Pilgrimage To Eagle Island

By Carol Cotton Hendrix, Class of ’64

In September 1997 my husband and I spent a week exploring the coast of Maine from the New Hampshire border to the Downeast/Acadia area. Since we were in the neighborhood, we decided to visit Peary’s former home on Eagle Island.

Eagle Island is one of the “Calendar Islands” in Casco Bay, so named because there are 365 of them.

In downtown Portland, we were able to purchase tickets for a boat trip to Eagle Island. [If anyone is interested, the price was $14 for adults for this 4-hour excursion trip.] We left Portland Harbor at 10:00 a.m. on a foggy Sunday morning, aboard the Kristy K. The captain told me that the Kristy K was built in Cambridge, Maryland in 1980. As we cruised out of Portland Harbor into Casco Bay, we could observe lots of seals in the water and on the islands. It took about an hour and 20 minutes to reach Eagle Island, but it was a very pleasant trip with beautiful scenery along the way, even in the fog. We didn’t see the sun all day.

The Peary family gave the Eagle Island to the state of Maine in 1967. The house had deteriorated over the years because the family could not afford to maintain it. The state of Maine, along with an organization called “Friends of Peary’s Eagle Island,” have been working to restore the house and to maintain the grounds. On the island there are several nature trails you can explore. Park Rangers live on the island and see to the maintenance work, as well as conducting tours and answering questions about the house and grounds. Most of the house has been restored back to the way it was when Peary lived there.

I learned something about Admiral Peary that I hadn’t known before. He was a taxidermist and specialized in birds. There are stuffed birds all over the house. When he retired from the Navy and went to live on the island, he started a mail order business stuffing birds. He would give his customers a discounted price if they would send him two birds of the same species and allow him to keep one. In that way he was able to increase his collection and there are an impressive variety of species displayed throughout the house, if you are into dead stuffed birds.

After Peary’s death, his son went to live on the island for a time. The son started a business of raising and selling angora rabbits in order to eke out an existence. Evidently the bottom fell out of the angora rabbit market and he was not able to make enough money to live on the island, and he had to return to the mainland to seek more profitable employment. After he left, the house and island were neglected for many years and they deteriorated. The family couldn’t afford the upkeep and so finally they donated the whole island to the state of Maine.

The state has limited funds to spend on the island and so the Friends of Peary’s Eagle Island was formed by interested people. This group raises money for the restoration and upkeep of the house and grounds. If you are interested, you can join this group and you will receive a monthly newsletter. Our web site has a link to theirs and you can read more about this group.

I have sent MSO some pictures [posted below] we took the day we visited the island. Unfortunately the fog was in all day and the light wasn’t optimal for picture taking. But I understand this is not an unusual weather condition for Maine in September. Before I left on my trip to Maine, Bob and I discussed the possibility of an alumni trip to the island. With that in mind, I made some inquiries and found that there are a couple of boat owners who would be willing to take a group on a private trip to the island. There are plenty of motels and bed-and-breakfasts in the area and also lots of places to camp. If arrangements are made in advance with the park service we might even be able to camp on the island. Portland, Maine is about a 7-8 hour drive from the New York metropolitan area.