Creating Community (2006)

Creating Community: The Hamilton Connection

Great Chebeague Island in Casco Bay will mark an important milestone during the summer of 2006. Two hundred fifty years ago a young man named Ambrose Hamilton bought fifty acres of land on the island. Within a few years he had more than doubled the size of his homestead, cleared enough of the lot to build a home, and married a young woman named Deborah Soule who had deep New England roots going back to the Mayflower. The story of the Hamilton family is in some ways the story of Chebeague, because the foundation that they laid is the underpinning of the community today.

The Hamiltons had fourteen children and seventy-two grandchildren, the majority of whom settled on Chebeague. Just by numbers alone one might expect that the Hamiltons played an important role in the history and evolution of Chebeague, but they did more than outnumber the folks who moved to the island over the generations. The Hamiltons welcomed these new neighbors. Their sons and daughters married the new settlers children, and the families shared grandchildren and great grandchildren. Each succeeding generation did their part to strengthen the community. Their story survives through the logbooks they kept, the houses they built, and the tales they told.

Creating Community examines a time of change on Great Chebeague Island. The island experienced an out migration that began after the Civil War and continued until after World War I. The year round population is estimated at 700 in the 1890s, but by 1920 fewer than 400 people lived on Chebeague. Had it not been for the community’s entrepreneurial spirit the decline would have been even more dramatic. The islanders were able to adapt to changing conditions. As the marine contracting business, also known as rock slooping declined, Chebeaguers reinvested their capital and created a desirable resort community that provided opportunities for islanders to cater to summer people in a myriad of ways. Islanders transformed their homes into boarding houses and took in laundry. They worked in gardens and took out sailing parties. Several stores flourished sending several horse drawn teams from one end of the island to another to take grocery orders. The increase of summer visitors created a demand for souvenirs, so island entrepreneurs and photographers immortalized hundreds of island scenes on the thousands of German made postcards that were mailed from Chebeague daily as well as souvenir china. Year after year more than a dozen new cottages were built annually, as multi-generational farms were subdivided into cottage lots, and their owners looked for opportunities ashore.

Creating Community: The Hamilton Connection presents a picture of life on Chebeague at a time of change. The exhibit provides visitors with the opportunity to consider the impacts of innovation and ingenuity on a community that was both complicated and strengthened by familial ties. In addition, one can speculate what Chebeague would be like today if islanders had not been rock sloopers, boarding house proprietors, or shopkeepers or if a man named Ambrose Hamilton had not bought one hundred acres of land on Chebeague in 1756.