Maine’s Historic Harbors: Friendship

For a town bearing the name “Friendship,” its early history was anything but harmonious.

Soon after settlement in 1750, the village, then called Meduncook, became the site of a British military garrison built on appropriately named Garrison Island. Relations with the local Native American tribe were amicable until the outbreak of the French and Indian Wars. In May 1758, an Abenaki tribe attacked the small hamlet of 22 families, burning homes and killing Joshua Bradford and his wife and infant son. Two other sons were kidnapped and taken by the Indian attackers. Later that same year a combined a party of Native Americans and French Acadians again attacked the settlement.

1758 was not a good year for the inhabitants of Meduncook but, like many small towns along the coast of Maine, its families hung on. After all, the small peninsula jutting out in Muscongus Bay and its adjacent islands provided a good harbor, protected coves, and an ample supply of marketable wood. In 1807 the residents incorporated and named their town Friendship. According to The Chronicles of Cushing and Friendship, published in 1892, the townspeople quickly showed where their priorities lay. “…on the third Day of April 1815, at a regular town meeting $100 was voted for schools, and $50 for the support of the gospel.”

By 1859, the population of Friendship had grown to 691 individuals. Those residents were industrious: the village had two shipbuilders, two gristmills, one shingle mill and three sawmills. Fishing was an integral part of the local economy. In those days, fishermen would shift their fishing efforts among different species at different times of the year. Drying cod for shipment to the major cities of New England, for example, was a lucrative summer business.

Stenger’s Wharf, formerly the Jameson & Wotton Wharf, in the 1940s

The town is famous for its namesake fishing vessel, the Friendship sloop. The design of the sloop developed gradually in response to the needs of inshore fishermen, according to Betty Roberts of the Friendship Sloop Society. The basic hull design could be scaled up or down in size depending on an individual fisherman’s desire. But all Friendship sloops had an elliptical stern, most a clipper bow, and all were gaff-rigged.
The sloops were built all along the shores of Cushing, Bremen and Friendship during the late 1800s. But Wilbur Morse is most closely associated with the distinctive vessel principally because he made so many of them. Roberts notes that Morse launched a sloop every two or three months from his shop in Friendship, linking his town forever with the design. “…before the turn of the century one could see Friendship Sloops all over the bay engaged in seining for herring, hand lining for cod, sword fishing, mackereling, and lobstering,” wrote Roberts. The Friendship sloop began to fade as a commercial vessel as motorized boats became dominant in the early 19th century.

Friendship also began to diversify in terms of its economy around that time as well. In 1897, Sherman Tecumseh Jameson and Walter H. Wotton decided to expand the old Davis Wharf, a small fishing wharf accessible only at high tide, which was owned by Jameson. A steamboat captain in Rockland told Jameson that if the wharf were 100 feet in length, he would make the town a destination for his steamboats. The two partners paid for the work, renamed the property the Jameson & Wotton Wharf, and promptly built a new store, grain sheds, a ticket office, a freight shed, and a wide gangway that could be raised and lowered for loading and unloading freight. Jameson managed the commercial fishing business and Wotton managed the store.

All images courtesy of Maine Memory Network and the Friendship Museum.

The steamboats helped Camp Durrell, a large YMCA camp on nearby Moody Island, to prosper. The camp for boys was begun in 1890 when land on the island was donated by a Bath resident for operation by the Boston YMCA. Parents bringing their children to the island via steamboat had no place to stay the night so enterprising Friendship landowners quickly built two inns within walking distance of the Jameson & Wotton Wharf. The Argyle Inn and the Seaview Hotel were popular with vacationers and parents for many years, finally falling into bankruptcy after World War I.
Friendship today bears few marks of its bloody start more than two hundred years ago. Its harbor is dotted with lobster boats, its wharves bustle during the lobster and scallop seasons, and summer visitors still find their way there, not by steamboat, but rather along Route 220 during the summer months.