Campobello Island

Campobello Island, one of the three Fundy Isles, is located in the Bay of Fundy. A special part of New Brunswick, this Canadian Island lies just off shore of the most eastern town in the US, Lubec Maine. Campobello is accessed from the mainland by the Roosevelt Campobello International Bridge or by ferry from Deer Island. 

Roosevelt Campobello International Bridge
Roosevelt Campobello International Bridge

For many years before the island first appeared on a European map (1607), the Passamaquoddy Indians had hunted, fished, and harvested clams and sea urchins at what they called “A bah quiet.”

The French were the first European settlers, who the Island “Port aux Coquilles”. They built huts along the Island’s northwest and southwest shores. Although a 1733 map shows a French settlement on the northeast side of Harbour de L’Outre, the Treaty of Utrecht placed Campobello under English control in 1713.

When settlers of Scottish and Irish descent arrived on the Island from New England in 1765, trading posts were already established in the region.

In 1767, Captain William Owen and three nephews received a grant of “the Outer Island, then called Passamaquoddy,” from the Governor General of Nova Scotia. Owen came to the Island and named Campobello three years later, bringing with him 38 settlers. Mostly indentured servants. The settlers included brickmakers, coopers, masons, potters, gardeners, labourers, joiners, boat builders, servants, a blacksmith, tailor and barber.

They built 15 houses, planted oats, peas, barley, wheat rye, clover, hemp, flax, potatoes, turnips, apple and plum trees and cleared and fenced land for hay. Earlier settlers had traded in cured fish; trade now included lumber and potash shipments to England, shingles and cordwood to Boston, and a West Indies market for salt pollock in exchange for rum (later shipped to Saint John).

The Island population consisted of 36 English and 37 New Englanders, gathered in hamlets at what are now Wilson’s Beach and Welshpool. 

Industries flourished. Island stores sold dry goods, groceries, spices, molasses, carpets, rum, tailored suits and women’s clothing. Commercial activity included brickyards, sawmills, a tannery and a soap factory. Campobello’s first fish weir was erected in 1840, to trap herring. Handlining and trawl-fishing for ground fish continued to provide a living to many Islanders. 

Fish drying flakes and smoke houses dotted the shores. A strong market for fish existed in New York and the manufacture of wooden boxes for shipping fish became a significant industry.

By 1850, the Island population had increased to 865. The population had increased to 1,039 by 1862. Fishing continued as the primary industry with cod, haddock, hake, herring, pollock and mackerel making up the catch. Agricultural products included hay, corn, wheat, barley, buckwheat, turnips, potatoes, dairy products, livestock and wool. 

tourists at Herring Cove Campobello

The year 1866 almost brought with it an invasion of Campobello by a foreign force. The Fenian Brotherhood, founded in America to establish a republican government in Ireland, sent a force of several hundred men to the Eastport area. Their intentions were to seize Campobello as a means of harassing England, but the U.S. government disbursed the raiding party before it reached the Island. The attempted raid, however, moved New Brunswick to vote in favour of joining the

Confederation of British North America (later Canada) and also stimulated greater efficiency in the military organization. 

The late 1860’s were not good years. Corporate business folded, shipping and foreign trade declined dramatically, and there were few, new settlers. Campobello’s shipping and trading had pretty well ceased by 1871 when a new industry developed in the late 1870’s, rum running. Gin from Holland, French wine, and Scotch and Irish whiskies were shipped to Campobello, where they were transferred to fleets of fishing schooners from Gloucester, Massachusetts. (Rum-running prospered again during the prohibition of the 1920’s).

A second new industry bloomed during the 1880’s, when wealthy people had extensive leisure time as well as the means to enjoy it. It was the age of summer long vacations and great summer resorts. 

Eastport Ferry to Campobello

Although summer visitors had been coming to Campobello to enjoy the Island’s charms since 1855, it wasn’t until a group of Boston and New York businessmen bought the Owen property in 1881 that the summer trade really prospered. The new owners called themselves the Campobello Company. They constructed luxurious hotels that they leased to private management, and sold land to both wealthy visitors and Island residents.

Both the Canadian and American press promoted Campobello as a summer resort. Well-to-do families from such cities as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Ottawa and Montreal escaped to Campobello by private yacht, steamship and train. Among those families was that of James Roosevelt, who, with his wife Sara and one year old son Franklin Delano Roosevelt, first visited the Island in 1883. James purchased several acres of land and had a summer home constructed; other wealthy visitors did the same. Although the resulting summer colony produced work for local people building cottages, providing food and services, provisioning yachts, fishing remained the Island’s mainstay. 

Roosevelt Family Portrait
FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt and children in Washington, DC, June 12, 1919 ©Bachrach

Beginnings in 1881, the development of the summer trade lasted about 30 years. The resort era was doomed, partly by the first world war, partly by the fact, summer long vacations became impossible and most certainly by the coming of the automobile and its accompanying freedom of movement.

Campobello’s hotels prospered until about 1910. In 1915, the Campobello Company sold its holdings to a group of New York businessmen who took the name Campobello Corporation. This Corporation’s interests were sold to the remaining summer colony about 1930, and the name changed to the Campobello Island Club.

The Dead River Land Company bought the club holdings in 1957 and for several years harvested lumber and pulp wood. Most of Dead River’s holdings were eventually sold to a new Campobello Company, interested in developing and subdividing property. Some of the Arkansas developers were  later well known figures involved in the “White Water” scandal in the U.S.

The summer trade exists again on Campobello. In 1959, a gift of land from one of the original summer colonists helped establish Herring Cove Provincial Park. Herring Cove provides summer visitors with a challenging nine-hole golf course, excellent camping facilities, scenic picnic areas and woodland hiking trails. 

With the opening of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial Bridge in 1962, over 100,000 people visit Campobello each year. The Roosevelt Campobello International Park was established in 1964 following a gift of the cottage and its grounds to the Canadian and United States governments.

The Park was established as an expression of the close relationship between Canada and the United States and as a memorial to the President of the United States who so greatly strengthened that relationship.

Although the fishing industry; the harvesting of lobster, scallops, clams, sea urchins, herring, cod, pollock, mackerel and pen-raised salmon and  occupations related to the fishing industry remained the mainstay of Campobello for many years, tourism was steadily increasing Campobello industry. 

To see some of our Drone videos from Campobello, visit our Youtube Channel. Subscribe and receive a notice when we post new videos. 

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