Fannie and Everett E. “Ret” Sinnett.

This story follows up on the poem “Sinnett’s Store” by Virginia Johnson, published in the March edition. We hope to provide more context to the times and explain the importance of both the store and the nearby Steamboat Wharf to the Bailey Island community through the first half of the 20th century. The bridge, completed in 1928, led to the eventual demise of the store, and the wharf was washed away in 1978. In fact, all that remains at the end of Steamboat Wharf Lane is a plaque letting visitors know they can access the cove at that point. But there is so much more to the story!

In olden times, the E.E. Sinnett store on Mackerel Cove, Bailey Island, was the center of the community. It was a typical old-time general store, carrying everything from nails and “spudges” to oilskins and hip boots, mouse traps and flypaper, sewing supplies and cloth, bulk dry goods and tea, wheels of cheese and slabs of bacon, and pickles, molasses and salt pork sitting in big barrels on the floor. It was the sort of place where you walked in with a list and a clerk would gather your purchases. Also on the premises was the island post office, which was a magnet for socializing, since you had to come to the post office to pick up your mail, delivered earlier by steamboat.

(A spudge was essential for skewering bait fish — salted and, shall we say, “aromatic” — which were then transferred onto a piece of twine tied to the bottom of the old wooden lobster traps. The twine held the fish in place to attract lobsters while not allowing them to haul it away. The twine also secured the curved wooden door to the trap.)

E.E. Sinnett’s store in the mid- to late 1940s.

The store’s owner for much of the first half of the last century was Everett E. “Ret” Sinnett, the authors’ great-grandfather. Earlier in his life, Ret pulled lobster traps, by hand, from a punt. A stomach injury, though, led to a change in careers and the purchase and operation of the store. Ret’s wife, Fannie, ran the post office. Incidentally, the original structure was floated across the cove when its owner had a dispute with his wife; a Bernard Johnson owned it for a while before Ret took over.

The nearby wharf was large and active, with lobstermen sailing from a portion of the structure, and the Casco Bay Lines steamship arriving two to three times a day from Portland and the other islands during the summer. Then, for a week every summer, the wharf was the focal point for the Bailey Island Tuna Tournament.

We have fond memories of the tuna boats, some with long pulpits for harpooning the mighty beasts. Winning weights were typically in the 700- to 800-pound range, with lengths of 8-10 feet. There were three categories for the tournament — harpooning, long line fishing, and fishing with a hand line. One hardy soul often won the latter contest by rowing out in his dory, sometimes besting the fishermen in the other categories! There were also competitions for halibut, cod, etc.

Also on the wharf was a freight shed used for the storage of trunks and other belongings, pending delivery to the cottages of the summer visitors, many of whom stayed for a month or more. Deliveries were initially by horse-drawn cart.

Steamboat Wharf circa 1960.

Other buildings on or near the wharf included a fish market, as well as storage for ice, which was kept under sawdust. Before electricity arrived, people relied on iceboxes for refrigeration. Gasoline for the fishermen was pumped, by hand, from a storage tank. 

There was a horseshoe pit on the lawn and, for a period, one of the buildings housed a pool table and slot machines. A portion of that building also included Sadie Johnson’s restaurant. Sadie was the wife of Elroy Johnson, he of “The Maine Lobsterman” statue fame. So, in addition to the gossiping described in Virginia’s poem, there was much to draw people to the spot.

A harmless prank around 1960 also has ties to the wharf. The background is that a grand old hotel, The Ocean View, which had operated since the turn of the century, had finally failed. It stood on a hill near the head of the cove, overlooking both cove and bay, but was not in operation in the late ’50s. About that time (maybe a year before its demolition), we were startled to see the white outline of some giant footprints appearing to leave the field where the hotel stood. They headed south, then took a right, ending at Steamboat Wharf, where, presumably, The Ghost of the Ocean View dove into Mackerel Cove to swim in the chilly waters for eternity!

Jay, Everett and Chandler Sinnett are great-grandsons of Ret Sinnett and sons of Cliff and Charlotte Sinnett, who owned the store and wharf for a period midcentury. The brothers have summered on Bailey Island for more than 65 years and share a cottage on the eastern shore.