Entering Blue Hill, Maine for the first time, I had two choices: go left on Main Street toward the Fish Net restaurant and a fork in the road, or go right on Main Street, into the village. I needed information; I turned right.
This was 1998, and all I knew at that point was that Emilie’s summer cottage, Stone House, had been in Blue Hill and that the Lorings had vacationed there nearly forty years. Was it still there? Were there people in Blue Hill who had known her? Where would I start?
Nineteenth-century, wooden storefronts lined both sides of the street. Across a small bridge, a left turn led to the town wharf and an old, white house with the auspicious sign, “Holt House, 1815, Home of the Blue Hill Historical Society.” Perfect. I parked but turned first toward the water. I felt sure I would recognize Blue Hill Bay by some pull of Emilie through history into me, and I didn’t have to wait. Ahead was a lone cedar growing from a small, rock island. I fought for the quote; I knew Emilie had written about it.
When I found the Holt House closed, I walked up Main Street.
“Nearer the shore nestled a village with two this-way-to-heaven sign-posts, the white spires of the churches.” Here Comes the Sun!
Yep, there were two–the Congregational and Baptist Churches with their white spires pointing skyward. A street sign, “Tenney Hill Rd,” recalled manipulative Lila Tenney in When Hearts Are Light Again. I was in the right place. But no one in the bookstore had heard of Emilie, so I went to the Blue Hill Public Library.
What a beautiful place! More like a parlor than a public building, there was a fireplace at each end of a warmly lit reading room. A sign, “The Ladies’ Social Library” gave me hope. I consulted the card catalog, found the local history room where Emilie Loring books were shelved, and stepped up to the reference desk. “Do you know if there’s a place called ‘Stone House’ here in Blue Hill?” I asked. A chat amongst the librarians produced a lead: “Go back down Main Street, past the Fish Net, and go right at the fork in the road. There’s a stone house a ways up the East Blue Hill Road–not sure how far. You might check there.”
Well, this was fun. I drove slowly, peering between the trees at each clapboard cottage and granite outcrop. Suddenly, there it was: a home built of massive, granite blocks. It had to be the one. I pulled in, walked up to the sturdy door, and knocked.
There have been many times when fortune has smiled on this quest, and this was one of the best. Fair-haired “Rudy” Ruth Slaven answered, and upon hearing my story, she called her husband, Major Robert K. Slaven, Sr., to the door. “Why yes, this is Stone House where Emilie Loring used to live. Would you like to come in?” Oh my. Here I was, in Emilie Loring’s house, having just driven into town on a hope. I glanced quickly around, eager but not wanting to be rude. “It’s okay, if you’d like to take a few pictures. You should see the veranda out back.” It got better. Mrs. Slaven recalled that, when she was a child, she and her mother stopped to visit “Mrs. Loring,” who was writing in a sheltered clearing near the road. Major Slaven brought out a file he kept of the house’s history and suggested that I take it to the library and copy what I wanted. “And shouldn’t she meet Esther?” asked Mrs. Slaven.
Miss Esther Wood was the local historian, a retired history professor from the University of Maine. In short order, I was sitting on her front porch, a bit further down the East Blue Hill Road. Her tiny frame was bent with age, but her vivid blue eyes were as lively and direct as her manner: “What do you want to know? You should ask me some questions now.” That conversation deserves its own post, but suffice it to say that I scrawled fascinating information into my pocket-sized spiral that day, from a woman well-qualified to give it.
I could have left Blue Hill right then, happy as a clam, but I wanted to see more of Blue Hill Bay. I drove back through the village and turned left at the library. Parker Point Road wound along the shore, past summer cottages built in the early 1900s. (I love the way New Englanders call these huge homes “cottages.”) My memory cells began to tingle.
“Costly summer homes, more or less architecturally fit for their surroundings, adorned or disfigured every point and curve of the inner bay… In the inner harbor boats of all types and sizes swung at their moorings.” Here Comes the Sun!
Past a golf course, over a small bridge, and then the reversing falls. The Reversing Falls! These are the falls Julie Lorraine attempts to navigate by herself in Here Comes the Sun! Julie’s dog gets caught in the current, the boat’s rudder-rope breaks, and she is headed for a perilous trip through churning rapids and very hard granite when Jim Trafford stops on the bridge above.
God! The boat almost turned turtle that time! She was through the fourth pool. Five to go before the falls. The falls!
I looked left and right, as if another person could come along and witness what I saw in memory, but I was alone.
One of the neat things about reading is the ability to enter into another world for awhile. In Blue Hill, that was turned around. I had only to look around me, and I entered into Emilie’s books. Inspired and elated, I drove slowly across the falls bridge and pulled into a driveway to turn around. Hung from a tree was an iron sign: “Arcady.” No! Seriously? Arcady?! Vance Tyler’s home in Love Came Laughing By?
“From the little I could see I know that your Arcady–I love the name–is a heavenly spot.”
If you know Emilie Loring’s books, give yourself a treat and visit Blue Hill, Maine some day. Esther Wood and the elder Slavens have died, and Stone House was sold to a family less keen on visitors, but the village and the Bay and Blue Hill itself remain, with spurs to memory that will make the books newly alive for you. When you go, be sure to stop in at the Holt House where Captain Robert K. Slaven, Jr. is an able, volunteer historian. One of Emilie’s dresses is displayed there, a gift from Esther Wood.