Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Clambake at Cabbage Island (Maine): Then and now

This is an undated brochure for the famous Clambake at Cabbage Island in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Stamped on the front is "DAMARISCOTTA INFORMATION BUREAU U.S. No. 1 MAINE."

Damariscotta is a small town about 16 miles north of Boothbay Harbor.

With the help of the brochure and the Cabbage Island Clambakes website, here's a short history of the island and the clambakes:

  • Cabbage Island belonged to the Holbrook family during the second half of the 19th century. Cabbage, fertilized with kelp, was grown there. And there was a population of goats on the island.
  • The Holbrook family sold Cabbage Island to Dr. Frank J. Triggs in 1905 and it was renamed Independence Island.
  • From 1925 through 1948, there were several transfers of ownership of Independence Island.
  • In 1948, Donald and Ruth Leavitt purchased the island from Boothbay for $3,600. (About $35,000 in today's dollars. A bargain!)
  • In 1957, the Leavitts petitioned successfully to have the name changed back to Cabbage Island. That summer, they began operating twice-daily clambakes. Passenger boats Linekin I, Linekin II, and Linekin III brought customers to the island.
  • In 1983, Ruth Leavitt sold Cabbage Island to an Ohio company that operated clambakes for one summer. After that, there was no activity.
  • Wayne Moore purchased Cabbage Island in 1986 and, with the blessing and recipes of Ruth Leavitt, the Moore family has operated the Cabbage Island Clambakes since the summer of 1989.

I believe this brochure was published around 1965. There is reference to the Leavitts owning Cabbage Island for 17 years, and 1948 plus 17 years equals 1965. The tourists' attire has the mid 1960s look, too.

So, what was the Clambake at Cabbage Island like, circa 1965? First off, the cost will make you long for the past. Reservations were necessary, but clambake tickets were just $5.50, which included the $1 for the boat trip. And what did that $5.50 get you? To quote the brochure:
"A steaming cup of delicious New England Fish Chowder, luscious bright red lobsters, tender white steamed clams wrapped in foil, sweet golden corn on the cob, new Maine potatoes, onions baked in their skins. For dessert you will love our famous Blueberry Cake by the yard and gallons of coffee."
Or, if you preferred to head to the island for lunch, this was the menu:
"...boiled Maine lobsters and clams fresh from the sea, hot lobster stew, giant lobster rolls with clear meat, fried Maine shrimp, toasted hot dogs and hamburgers, French Fries, cold soda and beverages, Ma's homemade pies, Blueberry cake, at in town prices."
The clambakes were described as being "cooked in seaweed from top to bottom, covered with tarpaulins and rocks to capture all the flavor and sweetness of Maine lobsters and clams."

And what about the Cabbage Island Clambake today? As with everything, the prices have gone up. You'll now pay about $62, plus tax, per person. That gets you the boat ride on the Bennie Alice, too. The Moore family still cooks up the clambake the same way the Leavitt family did it, with seaweed, tarps and rocks. The menu sounds almost the exact same, too:
"This authentic meal includes a steaming cup of traditional New England Fish Chowder, two luscious bright red lobsters, tender white steamed clams wrapped in foil, sweet golden corn on the cob, onion, and new Maine potatoes. For dessert, you will love our famous Blueberry Cake with hot fresh coffee or iced tea."
The Cabbage Island Clambakes operate from mid-June through mid-September. Maybe you want to add them to your Summer of 2016 vacation list? Here's their Facebook page, too.

It couldn't hurt to ask, with a wink, if you could get the 1965 prices, for old time's sake. Here are some magnified blast-from-the-past photos from that brochure...

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