The Working Waterfront

Childhood memories, and valuable land, preserved

A generous gift of land on Vinalhaven has ties to island history

Phil Crossman
Posted 2019-01-28
Last Modified 2019-01-28

By Phil Crossman

When I was a Vinalhaven youngster, I lived on the western side of Armbrust Hill. It seemed enormous. A little pond, the Trolley Puddle, was nestled under granite cliffs in a natural amphitheater on its northwest flank. It assumed magnificent proportions and fairies lived in and around it. 

More often than not, when my folks took me up there, we’d run into Betty.  She was usually picking up litter or trimming the bushes that encroached on the various trails.

By the time I was ten or 12 I lived on the other side of Armbrust Hill on the shore of Indian Creek, which separated me from it. I rowed over there many times and built a treehouse with my father’s tools.

From the treehouse I’d often see Betty. She’d be tidying up or doing a little landscaping.

Later I played cowboys and Indians on the Hill. I was younger than most of the boys so I could only play if I agreed to be tied up and tormented. A few years year later I was old enough and did the tying up and abusing. If, in our games, we stumbled over Betty hacking out a new path, we’d always be careful not to knock her over.

Before long I began enticing girls to come up on the Hill. Some came but hardly any agreed to be tied up. Nonetheless, I was presented with a few opportunities to polish my awkward approach and one night under a spectacular evening sky, on the bluff overlooking the Puddle, I fell in love.

I may have only touched a breast, but at the time the two seemed synonymous and the experience gave me a clear and singular focus that was helpful.

Years ago, my great grandmother, then 100 years old, told her great, great granddaughter about her experiences as a young patriot during World War II when she and other islanders manned a watch station erected on the Hill for the purpose of spotting enemy aircraft or ships and relaying the information to our defense establishment.

My daughter and I went up to look at the spot. All that remained were a few iron pins in the ledge. Betty—Betty Roberts—was not around. She’d passed on not long before and had given to the town and to the people she loved that which she had so tenderly cherished and preserved—Armbrust Hill.

She actually hadn’t owned the entire Hill. A few acres on the back side running along the shore of the Creek I’d lived on had not been hers. There was a real danger that those acres would be developed and the development would certainly destroy, in large measure, the conservancy she had worked to create.

The Vinalhaven Land Trust worked hard to acquire those acres and eventually did so. As a town selectman, I was invited to accept their gift of it to the town in a little ceremony at the Trolley Puddle. I said a few words and then I walked around the new acreage with some of those gathered. Under a worm-eaten 2-by-4 nailed to an aging birch tree lay my father’s hammer which I rescued and lovingly presented to him, much the same as Betty and the Land Trust rescued this Hill and presented it to us.

Phil Crossman owns and operates the Tidewater Motel on Vinalhaven.