Thursday, October 4, 2001

Villages of Scarborough: Pine Point - Village by the sea weathers change

Published in the Current

Pine Point is a village in balance, filled with the quiet tension between the land and the sea, inhabited by people who come and go with the tides and the seasons.

Lobstering and clamming have long been livelihoods in Pine Point. But for 120 years, tourism has been the business to be in, if you live in the Point. And now that’s changing too, as houses are rebuilt or winterized, ready for year-round residents.

And still, they that go down to the sea in boats are all around Pine Point. They’re a quiet lot, prone to pointing at their friends when you ask a question, but they’re personable enough, even friendly, if you aren’t too obvious about being from away.

Most of today’s lobstermen don’t live in Pine Point, though their forefathers, and even their fathers, did.

It has become “a nice place to live,” and property values are through the roof.

“They priced us out of here,” said lobsterman Robbie Lothrop. Born and brought up on the sandbar called Pine Point, he now lives “on the hill,” across the mouth of Jones Creek, and rents his house out on the Point.

His 50-by-70-foot lot, where the house takes up nearly all the land, has some pretty steep property taxes, he said. “The taxes on that are three grand.”

His Cape-style house on three-quarters of an acre on the hill has just about the same taxes. Many lobstermen have found the same situation.

“Most of us are up on the hill,” Lothrop said. He doesn’t think there are any working lobstermen who still live on the Point.

In his 57 years, 40 of which he has spent lobstering, he has seen a lot of changes. He points at a parking lot filled with sea gulls and a row of houses behind them.

“That was all sand dunes,” he said, remembering the ditches he and his friends used to play in among the sandy hillocks where the lot is now. Drawing a big circle with his hands, he shows where a tide pool once was.

Wind can’t blow people away
Bill Bayley is another Pine Point resident, who has been, he said, “lucky enough to get to stay” as many of his neighbors left for more affordable areas. He is the third generation of his family to run Bayley’s Lobster Pound, and his daughter works with him.

“We’ve been selling seafood on this location — the same family — for 86 or 87 years,” he said.

His grandfather came to Pine Point in 1915 with his wife and infant son, Bill’s father. The young family had been looking for a place to settle near the sea. From the train, Bill’s grandfather saw the spit of land and decided to live there.

Back then, it wasn’t the nice place to live it has become. Separated from the mainland by the marsh and the creek until the 1880s, it wasn’t exactly prime real estate even in the early 20th century . When the trains came by in the 1850s, the railroad company had to build a road out to the Point. Almost immediately it became a summer resort. But people who spent the winter were still scarce.

The wind was the problem. Ripping out of the north in winter, it was known to tear roofs apart and make life generally miserable. The wind hasn’t changed, but people now stay the winter with better shelter, Bayley said.

“They didn’t have the types of houses they have now,” he said. But the wind still blows, and though the year-rounders love the summer, Bayley said, “We pay for it in the winter.”

Bayley had thought his third-generation link was as far back as his family went in Pine Point, but when looking over old photos and family records, he learned that his grandfather’s grandfather was from Pine Point, and had lived right in the house still standing next door to the Lobster Pound.

It was a surprise to Bayley: “One of the first houses built down here is right in the parking lot.”

Bayley, like Lothrop, said economics have played a role in changing the community.

“A lot of the people that were native to this place have had to leave,” Bayley said, citing costs of housing and property taxes. But now the seasonal folks are staying longer and even moving to the Point.

“It’s not so much summer people,” Bayley said. And even the summer influx is different from the seasonal invasions other Maine coastal communities see.

“A lot of our folks aren’t quite tourists,” Bayley said. “Families have been coming here for generations and generations, and not just one or two.”

“New arrivals” not new
Mary Boutin is one of those seasonal visitors. She’s been coming to the Point since she was six months old; she’s now in her early 80s and lives both in Pine Point — Pillsbury Shores, to be exact — and in Lewiston.

The Pillsbury Shores neighborhood is friendly and low-key, too, but since homes were built on sea grass, there have been changes, too.

The days of unlocked doors, while mostly over, aren’t too far gone.

“Everybody has a key to everybody else’s house,” Boutin said. “It’s very close-knit down here.”

Talking to folks in Pine Point, whether they’re life-long residents, seasonal visitors or relative newcomers, it’s clear that everyone is related to somebody else who has, or had, a house down here. Explaining who a neighbor is involves a crash course in local genealogy.

Those ties are part of why things change slowly here. Old sand footpaths are closed by new owners, who realize over time that they can’t keep the fishermen and beachgoers
from using the only route to the beach they’ve ever known.

The sea changes things too, moving sandbars and waterlines, allowing
dune grass to grow.

“It’s amazing how much the sand has grown up in sea grasses,” Boutin said.

Houses have changed, too. People buy homes and expand them or even tear them down to build anew.

“I would love to see the houses retain what I think is the character of ‘by the seashore,’” Boutin said. “(Now) we have these very palatial places.”

Some of the house turnovers are estate sales, by children selling their parents’ former home. The next generation, Boutin said, sometimes thinks “it’s better to have the money than the responsibility.”

Another big change is how people communicate on the Point. It used to be kids yelling back and forth, or a few minutes of walking back to the house. Now beachgoers, especially parents, have two-way radios and cellular phones to keep tabs on things back at the house.

But all told, whether it’s partying on a sandbar or sitting outside on a summer’s evening listening to poetry read aloud by a friend, “We’re very happy down in this neck of the woods,” Boutin said. “We have a wonderful life down here.”

Expanding the village
But what qualifies as “down here,” to folks who live on the Point, has changed too.

“Pine Point was from here to the corner,” Bayley said, standing inside his business. “Up above the corner was Grand Beach. Across the marsh and up the hill was Blue Point.”

Now there’s a Pine Point Nursing Home on Pine Point Road, long before any signs saying “Blue Point.” But Pine Point hasn’t grown too much. It’s moved through the roundabout, what Bayley called “the corner” and up to the bridge over the
railroad tracks. And the stretch that was called Grand Beach, over to the Old Orchard Beach town line, is part of Pine Point now too. But the heart of Pine Point is still the sandy spit between Pillsbury Shores and the corner.

The old gathering place, Conroy’s Garage, has ceased to play its central role in the village, since the death of its owner, Jack Conroy, Bayley said.

“We were really a small, tight-knit community for years,” Bayley said, talking of knowing everyone in town and being able to walk into any house — they were all unlocked.

“Now it’s changed quite a bit.”

There aren’t that many kids around now, either, he said. “There are a few, but not like there used to be.”

The folks who move away don’t go far, Bayley said. “They’re all trying to stay where they can at least see it. It’s kind of difficult to move away.”

And even if it’s hard to move away, those property values have made it hard to stay.

“There’s more people all the time and there’s only just so much land on the water,” Bayley said.

Balance is important between the forces at work in Pine Point, the natives and the newcomers, the sea and the land, and even the wind and the buildings.

But nothing is permanent, Bayley said, especially on a small strip of sand sticking into the ocean.

“You can’t own it; you can only borrow it.”