Just this past Tuesday I took a trip out to Admiral Peary’s Eagle Island. All too often because I live here in Maine I seem to not be able to get out beyond the little village where I live and get to some of the prettiest places that Maine has to offer.
TheÂ twenty passenger boat that makes it’s way out there met us at Cook’s Lobster House on Bailey Island. Bailey Island is the southernmost Island of a string of Islands known locally as The Harpswells.
Admiral Robert Edwin Peary is most known for his accomplishment to have planted the American Flag at the North Pole on April 6, 1909. This was the achievement of a lifelong dream for Admiral Peary who spent a significant portion of his career employed as a cartographer as well as a civil engineer in The United States Navy.
His other lifelong dream was to build a home on Eagle Island in Casco Bay which he was able to purchase in 1877 for the grand sum of $200.00 just after he graduated with honors from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. It is said that he paid for the Island with money he had earned on his own.
The house is located on the northernmost point of this seventeen acre island. Peary evidently envisioned this point of the island as much like that of the bow of a ship sailing northward.
Peary and his family spent summers on Eagle Island from 1904 until 1955. One of the tour guides quotes Peary’s son as having said “Our home was in Washington D.C., but we really LIVED on Eagle Island.
When I was there this week our boat pulled up to a nicely constructed dock and passage way leading to the island and the house. But as I understand it during the day’s that the Peary family spent summers here there was no such dock. The family would maneuver their boat through the precarious rocky passage and then unload their boat and belongings on the beach just below the house.
As we approach the house across the lawn we come first to the doorway into Admiral
Peary’s study which is located in the round stone structure with the lovely windows that look out to sea.
The tour guide told me that often either the caretaker or a member of the family would bring supplies including blocks of ice from South Harpswell to the Peary’s Eagle Island in a row boat.
During the time they spent summers here they had no electricity or running water. They had lovely oil lamps that are preserved there just as they were 100 years ago. And even now there is an outhouse which accommodates the Park Ranger who manages Eagle Island as a Maine Historic site, the volunteers and summer visitors who come to the island.
On March 11, 1911 Peary retired from the Navy a full Rear Admiral. The first order of business for him was to gather all the quality carpenters, masons, and other craftsmen who would then craft the house that now sits proudly on the northernmost bluff fulfilling Peary’s vision of his house as if it were the prow of a grand ship heading north through Casco Bay.
While I have seen many older homes in Maine that boast, among other things a grand center chimney often with four flues this house has the only three sided fireplace I have ever seen. The tour guide made sure to mention that each of the three sides was crafted of a different kind of stone.
In the kitchen you can see an old Queen Atlantic stove. More than likely this stove served not only as a cook stove but as a source of heat for the more chilly Maine spring and autumn seasons.
Once finished the house boasted five bedrooms upstairs. My first thought at seeing the windows looking out to the ocean was how nice it would be to wake up in the morning to such a fabulous view to say nothing of the sounds of crashing surf below.
The Payer Piano which sits along one wall not far from the three sided fireplace is one octave shorter than most pianos so that it would fit perfectly along that wall. Evidently no one missed that extra octave. It was a luxury just having it out there for the family to enjoy.
Admiral Peary died at the age of sixty-four in Washington D.C., on January 20, 1920 from an incurable (at that time) case of pernicious anemia.
In 1955 after the death of Admiral Peary’s wife the surviving family chose to give Peary’s Eagle Island to the State of Maine so that it could be preserved as a Maine Historic site which could then be enjoyed by travelers who come to the island during the summer months.
The present Park Ranger has lived in the caretakers cottage for the past seventeen summers. The flowers that can be seen all about the island and near the house are her contribution to a well loved island. The tours of the house are facilitated by the all volunteer crew of The Friends of Eagle Island.
If you’d care to help preserve this historic site you can do so by becomingÂ a member of the Friends of Eagle Island. This all volunteer, non-profit group serves to maintain Peary’s Eagle Island just as it was One Hundred Years ago.