Weekend Window to Monhegan Island

Monhegan Island lets visitors get lost in the stillness of former fishing camp.

September 26, 2009, 10:17 AM

Sept. 27, 2009— -- Little more than a square mile of rock in the North Atlantic, Monhegan Island is an isolated treasure for those looking for a slower pace of life. Located just 12 miles off the coast of southern Maine, the island is only accessible by ferry and has no cars or paved roads.

Stepping onto Monhegan is like stepping into the past, just the way people lived 100 years ago, "before they had all the technology, cars and traffic and shopping malls. Life was simpler; that's the way it is here. I always say it's like 'Little House on the Prairie,'" said Lisa Brackett, a sternman of a lobster boat.

The island was settled by Englishman John Smith in 1614 and got its start as a British fishing camp prior to settlement of the Plymouth Colony. A trading post was built to conduct business with Native Americans, particularly in the lucrative fur trade.

Described as the "Crown Jewel of Muscongus Bay," Monhegan attracts tourists for its beautiful ocean vistas and abundance of migrating birds.

Even during the summer, fighting crowds won't be a problem -- the population rarely exceeds 75 people at any time during the year.

Monhegan, derived from the Algonquian word meaning "out to sea," is often described as quaint and unspoiled; only recently has the island installed its own electricity source.

For the inhabitants, the island is more than a home.

"There are a lot of people on Monhegan that have to be here. It's where their soul is," said Monhegan resident Carson Schnell. "I've told people as far as Beijing that if I drop dead right there my spirit would instantly come to Monhegan and wait for further instructions."

Trails, Cliffs and Dramatic Landscape Tender Relaxation

Monhegan offers 17 miles of hiking trails that wind through the village and cliffs. To get lost in the woods for a day, the Red Ribbon trail offers dense winding paths through fir trees and botanical flourishes. But for more of a workout, the strenuous cliffs and rocks of White Head offer a rewarding hike with striking views of Pulpit Rock.

"People should visit Monhegan because it's a great way to unwind. You don't want to be wearing high heels, you need your hiking boots and you need to just enjoy all of the beauty that there is," said sternman Brackett.

The isolation of Monhegan draws artists and visitors from all over to experience the beauty of the wilderness, the quiet calm in the atmosphere and its leisurely rhythm.

Monhegan has been an artist colony for more than 150 years, a favorite of great artists like prominent American realist painter Edward Hopper. Between 1916 and 1919, Hopper painted outdoor watercolors of pure seascapes during his visits to the New England artist colony.

"From this small island you could stand in one place and watch the sun rise over the ocean in the morning and set over the ocean in the afternoon," said Ed Deci, president of Monhegan Island Lighthouse.

In addition to being a haven for artists, Monhegan is also a favorite for fisherman.

"It's very exciting to have art so integrated into the island. I mean, really, the island is about the fishermen and it's about the artists. And it's an interesting thing, because here on this Island, they all relate to each other regardless of whether they're catching fish or painting pictures," Deci said.

Today, lobstering still dominates the economy as fishermen harvest lobsters between December and May in the only lobster conservation area of Maine. From lobstering boats to the action in the harbor, nautical themes canvas both the fingertips of the fisherman and the paintbrushes of the artists.

"It's the light, it's the serenity. It's just the ability to walk around and pick something to paint without the traffic and noise and the everyday hassle of life. You are away from that so you can really focus on what's beautiful around you," said Allison Hill, a Monhegan Island artist.

For more information, please visit www.monheganwelcome.com.