Eagle Island, ME Reviews
an island with no Peary??? Sep 18, 2009
Admiral Robert Peary was the first person to set foot upon the North Pole. He was also a native of Maine and cherished the natural beauty of his home. As a teenager he paddled out to a small island in Casco Bay --- Eagle Island, and camped out with friends. Charmed by the island, he purchased it for the whopping sum of $200 shortly after graduating college in 1881. As time progressed and Robert gained financial success and a family, he built a summer home on Eagle Island.
The original structure went up in 1904 and after leading the first (and only) team to ever reach the North Pole without mechanical devices in 1909, he would continue to expand the house until his death in 1920.
Peary’s wife would enjoy the summer home until her death in 1955, but maintaining such a property got expensive and his children donated Eagle Island to the State of Maine in 1967.
I had never made it out to Eagle Island when I lived in Maine and correcting that oversight was top priority during a recent visit. Though the single difficulty in touring Eagle Island is rallying up a boat, they allow anyone to moor at their dock and tour the island for a small charge. This presented some interesting options as I relayed my goal to friends. The first friend I contacted informed me the Casco Bay Regatta was that weekend and if I joined his crew we’d stop there after the race (Eagle Island is in Casco Bay). Alas, he had some unexpected crap to deal with and had to pull his sailboat out for the winter the weekend before.
So I scrambled and contacted another friend, who told me Eagle Island was an easy hour or two paddle by kayak, and since he builds kayaks we had the necessary watercraft to power ourselves there.
Then I shared the dates I’d be up, which conflicted with a dog competition he had entered his retriever and his girlfriend’s retriever in.
The count was 0 and 2, so I stepped out of the batter’s box and consulted commercial options, coming across Portland Discovery, who got me to the promised land and warranted a separate review (you will find it in the Portland entry of this blog). We departed from Long Wharf in Portland at 10AM Saturday morning and navigated to Eagle Island in an hour and twenty minutes. Greeted by Jeannie, the caretaker (a Maine Guide who lives here in a separate house during the summer months), we disembarked and quickly fell in love.
Peary’s homestead was constructed to resemble a ship and rests on the chief promontory of Eagle Island. It sits magnificently on the ridge, offering pleasing views in every direction. There are two entry points: Peary’s office, a round bastion, and; the main living quarters.
You are asked to put plastic booties over your shoes before entering either portion to preserve the original wood floors (now over a hundred years old). Though photography is permitted, they also ask you to disable the flash to similarly keep things from deteriorating.
It is not a grand palace - rather petite, but very cozy. There is a three-sided fireplace in the main room on the first floor, designed by Peary and built from stones right on the island. The rooms are chock full of knick-knacks and mementos from Peary’s adventures and you can feel the comfort the family must have enjoyed while nestled here.
Our tour provided us an hour and twenty minutes on the island, which was a bit short because Eagle Island is more than just a house. Totaling seventeen acres, Peary built several gardens and trails around the island. I strolled one trail down to South Beach and was reminded of Cathedral Woods on Monhegan Island (another gem in Maine), but found myself rushing because I wasn’t certain of the length and needed to be back in time for our boat’s departure.
I cannot recommend a visit to Eagle Island strongly enough. Admiral Peary was an admirable person and dropping in on this site will not just help you learn about his life, it will instill you with peace. The warmth and beauty of this setting makes a good life palpable --- I can still imagine the laughter of Robert’s children as the rambled about the island in summer. The trip also works quite well if you want to spend the day in Old Port: I parked at Fisherman’s Wharf (right beside Long Wharf) for $8 for the day and since we returned at 2PM, I was conveniently poised to savor Old Port for the rest of the day and evening.
Part of the Maine travel blog
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