Maine schoolhouse one of a kind

There are more than 3,000 islands off the coast of Maine, and many great stories originate on them. The islands are rich in history and culture, and many island families can trace their roots back many generations. This story, written in 1990, was about the only schoolhouse on Isle au Haut, and the fact that enrollment had dwindled over the years to just a single student.


ISLE AU HAUT, Maine (UPI) — The green-and-white schoolhouse on this rugged offshore island functioned this year as it has for a century, but with one major difference: For most of the year, the morning bell summoned only a single student to class.

Every morning, Meredith Mattingly , 10, the son of a U.S. Parks Service ranger, walked down to the shore just outside the only village on the island to take his seat in the 100-year-old school’s only classroom. The fifth-grader had the undivided attention of his teacher, Tanice Jason.

“I believe in individualized instruction, and that happens naturally in a one-room schoolhouse,” she said.

isle au haut school picThe old wooden schoolhouse has the smallest enrollment of any school in the state. And although most of Isle au Haut’s 30 year-round residents scratch out meager incomes from the sea, the school easily has the highest per-pupil cost in the state at $44,000.

The school can offer instruction to children from kindergarten through the eighth grade. Normally, it serves between five and 10 students, and has served as may as 30. But the populations of both the school and the island have dwindled with the decline of fishing stocks off the Maine coast.

In spite of the decreasing numbers, however, the island residents have almost unanimously supported the local schoolhouse, knowing that closing the school would force even more families to leave Isle au Haut and move to the mainland.

At the end of winter, Meredith was joined by another student, fourth grader Jason Barter, who returned from the mainland with his father, a lobsterman.

Judith Lucarelli, the superintendent of schools in the district that includes Isle au Haut, said she favored keeping the island school operating, even though it is expensive.

Lucarelli said the quality of education at the old school is excellent — not simply because of the individualized instruction, but also because the school is equipped with everything from a MacIntosh computer to a well-stocked library.

Jason said this year will be her last at the Isle au Haut school, even though she enjoys the time she has spent with her handful of students.

Lucarelli said she has already decided on Jason’s replacement, who will also help ease Isle au Haut’s enrollment problems; the new teacher has two children of her own, and they will attend the school next year.

(NOTE: I checked, and the Isle au Haut school is still operating. This year (2015), it has four students, two in the fifth grade and two more in the sixth.) 

Cowsnatching and other Maine tales

I’ve been looking through the Google News Archive and I’ve found a number of my old stories from my days with United Press International. This is a valuable find for me because these stories illustrate the wire service style of writing — tight, short and bright. I spent a lot of my days with UPI in Maine covering government and politics, but when I wasn’t doing that I was looking for features stories, like this one about cowsnatching.


AUGUSTA, Maine – There’s a lady in Levant who won’t let her cows out of the barn. Rustlers got one of her heifers and she  doesn’t want it to happen again.

In Mount Vernon, Milton Hall noticed three heifers missing. After checking his pastures, he called the sheriff. The cows had been rustled.

Rustling isn’t limited to the Western bad guy type.  It’s been reported in the Maine counties of Kennebec, Aroostook, Sagadahoc, York and Penobscot.  The incidents range from the theft of a single grazing cow to daring cowsnatching right from the farmer’s barn.

In Belgrade, someone made off with a single Hereford after cutting a tether rope. But in Albion, one ambitious fellow made off with six milking cows.

“The guy drove a truck right into the barn and drove out with six of them,” said Kennebec County Sheriff Stanley Jordan.

Sheriff Darrell Crandall of Aroostook County said there have been three incidents in recent weeks, but he said he wasn’t sure if two of them were the real thing or not. The third incident was rustling, all right, he said, but the farmer didn’t know whether he lost two cows or four.

“The guy drove right in with a vehicle and took off with the cows,” Crandall said. “But the owner didn’t know whether he got two or maybe four.  Now, just how he came up with those figures I don’t know.”

Most of the cases are one-shot, or one-cow, deals. But a couple of years ago some enterprising rustlers used a bit of local technology in bagging their bovines.

The thieves used a “pulp truck,” a big stake truck with a huge hydraulic claw which is used to pick up logs and place them on the truck bed.

“These guys used to get a cow near the pasture fence, bop it over the head with a hammer, then move the claw over the fence and pick the carcass right over,” said Sheriff Jordan. “We never got ‘em.”

Jordan thinks the increase in rustling is a result of the increase in beef prices. And he thinks it’s going to get worse.

“See, a friend of mine said they’re selling beef cattle for 80 cents a pound on the hoof,” Jordan said. “Now if a guy can go out and knock one off that’s 200 or 300 pounds or so dressed out, he’s got it made.”