Visitors to Deer Isle soon discover a passage to the past of coastal Maine: secluded walks along a rocky shore; livelihoods still dependent on lobstering (in 2010 the largest catch in Maine); weekly visits from windjammers (some over 100 years old); 19th century homes hugging the edges of the sea.
Perhaps Deer Isle’s links to the past remain so strong because Maine visitors “from away” (as many Maine natives still identify those born outside the Pine Tree State) ignore the turnoff for Deer Isle as they speed from Camden or Rockland to reach Mt. Desert Island, destination of so many vacationers.
But others, more fortunate, have exited onto Route 15 the 45 minutes toward the sea where Deer Isle is sheltered - and still unspoiled, undeveloped, and largely unknown.
What they have found is an Island distinguished for its artistic community (anchored by the internationally famous Haystack Mountain School of Crafts), perhaps the best kayaking on the Maine coast, uninhabited islands welcoming visitors, a thriving local theater (The Opera House) offering a varied menu from original productions to first run movies, and a community of local families and summer residents that comfortably share their island and its harbors.
Of course, you would not be the first to encounter the special character of our island.
· The legendary architect Fredrick Law Olmsted selected Deer Isle for his retirement home. Regrettably he spent only one summer here before he died. But his 1897 house still commands its shoreline site.
· The visionary Buckminster Fuller spoke at Sunday church services in Sunset, one of the tiny communities that dot the island.
· Robert McCloskey, whose books such as “Make Way for Ducklings” charmed generations of children, lived here. (Another McCloskey book, “Burt Dow Deep-Water Man,” was reborn in 2010 as an operetta at our Opera House. )
· Robert Massie, perhaps best known for his vivid chronicle of the life and death of Tsar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra and their hemophiliac son Alix, summered here. Massie's son Robert, also born with hemophilia, is said to have been Massie's inspiration to write his commanding biography of the last of the Romanov dynasty.
· Deer Isle was a favorite subject for painters John Marin and Fairfield Porter and the photographer Elliott Porter, Fairfield’s brother.
· John Steinbeck marveled at Stonington when, traveling “In Search Of America” with his poodle Charlie, he lingered here. “I… can’t describe Deer Isle,” he wrote. “But it stays with you afterward.”
But it is not too late to spend a week or a month or a summer on Deer Isle. As Steinbeck found, the days are likely to stay with you afterward.
For more information on Deer Isle history, please visit the Deer Isle Stonington Historical Society website.
For more information on the trails, neighboring islands and the wildlife of Deer Isle, please visit The Island Heritage Trust website.