Lamont’s 2nd home far off the beaten path
NORTH HAVEN, MAINE — Andy Gelinas is ready for the seasons to change.
It’s a quiet morning at the 9-hole golf course where he works on the small island of North Haven, Maine, where, a week ago, two dozen golfers had already lined up for their tee time. Today, the wind blows a little cooler and the clock ticks a little slower toward 9 a.m. No one has showed up yet, giving Gelinas a little time to himself, and, evidently, to show some strangers around.
Perched on the edge of a golf cart on hole six, which runs along the water on the southeastern shore of the island, he’s grateful for the home he’s made here over the past 10 years. The one that allows him to work in the summer and focus on his art and poetry in the winter.
North Haven’s year-round population is about 350 people but swells to more than 1,500 in the summer. Most of those who summer here, like Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, have been coming to the island for generations. They come from wealthy families that appreciate — and most importantly, can afford — original artwork.
It’s that symbiotic relationship that keeps the island running from season to season.
“It’s a nice community to be a part of,” Gelinas said. “You always look forward to them coming, and you look forward to them going. But I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have people to buy my art. The rest of Maine is pretty poor and they don’t understand it or appreciate it. So this is a nice place for me.”
Gelinas isn’t close with the Lamont family, but he knows them, as everyone here seems to. Lamont’s great-grandfather Thomas W. Lamont, a J.P. Morgan financier, bought 100 acres on the island in 1917, establishing a family estate he named Sky Farm that’s been passed down through the generations and remains one of the oldest family strongholds on the island. He helped establish the unpretentious golf course, where golfers shag their own balls and generations of Lamonts have learned to play.
A file two inches thick at the North Haven Historical Society is mostly filled with old pictures of the Lamont family, newspaper clippings detailing their wealth and generosity — Thomas W. Lamont willed $50,000 to the town when he died — and an extensive family tree that takes up both sides of a massive sheet of paper.
“I’ve been blessed with a great family,” Lamont said in a phone interview following his return from a two week vacation at Sky Farm, surrounded by his many cousins and immediate family. “A place like this farm keeps the family together. My kids and their second and third cousins, grow up together just like I grew up with their parents. It’s a certain bonding. I think of Connecticut like a family too. I carry that with me … and it’s not just my family that goes up there for the summer for 100 years. Most of the families that live on the island have been there for hundreds of years, so there’s a continuity and understanding of important values.”
Lamont has been coming here since he was a boy, staying in the big yellow farmhouse perched on the top of a hill overlooking the Penobscot Bay. At times he said there could be as many as 80 Lamont family descendants running around, and this year was no exception. The getaway provided a needed reset for the governor, who said by the end of his two weeks off, he was antsy to get back to Connecticut.
As Labor Day nears, most of his family has left for the summer. Just one distant cousin remains, a history teacher who is busy writing lesson plans, but answers the door to inquire about who’s knocking. “Ned speaks for all of us,” when he describes what North Haven means to the family, they said.
The Lamont family’s presence on North Haven is widespread but understated. Several people around town have worked for the Lamonts in once capacity or another, whether that was on his campaign or at Sky Farm, and at the very least everyone knows at least someone that shares his last name. As he’s gotten busier, he’s spent less time on the island. In 2018, during his campaign for governor, he only made it Down East for a few days.
This year was the first Lamont has visited the island as governor, not that anyone here cares. Aside from a few teasing remarks about his security detail — “Annie and I probably looked pretty funny riding down North Shore on our bicycles with two people following us,” — Lamont said his visit this year was like any other.
North Haven isn’t the type of place you go if you want people to care about that sort of thing anyway. Net worth doesn’t matter here, nor does a fancy new title. The modest distant cousin of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, North Haven is just enough farther north, enough off the beaten path, that it’s rare to find a visitor that doesn’t have a familial connection to the island. It’s not easy to get there. A small ferry runs just three times a day, so if you miss it or there isn’t room, you’ll have to find someone with a boat to make the hour-long trip back to mainland Maine.
“We see people for who they are when they’re here,” said Lydia Brown, executive director of the North Haven Historical Society. “It’s a year-round community of really hard working, creative people. We rely on each other. People walk that tricky balance of being independent and coming together for the community. It doesn’t really matter who you are.”
Brown grew up on the neighboring island of Vinalhaven, while her husband, Foy Brown, is a North Haven native. His family has been on the island for six generations — almost as long as the Lamonts. His father, Foy W. Brown, is referenced by several people as the most interesting man on the island. Someone you should definitely talk to … if you can find him.
It takes several tries. On the first visit to the boatyard, he’s out lobstering, one of the primary industries on the island. There’s no way to contact him — no cell phone or radio — but he’ll be back later. Later when?
“Well, just come back later, he might be here,” a boatyard employee said, laughing.
That’s common on North Haven. Time is relative and no one really seems to abide by it. “If I’m not there, just wait a little longer,” is a common instruction, as is “You can’t miss it,” on the tail end of driving directions comprised mostly of landmarks rather than street names.
The next day, Foy W. Brown, who turns 73 next week, is hanging over the edge of a boat lift, tinkering in the motor at least 15 feet off the ground. He’s got a thick Maine accent and a dry sense of humor, and the descriptions are accurate. He might just be the most interesting man on North Haven. He’s a lobsterman, boat builder and repair man, kelp farmer, and more, but he’s got little time to tell you about it. Though he will boast he was cast as himself in the island play — a musical they even performed in an off-Broadway theater in New York City.
“This place is the center of the universe,” he drawls, perking up a little bit to note, “A lot of people wrote to me and compared me to Rudy Giuliani, and the New York City Police Chief,” before returning to fixing the boat lift.
It’s hard to get lost on North Haven. The island is 12 miles long and, at its widest, three miles across. The street names are all literal descriptors of what’s there — Middle Road bisects the island, North Shore and South Shore are exactly where you’d expect them, and on Tennis Court Road and Golf Course Road, you’ll find exactly that. At the end of Crab Tree Point Road, a narrow spit where the island narrows to the width of the road itself, the pavement is protected from the chilling saltwater by thick groves of crab apple trees.
About halfway down this road, past a sheep farm and several head of cattle, on the last week of the summer season just before Labor Day, a dozen painters are busy capturing the scenery as part of an artists retreat that’s been hosted for nearly a decade at Wooster Farm, the former home and property of Frank W. Benson, the prominent American impressionist painter whose most famous works are scenes captured from North Haven.
“This is Mecca or Valhalla for artists,” said Tom Dunlay, who leads the immersive workshop. “This is where anyone interested in live landscape painting would come and think they’ve died and gone to heaven.”
Soon, though, even the visiting artists will be gone, having captured the waning light of summer, and leaving behind the 350 residents who endure winters “on island,” as the locals say.
They’re mostly caretakers for the big estates, farmers and fishermen. There’s only two restaurants on the island — the Nebo Lodge, which is also the only inn, and Calderwood Hall down the road — and both close up for the winter. A brewery that opened in 2016 will stay open through the winter, offering a gathering space for the year-round millennial population that’s found refuge on North Haven. Many came for a job but stayed because they fell in love. Sometimes with a partner, and sometimes simply with the island itself.
“I’ve lived a lot of places and this is the only one I’ve ever considered staying,” said Sam James Levine, who’s been staying on a boat moored in the harbor since April while he works at Foy Brown’s boatyard. “Rowing out to my house every night is a lot like living here in general. Sometimes it’s really hard and you wonder why you do it, but then you’re rowing and you’re getting stronger, and you kind of fall in love with the lifestyle and the island.”
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