As American as a Bailey Island Ice Cream Social

This post ran the first summer of our Maine Crime Writers blog. We’re are now in our eleventh year. The cast of writers changes but the insights into writing, and Maine, and how writers see the world continue. I’m not sure today’s ice cream social down the road at Library Hall still starts at two, but it will happen, and it will always be a fun part of a Bailey Island summer.

Kate Flora here. As a native Mainer (Union High School class of I’m not telling you) who’s gone away and come back, I’m now enjoying my twenty-second Bailey Island summer, where I struggle to keep my eyes on the computer screen and my mind of my work when I’m constantly drawn into watching fog and sunsets, clouds and lobster boats, osprey, eider ducks, and seals. This is a new part of the state for me. I misspent my youth around Rockland and Camden and I set my Joe Burgess police procedurals in Portland. It’s also, like so much of Maine, as photogenic as a beauty queen.

Bailey Island, part of the town of Harpswell and located at the end of a chain of islands starting from

Cook’s Corner in Brunswick and crossing Great Island and Orrs Island, is reached by an historic (and scarily narrow when you meet a huge truck full of lobsters) bridge, the Cribstone Bridge, made of granite blocks that resemble the pieces in a child’s Jenga toy. It’s a drive worth taking if you’re someone who loves to round corners and be greeted by wonderful views. Maine has over 3000 miles of coastline, and 218 of them are in Harpswell. A hundred years ago, boats used to bring people up from Boston to stay at the hotel, or to board with locals for the summer. Now our summer people arrive by car and SUV, carrying kayaks or towing boats, still looking for that salty tang in the air, the gorgeous vistas of bays dotted with green islands, and the cool ocean breezes.

Like many another who has “discovered” a special part of Maine, I’m always torn between wanting to share my part of the state, and wanting to protect it from an influx of too many people. But the beauty and charm of Bailey Island cries out to be shared, so today I’m going to take you across the bridge, past Giant Stairs Cafe, past our tiny post office that residents raised the money to keep open, and BIGGS (Bailey Island General Store) and on to Library Hall, where the annual Fourth of July Ice Cream social is held.

Library Hall, a former library and community meeting hall that now hosts wedding receptions and art shows as well as community meetings, sits on a hill overlooking a broad open field and Mackerel Cove, a working lobstering harbor, where the boats start going out at 4:30 in the morning, and the thrum of diesel engines echoes around the cove.

On July 4th, Library Hall is set with festive

Giant Stairs on Bailey Island

holiday tables. The gathering is community at its best. The narrow road is choked with cars and the lawn overflows with residents and their guests, as generations of year-rounders and summer folk, from senior citizens to newborns, come together to share a long-standing Bailey Island tradition. Costumes and crazy hats abound. Red and white and blue is de rigueur. One group is running a raffle; another group is giving out information about raising money to help buy one of the island’s treasures, a rock-bordered ribbon of sand called Robinhood Beach.

Inside, visitors who can tear themselves away from the view and the fresh sea breezes on this gloriously clear July afternoon find one of the great bargains of the summer: two scoops of ice cream on top of a brownie, with chocolate sauce and strawberry sauce and whipped cream and a cherry, topped with a teeny American flag on a toothpick, plus a cup of lemonade, all for the giant price of $3.00. It’s especially delicious eating sitting on the broad steps, in the shade of a tree, looking out at the white sails of boats moving among the islands.

Many try to get there early to be in time for one of the highlights of the afternoon–the Kazoorchestra. Clad in red, white and blue topped with crazy hats, with the smallest members arriving in a giant lobster trap pulled by a truck, this group comes marching down the main street, which is also route 24, which is also, in fact, about the only street on Bailey Island. When they arrive, they hand out kazoos to anyone who’s feeling patriotic, adventurous or musical (this last might be debatable) and the band plays on. God Bless America may not sound quite melodic, but the combination of neighbors and friends,  laughing, capering children and ninety-year-olds smiling from their chairs carries it straight to the heart.




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