When you drive on Chebeague Island, everyone waves at you. Not a hearty wave; often just a quick gesture of one hand while still holding the steering wheel. The wave is part of the intimacy of island life. With about 350 people living here year-round, everyone knows everyone else. (The island is officially Great Chebeague, but the locals call it simply Chebeague.)
All Casco Bay islands face tremendous challenges keeping their year-round communities healthy in the face of rapid growth on the mainland and skyrocketing real estate values on the islands. In 2006, Chebeague residents took control of their future when they seceded from their parent community of Cumberland. On July 1, 2007, Chebeague Island becomes its own town.
The island has stayed close to its maritime roots, with nearly 50 lobstermen living and working here. There's also a long history of tourism; since the 1870s, visitors have been coming to the island's hotels and summer colonies. The first European resident of Chebeague was Zachariah Chandler, who arrived in 1746. In 1756, Ambrose Hamilton purchased land on the western side of the island from Chandler, according to a chapter written by resident Donna Damon in Phyllis Sturdivant Sweetser's Cumberland, Maine, in Four Centuries
. Hamilton married Deborah Soule, and the couple had 14 children. Many of their descendants still live on Chebeague.
In the 1850s, islanders developed the "stone sloop" to transport granite from Maine's coastal quarries to eastern cities. At the height of this era, Chebeague had 70 sloops, and their captains built many of the homes on the northeast tip of the island (called the East End by islanders). In the late nineteenth century, steamships replaced sail and granite was no longer used for building, and many islanders built hotels and boarding houses to take economic advantage of the new tourist industry. By the early 1900s, there were five hotels on the island.
The Islander at sunset, moored at Stone Wharf. It's the main vessel for the only island-owned and -operated ferry company in Maine. Photo by David A. Tyler
There are two ferry landings on Chebeague Island - a great convenience for walkers, since the island is four miles long. Casco Bay Lines (leaving from Portland) lands at Chandlers Cove State Pier, which is handy for accessing the West End. Chebeague Transportation Company (CTC) serves the East End. To take the CTC ferry, drive north on Interstate 295 and take exit 15 (Yarmouth). From the exit, turn left onto Route 1 South and leave your car in the well-marked satellite parking lot situated one-quarter mile down Route 1 on the right. Transportation is provided to the ferry.
If you're planning to explore Chebeague's East End, look for the 1925 Chebeague Island Inn when you get off the CTC ferry at Stone Wharf. It's the yellow building beyond the 1920 Scottish links-style, nine-hole golf course. In 2003, a Cumberland resident bought the hotel and completely renovated it. The hotel retains its period charm and has a superb restaurant. (The inn, however, is now closed and the building and grounds are for sale.)
At the end of Stone Wharf Road, turn left onto South Road (there is no street sign). The Chebeague Island Inn will be on your immediate left. Across the street is the Sunset House Bed and Breakfast Inn. In the late 1890s, Sunset House was an annex of Summit House, one of the island's main hotels. Along South Road are homes built by the stone sloop captains in the 19th century. About a mile from the wharf, there's a lookout area on the right where you'll have a panoramic view. From the lookout, turn around and go back along South Road, pass Stone Wharf Road on the right, then continue another half mile to a fork. Take the right fork to North Road (no sign) and you'll see the Chebeague Orchard Inn Bed and Breakfast on the left. About a half mile from the fork are Calder's Clam Shack on the left and The Cobbler Shop on the right, where you can purchase island crafts.
Return to the fork and visit the Museum of Chebeague History, once the island's public works building, and, before that, a school. In 2003 it was converted to an outstanding museum with rotating exhibits on island life. Facing the museum, take the left fork to South Road and in a half mile you'll come to the island's community center and library. You should also stop in at Doughty's Island Market, where owners Ed and Julie Doughty can tell you everything you need to know about the island. Ed's father founded the store in 1961. It offers groceries, sandwiches, pizza, and hot dogs.
The Chebeague Island Inn opened in 1925, after the Hillcrest — the original hotel on the site — was destroyed by fire in 1924.
Take the Casco Bay Lines boat from Portland to visit Chebeague's West End, traditionally the part of the island where fishermen live. Bring your fishing gear; the Chandlers Cove State Pier is a great place to catch mackerel. Chandlers Cove Beach, one of the best on the island, is nearby. From the wooden wharf, go two tenths of a mile, then turn left at the four-way intersection. Go another four-tenths of a mile and turn left on a small dirt road across from the only house nearby. Follow this road until you come to the beach.
An interesting side trip from this end of the island is to make the half-mile walk across the sandbar to Little Chebeague Island at low tide.
One of the loveliest spruce forests in the bay is on Deer Point. To reach the point, take the road from the Chandlers Cove wharf and go straight at the four-way intersection. When the road forks, bear to the right and walk along Deer Point Road (this dirt road is narrow and bumpy — do not drive it). Avoid wandering down private driveways that veer off at abrupt angles from the road. About a half mile from the intersection, you'll pass a driveway on the left, then a driveway on the right. At this point the road becomes a path, and in another tenth of a mile you're on Deer Point. It's a perfect place to sit on the rocks and watch the swells from the open ocean crash against the shore.For more information about Chebeague, go to www.chebeagueisland inn.com . Ferries and taxis
1. Stone Wharf. Served by year-round ferry, Chebeague Transportation Company, 123 Roy Hill Road, (207-846-3700; www.chebeaguetrans.com ).
2. Marie L., Chebeague Island, Capt. Claire Ross, water taxi and charters, (207-846-1254). Operates June-Sept.
3. Veterans' Taxi, land transportation and island tours, (207-846-4876). Operates year-round. [Not shown on map.]
4. Chandlers Cove State Pier, served year-round by Casco Bay Lines, Maine State Pier, 56 Commercial St., Portland (207-774-7871; www.cascobaylines.com ).
Places to eat
5. Chebeague Island Inn, 61 South Rd. (207-846-5155; www.chebeagueislandinn.com ). Open Mid-May-Oct. 1.
6. Calder's Clam Shack, 108 North Rd. (207-846-5046). Open late Apr.-late Nov.
7. Doughty's Island Market, deli fare, 237 South Rd. (207-846-9997). Open year-round.
Places to stay
8. Chebeague Island Inn. (See no. 5 above.)
9. Chebeague Orchard Inn B & B, 66 North Rd. (207-846-9488; http://web.nlis.net/~orchard ). Open Mar.-Dec.
10. Sunset House Bed and Breakfast Inn, 74 South Rd., (207-846-6568). Open
11. The Cobbler Shop, 109 North Rd. (207-846-1237). Open May-Sept.
12. Miller Designs, 36 Fenderson Rd., (207-846-4369; www.gailmillerdesigns.com ). Open year-round.
13. Titchit's Lobster, Stone Wharf (207-699-8499). Open late June-Labor Day.
14. Chebeague Island Library, 247 South Rd. (207-846-4351; http://chebeague .chebeague.lib.me.us ). Open year-round.
15. Chebeague Island Recreation Center, 382 North Rd. (207-846-5068; www.islandrec.net ). Open year-round.
16. Great Chebeague Golf Club, 16 Stone Wharf Rd. (207-846-9478; www.chebeague.org/golfclub ). Open May-Oct.
17. Museum of Chebeague History, 137 South Rd. (207-846-5237). Open