Text by Bruce Thurlow
Images from Scarborough Historical Society, Rodney Laughton and Don Googins
Scarborough’s coastline has three extensive beaches: Higgins, Scarborough, and Pine Point. There are ledges, however, around Prouts Neck, Bluff and Stratton Islands (now part of Saco) and the Graveyard (a stretch of rock ledges between Scarborough Higgins Beaches). The ledges and beaches are about seven miles toward the coastline from the bouys marking the shipping lanes. Here are the stories of some of the shipwrecks that have occurred off Scarborough’s coast.
Washington B. Thomas
The Washington B. Thomas was a five-masted schooner of a type called a fore-and-after. A fore-and-after schooner was extremely economical, because it could be handled with a smaller crew and could contain more cargo. This vessel had a brief life, for it was wrecked in June 1903 only sixty days after its launch at Watts Shipyard in Thomaston. According to Peter Dow Bachelder in his book Ships and Maritime Disasters of the Maine Coast, the ship was the largest wooden sailing ship ever wrecked off the Maine coast.
The Thomas was en route from Norfolk to Portland with a cargo of coal. Encountering dense fog off Wood Island, Captain Lermond anchored off the eastern end of Stratton Island but dragged anchor onto a ledge during a gale. A volunteer life-saving crew from Cape Elizabeth hauled a heavy surfboat more than nine miles over muddy roads to the eastern side of Prouts Neck. Three men rowed out to the Thomas and were able to get a line onto the ship and safely rescue the crew. There was one fatality earlier when the ship was struck by a large wave and Captain Lermond’s wife was struck on the head by a beam that had become dislodged. Mrs. Lermond was washed overboard and her body floated to Camp Ellis. For years, lobster fishermen knew that area of Stratton Island as the old wreck. This name was added to others around the island such as clam cove, ringbolt, and barn run.
Traveling in a snowstorm from Portland to New York on 14 January 1934, the Eastern Steamship Company’s freighter Sagamore punctured its hull when it struck Corwin Rock off the eastern end of Prouts Neck. In the spitting snow rescuers rowed out to assist the crew from the listing ship and all were saved. However, efforts to refloat the freighter were unsuccessful and the ship was abandoned. Part of the ship’s cargo had been bolts of heavy, double-faced woolen cloth, which were salvaged by area residents. Some Scarborough Historical Society members remember wearing coats and snowsuits their mothers made from the salvaged wool, which was tan or gray on one side and checked on the other. Masts from the wreck were visible from the cliff walk around the Neck until the 1960s.
Howard W. Middleton
On 10 August 1897, despite near-zero visibility, the coastal schooner Howard W. Middleton was under full sail as it approached Portland. The trip from Philadelphia had been slow because of contrary winds, and the captain was anxious to reach port. The captain planned to anchor behind the breakwater at the northeast side of Richmond Island at Cape Elizabeth until morning and then continue on to Portland. During the approach to the anchorage, the Middleton strayed slightly west, then north, of the intended course. Unnoticed by the crew, the ship was sailing toward high bluffs overlooking the eastern side of the mouth of the Spurwink River.
The Middleton struck a ledge off Higgins Beach and sustained a large hole in the bow below the waterline. The ship went ashore and the crew was able to debark. Although attempts were made to save the ship, all were futile and the owners abandoned the cargo, leaving it to the insurance underwriters. A Portland salvage company removed as much cargo and salvageable parts as possible, but local residents scavenged much of the Middleton’s cargo of coal. Over the years, stormy seas and wave action have continued pounding on the ship’s remains and today some of those remains can still be seen at Higgins Beach.
Fannie and Edith
On 4 December 1900 New England was hit by an extremely severe storm. Destruction to shipping was widespread, especially along the Massachusetts shore. The two-masted schooner Fannie and Edith was headed to Bangor from Boston when the schooner parted cables, leaving the ship completely at the mercy of the wind and the waves. Water had breached the breakwater at Richmond Island and the Fannie and Edith drifted westward toward Prouts Neck. Caught by a mighty wave, the ship landed high on the rocks. The crew was saved, but within a few days the 100-ton schooner was pounded to pieces on the rocks.
Harold Seal, the author’s grandfather, was in his powerboat, the Cappy, hauling lobster traps near Higgins Beach when a southwesterly breeze started to blow. It was not a strong wind or even a rough sea. Some men of Pine Point, including Harold, would haul their traps by starting at Prouts Neck and finishing at Higgins Beach. This type of breeze usually occurred daily, but the lobster fishermen were almost always home before the wind became strong. On this day, 21 July 1951, the Cappy’sengine stopped and would not start. Harold went up on the bow and threw his newly purchased anchor overboard. The fluke of the anchor broke and the Cappy began to blow ashore. It came across the ledges and washed upon a small beach in the Graveyard area, the rocks and ledges between Scarborough and Higgins Beaches.
As the Cappy began to take on water, Harold swam ashore and the boat washed onto a small beach in front of what is now Piper Shores. At that time, many holes in the hull could be seen. The Cappy appeared to Harold to be a total loss. In her diary, Queenie Seal (Harold’s wife; the author’s grandmother) noted, “it looks like we’re financially ruined.”(4) Barrels were tied to both sides of the boat in an attempt to haul it out. The Coast Guard could not get lines on the boat the first day, but they were successful at high tide the next day. The Cappy was brought to Pine Point and ultimately dragged to Harold’s home. Ward Bickford, who had built the boat, examined it to see what could be done to restore it. Work began and by the next spring Harold was back fishing from the Cappy. In a later diary entry, Queenie commented on the Cappy being repaired.
1.Maine Sunday Telegram,
2.Interview with Leonard Douglass by the author, 1 January 2010.
3.Interview with Donald Googins by the author, 24 November 2009.
4.Queenie Seal’s diary, 1951.