots in the woods between Phillips Cove and Perkins Cove to stash what turned out to be hundreds of tins of fine Belgian alcohol, 180 proof. When the search party returned to the Cove they told the officials they just couldn’t find nothin’. It was a wonderful summer that year and lots of fishermen made lots of money watering the alcohol down to 90% proof and bootlegging it to the summer people for $90.00 a can.
The more I read about the Cove the more I respected it for its rich history and stories. I know this for a fact because anyone who stops me by the side of the road to ask where Perkins Cove is I always answer them with a smile on my face.
A place called Perkins Cove.
By J. G. Fabiano.
Jim Fabiano is a teacher and writer living in York, Maine, USA
e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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