Did you know there are some 4,600 islands off the coast of Maine? Many of these are uninhabited and remain unconnected to the mainland, but some, like my imaginary Mateguas, boast year-round populations.
In Casco Bay, near Portland, there are five such islands. Great Chebeague Island, a place I was lucky enough to call ‘home’ for almost seven years, is the largest of these. It was while living there, in my 100+ year old house on a hill, that I wrote Mateguas Island using the island’s unique characteristics as a backdrop for the novel.
Great Chebeague Island is approximately five miles long and one mile wide and is the largest unconnected island in Casco Bay. The name “Chebeague” comes from a Native American word meaning “many springs” and, indeed, there were still some Native Americans present on the island as late as the European colonization of the area in the 1870′s. However, unlike my fictional island, the Native Americans did not live on Chebeague – they only paddled over in their canoes to fish its fertile waters.
CTC's The Islander
Access for most of the islanders today is by ferry. Casco Bay Lines, headquartered in Portland, provides transportation to the islands, however, most residents of Chebeague take a smaller ferry, maintained by their own Chebeague Transportation Company (CTC).
While the description of the boat to Mateguas Island is based on this ferry, the real CTC boat is much more comfortable and does not take residents directly into to the city. Rather, it takes them to one of two parking lots it maintains for residents and visitors and it is there that you will find Chebeaguers' “mainland cars”. Like the year-round populace of Mateguas, Cheabeagers can be seen toting numerous canvas bags and pulling rolling carts as they travel to and from the mainland for groceries and other daily necessities of life.
Picture taken from the Stone Wharf on Chebeague
But not all residents take the ferry. Like Dex and Maggie in Mateguas Island, many of the year-rounders have their own punts that carry them back and forth the mainland from late spring through fall. However, during the winter months, only the very hardy venture forth in these tiny boats and most of the islanders rely on CTC’s service to get to and from town.
There are only approximately 350 year-round residents on Chebeague. Many of these families have been there for generations and there is a strong and abiding sense of community among these hardy folk. While all of my characters are completely fictional and not based in any way on any real islanders, I like to think that my minor characters, Louise and Pete, depict the hard-working, generous-spirited residents of Chebeague as they try to assist the Andersens and acclimate them to island life.
The economic life of Chebeague revolves around fishing – mainly for lobster – and tourism. Unfortunately, a short season for lobstering and low prices have made this once lucrative occupation harder to maintain, creating a hardship for many of the islanders. My Mateguas fisherman, Dex, appears to be doing quite well, however, remember, my work is fiction and the plight of the lobster industry in Maine is dire and very disturbing.
Chebeague Island in winter
Like on Mateguas, the amenities are few on the real island and these include a small post office, a boatyard, a church, a library, an elementary school, and a museum maintained by the local historical society. For shopping there is a small grocery, the Island Market, and other quaint establishments that cater to the summer trade. These (most notably The Niblic and Island Riches) are only open mainly during the ”season”.
View from the Chebeague Island Inn
For dining out and entertainment there are several venues, most notably the Clam Shack (mainly a take-out), The Slow Bell, and the Chebeague Island Inn. These establishments are, for the most part, only open during the summer months, although last year the Slo Bell opened up for a couple of evenings a week in the wintertime.
Fine dining can be had at the Chebeague Island Inn and this hotel was the model for the inn where my characters, Karen and Dex have their delicious gourmet lunch. The real Inn serves as a destination resort and I have spent many a wonderful evening there with friends enjoying its convivial atmosphere and fine cuisine.
Great Chebeague Golf Club Clubhouse in Winter
Unlike Mateguas, Chebeague also boasts a 9-hole links-style golf course (Great Chebeague Golf Club) which attracts an amazing number of people during the summer months.
This is a photo of me and one of my dogs on our front lawn on Chebeague. And the photo below is of my 150 year old island home (the interior of which I used as a basis for Bill and Karen's house on Mateguas). And, yes, the cellar was just as bad as I depicted in the novel. Uneven dirt and ledge, it flooded regularly until I had it waterproofed!
I hope you enjoyed this little travelogue as much as I enjoyed sharing my island home with you!