|There is no doubt about that the hey-days of Lubec,ME are long gone, and there is no better time for that realization than if you walk Water Street on a chilly day in December. This street, once lined with big salt-shacks, smoke houses and fish canneries, is appearing almost empty. A few remnants are still reminding the visitor of the town’s past. Speaking of visitors, there are none today, that is if you don’t think of us being visitors. We just came across the bridge from Campobello to walk our dog along Water Street, in hopes of meeting some talkative people along the curb. Dixie still needs to meet more strangers. But looking down the street, our hopes are vanishing. A few parked cars along the curb – that’s all we can see. And Christmas seems to be still a long time away, as no decorations have yet been mounted. |
Bea and Dixie on Water Street
However, once being in town, I am trotting behind Bea and Dixie, swinging my camera here and there. The row of buildings, some containing souvenir stores, seem to be in a state of hibernation, awaiting the next warm summer with scores of visitors to fill the parlors and stores. The Brewery is open though and a few beer enthusiasts might
be coming along to quench their thirst.
Lubec used to have a lot more residents, but that was while there was still fish to catch and to process. When the salt-shacks, smoke houses and canneries closed, people lost their work and left town in search for a better life in a bigger place. What they left behind was boarded-up buildings and a sense of despair for those who remained in residence, mostly the older population.
Prior to the decline, there were 20 smokehouses in Lubec producing 50 to 60 thousand boxes of fish annually, bringing employment and prosperity to the town. In 1797, Daniel Ramsdell cured the first herring by smoke, a process of preserving fish he had learned in Nova Scotia. Lubec would become the national leader in smoked herring production. Smokehouses and the many brush weirs that supplied herring lined the shore. Weir construction also brought a measure of prosperity to area farmers who cut the necessary stakes and brush needed to build and refurbish the herring traps. So great was the demand for the large herring preferred by the smokehouses that Lubec began sending vessels to the Magdelen Islands in the quest for fish. The 1855 Maine Register reported: “During the 1850s it was said that the smoked herring business employed every male resident over the age of 10 in the Washington County town of Lubec.”
It’s hard to believe but due to increases in retail activity, fishing and fish processing employment opportunities, shipping and farming, Lubec’s population grew to 3,000 by 1850. The town boasted three post offices, four churches, several fraternal organizations including Freemasons, and a ferry connecting Lubec and Eastport. People migrated to the town in search of work and, with money to spend, shopped at the growing number of stores on Water Street.
Ferry boat in 1936, Below: same place today
Following a period of decline during the Depression, World War II revitalized the industry with factories on both the east and west coasts working at capacity to supply the Army and Navy with three million, one-hundred can cases per year. Seven new factories were built in Lubec. With the end of the War demand for canned sardines decreased sharply and the overbuilt industry began to decline. By 1976 there were only two factories operating in Lubec. The last cannery was closed as late as in 2001.
American Can Company 1935
Tourism can be credited to have kept the town alive. The establishment of the Roosevelt Campobello International Park and the construction of the FDR Memorial Bridge was incidental to bring visitors to the region. B+Bs, souvenir stores, and restaurants have opened since, providing much needed services for summer visitors.
As we reach Cohill’s Inn facing a cold wind off the water, we are overlooking the boat launch. The parking area is filled with trucks, belonging to the fishermen who are still out trying to get a good catch before Christmas. They are part of the current remaining population of about 300 fulltime residents, less than a tenth of what it was in 1910, when Lubec’s population reached its peak with 3364 residents.We conclude our cross-border visit with a stop at the local IGA to get a few weekend goodies.
Have a great 1. of Advent!