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Around New England

From the ashes, a small Maine village rises

The center of Port Clyde’s commercial district burned down. Then all the neighbors came to help.

Andy Barstow hugged Tanja Stone Barber in front of Barstow’s destroyed business, Monhegan Boat Line, in Port Clyde, Maine, on Thursday.Michael G. Seamans for the Boston Globe

PORT CLYDE, Maine — Andy Barstow didn’t want to cancel the 10:30 morning ferry to Monhegan Island. The 60 or so people who live on the island depend on the ferry for mail and food, and that was the thing that weighed on him — not the fact that just hours earlier, late on the night of Sept. 27, fire had raged through this fishing village’s tiny downtown, destroying most everything, including his ferry terminal.

But the narrow streets of the village were still clogged with firetrucks. He had little choice. So he gave the order to cancel and resolved that he would make sure the next scheduled ferry at 3 p.m. left on time. It did, as has every one since, even as the charred ruins on the village docks display the devastation and how much work has yet to be done.


Barstow and his wife, Amy, run the Monhegan Boat Line, just as Andy’s parents had before them. Even amid the ruin, they said they felt a responsibility to look beyond their own troubles.

“People around here look out for each other,” Andy Barstow said. “That’s just how it is.”

Mainers are the masters of understatement, and Barstow’s assessment of his neighbors is just that. In the week that followed the blaze, as fire investigators combed the ruins for a cause, as insurance adjustors took photos and made calculations, just about everybody in this village, population 262, has shown up, to help any way they can.

The morning after the fire, Chris and Emily Chadwick, who run the Black Harpoon restaurant in another part of the village, and their five kids showed up with food and soda for everyone who was helping the Barstows salvage what they could from the wrecked building. Gerry Cushman, a lobster fisherman in the village, showed up with his 17-year-old daughter, Ella, and helped clear the terminal of debris.


Mike Keating, the Barstows’ neighbor, drove up to Ancho Honey, Malcolm Bedell’s comfort food shop in the neighboring village of Tenants Harbor, and brought back 20 sandwiches for the Barstows’ crew and the dozen or so volunteers who have shown up every day since the fire to direct traffic, park cars, and carry baggage to the ferry.

The day before Keating made his food run, another local resident, Barbara Heinlein, showed up with pizza for everybody.

“We know we’re in a good community,” Amy Barstow said. “But the way people have shown up is overwhelming.”

Port Clyde is a special place. In the 19th century, it was known for its shipbuilding and fish canning. By the 20th century, its placid harbor, natural beauty, and access to Monhegan Island began attracting tourists and artists. Lobster boats putter in and out, their engines a soft background music.

Millions of people who have never set foot in Port Clyde would recognize the Marshall Point Lighthouse here. It’s the one where Tom Hanks’s character in the film “Forrest Gump” finishes his three-year run.

The Wyeth family, including three generations of celebrated artists, has owned summer homes in Port Clyde since N.C. Wyeth bought one in the early 1920s. His son Andrew Wyeth owned property here, as does his grandson, 77-year-old Jamie Wyeth.

That’s why the Maine Wyeth Art Gallery was located above the Port Clyde General Store, the iconic green clapboard building with dark red trim that sits in the middle of the village.


Mike Smith, the fire chief in St. George, the town where the village is located, said the fire apparently started in the adjacent Dip Net restaurant, destroying the restaurant, the general store, and the art gallery. The fire spread to the Barstows’ terminal and gift shop, destroying the roof and upper floor of the two-story building. Firefighters from 10 surrounding communities responded to the fire. Investigators from the state fire marshal’s office are still trying to determine the exact cause.

There were no injuries, and, as Andy Barstow noted, the absence of any appreciable wind that night prevented the fire from spreading to other buildings and homes in the village.

“If that wind was blowing, 20 or 30, south or southwest,” Andy Barstow said, “who knows how far up the village the fire would have gone. We got lucky.”

No one can quite figure out how the yellow tarpaulin shade on the back of the Dip Net survived.

Linda Bean, granddaughter of the founder of the L.L. Bean company, bought the general store and restaurant in 2007, and the art gallery is a tribute to the Wyeth family. She vowed to rebuild.

“My hope is to restore the premises and resume its businesses and jobs there as fully and as soon as possible,” she said in a statement.

But when that will be is anyone’s guess.


As much as the Wyeths are respected around here, some locals were miffed that so much of the media attention that followed the fire focused on the loss of three original Jamie Wyeth paintings and an N.C. Wyeth illustration from Henry David Thoreau’s “Men of Concord.”

“Jamie can still paint, thankfully,” said Karan Cushman, whose husband, Gerry, and daughter, Ella, were among the first volunteers to show up after the fire. “No one’s talking about the kids. For our kids, their generation has lost the place where they grow up and really learn the sense of community.”

Her 14-year-old son. Mason. and his friends were constants at the store and the docks.

For Ella Cushman, a high school senior, the general store was where she would go with her grandmother, Dolly McReynolds, every Saturday morning. Ella always got a blueberry muffin, while her grandmother preferred a doughnut. Ella’s 99-year-old grandmother, Eva Cushman, the matriarch of the oldest fishing family in the village, is a regular at the store.

“That store is my everything,” Ella said. “I’m related to just about everybody in Port Clyde. Which is good. Except when it comes to dating. It makes that a lot harder.”

On the Saturday before the fire, the Barstows threw a “Rock the Dock” party on the village docks to celebrate the life of Andy Barstow’s dad, Jim, who died at 79 in June. To say that Captain Jimmy Barstow was well known and well loved around here is one of those Maine understatements.


“It was a celebration of Jim’s life,” Karan Cushman said. “So everyone could be together, to honor someone who meant so much to this community. Then, a few days later, this happens.”

On Monday, as the cleanup proceeded, Governor Janet Mills arrived at Port Clyde. She seemed to speak for locals and visitors alike.

“I’ve spent time in Port Clyde over many years, visiting, enjoying seafood lunches and breakfasts at the Dip Net, admiring Wyeth prints and paintings in the gallery, shopping for souvenirs and groceries at the general store, catching the ferry to Monhegan, and kayaking along the shores,” Mills said. “These structures were where people gathered, ate, and got caught up on the news of the day. They are the heart of the town.”

During her visit, the governor walked over to Andy Barstow. Barstow said that before she told him she was sorry about the loss caused by the fire, “she said she was sorry about the loss of my dad.”

If original paintings are irreplaceable, around here so are people like Jim Barstow. And that’s no understatement.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe reporter and columnist who roams New England. He can be reached at