The Working Waterfront

Childhood by neighborhoods and houses

Growing family meant moving around the island

By Phil Crossman
Posted 2023-03-29
Last Modified 2023-03-29

On Nov. 14, 1948, Mom, Dad—the man she’d married in Massachusetts four years earlier and who’d just been discharged from the army after a grueling couple of years in Germany—four-year-old me, and my two-year-old brother, moved back to her island home on Vinalhaven. We moved into a second story downtown apartment just above the street level Sim’s Pool Hall.

My industrious and artful mom immediately established a gift emporium, The Seadrift Shop, in an empty space next to the pool hall, and my dad joined with my grandfather, Mom’s dad, in establishing a carpentry business, Crossman & Maddox, that lasted 33 years. Our apartment had an ice box, replenished with a big block of ice carried up the stairs once a week by—who else?—the iceman. Soon I entered kindergarten.

In February 1951, we moved, with a new ten-month-old baby brother, to a cozy little rented house in a nice neighborhood with lots of nearby children. It had a real refrigerator instead of an ice box, but no plumbing. We used an outhouse in the back yard and bathed once a week in a big galvanized tub in the kitchen where Mom could continually refresh the water, heating on the stove in four big pots. This was a big event.

We were only there for a few months before moving to a nice house high up on a hill on Lane’s Island, connected to the main island by a draw bridge…

My baby brother slept in a dresser drawer in my parent’s room. I entered the first grade.

In October 1952, we moved to a house closer to town on Clam Shell Alley, another nice neighborhood right on the shore but with far fewer kids my age. One day my six-year-old brother was plucked up out of the yard and tossed overboard by a mentally ill islander, then rescued by a neighbor. My two younger brothers and I walked regularly with Dad the 200 yards to town to get groceries or the paper. I entered the second grade.

We were only there for a few months before moving to a nice house high up on a hill on Lane’s Island, connected to the main island by a draw bridge which was being replaced by a conventional structure. I was nine years old and so walking to school to the third grade while the bridge was being built, I had to “walk the plank.” The workmen always reminded me of the unfriendly troll who lived under the bridge.

In October of the same year we moved to “The Bucket,” short for the Bucket of Blood. It had been referred to thus for so long no one really knew what horrific event it referred to but there was such an event, make no mistake. We stayed there for five years to the day and, during that time, grew very well and comfortably acquainted with a ghost whom we lovingly called Uncle Tim.

This was a great little house, great neighborhood, right on the shore of Indian Creek, lots of water activity, often rowing across the creek to build treehouses in the spruce of Armbrust Hill.

Dad used to climb a ladder to the roof and maneuver rabbit ears antennae so the reception would be sufficient for we three boys to watch the Lone Ranger.

A fourth brother was on the way and arrived in 1956.

In 1958, Mom and Dad said they had a surprise for us. They’d been saving money and had just purchased the Moses Webster House. We were to move in that weekend. The Bucket had been cozy but really tiny; four brothers in two very tiny bedrooms. The Moses Webster House was a magnificent 12-room Victorian that lorded over the village below. I had just entered my freshman year. Each of the four brothers had a room of his own. So did Mom and Dad. It was astounding. There was one bedroom left.

In 1959, some close acquaintances were involved in a very messy and tumultuous divorce. They had a lovely 14-year-old daughter and asked Mom and Dad to take her in for a year or so. She took the remaining bedroom and pubescent and adolescent four boys who’d only known brotherhood were—well—awakened.

Phil Crossman lives on Vinalhaven where he owns the Tidewater Motel. He may be reached at