Hilton Turner

STONINGTON – There are a lot of interesting families that live along the coast of Maine. How about one that started in Beals/Jonesport, went out to Mount Desert Rock, then to Bass Harbor over to Isle au Haut and finally settled in Stonington. Then one married a woman from the Harpswell area and that means he now has ties from the east’ard to the west’ard. The more I talked with lobster fisherman Hilton Turner the more interesting it got.

        Hilton explained that it was his mother’s side, the Alleys, that came from Beals/Jonesport and the family moved out to Mount Desert Rock where Vinal Beal became the lighthouse keeper. They also were the lighthouse keepers on Seguin Island for a while. His grandmother grew up on the Rock until she was 12 and Hilton said, “My grandmother really saw some crazy stuff on Mount Desert Rock…storms. I have an article somewhere about a guy who used to come out to visit. My great-grandfather and him went out and hauled his traps around the Rock, he had one of those Coast Guard peapods and as they were trying to get ashore the boat got upset. My grandfather got dragged up over the beach by a huge wave, but the other guy, he just disappeared and they never saw him again. Another time he said they had to go up in the lighthouse because they thought the house was going to be washed off.”

        After a while Hilton’s great-grandfather decided he did not want to remain a light keeper so he moved into Manset and became a lobster fisherman full-time and he did this for the rest of his life. His father was Charles Frank Turner and he was born in 1934. His great-great-grandfather had eight kids and only lived to be 43 years old. Hilton added, “He had a schooner and hauled freight. He took the first load of stone off from Crotch Island in his schooner ACCUMLATOR. He used to haul cargo to Boston or kiln wood to Rockland. One thing he used…down near the island there is a great big rock with an eyebolt in the end of it. He would tie the boat to that eyebolt and put the boat as close to shore as he could…go cut the trees and put them in the hold and then sail to Rockland. That was a lot of work. There was one time when he was in Boston, but he wanted to get down the Charles River before it froze up. Well, I don’t know what happened to his crew, I think they all got drunk and left him behind, so he hired two guys, and said ‘you help me get the sails set and get down the river as far as you can.’ They took a peapod with them and then he said ‘you guys can just row back ashore’ and the guys they did it. So, he got out of Boston by himself and sailed to Isle au Haut. There was a storm coming and he didn’t dare leave the wheel so he stayed right there at the wheel the whole trip. I don’t know if he slept at all or not. My son has the model of that boat because my great-grandfather’s brother was a model builder.”

        The schooner ACCUMULATOR, official number #321, was 58 tons, length 56.8 feet x beam 16.2 feet x draft 7.3 feet. She was built at Essex, Massachusetts in 1834 and sported a billet head and a square stern. Her known owners were: Benjamin Coombs, William Witherle, Jotham S. Gardner, William H. Witherle, Benjamin D. Gay, and George H. Webb, Castine, Maine, 1850. George A. Turner, sole, Isle au Haut, Maine, 1890. Her known masters were: John Collins, 1850; Ezra Turner (1876); Ezra Turner 2nd (1878); Ezra Turner (1878) and George A. Turner, 1890. Hailed from Deer Isle, ME (Pre-list; 1869-1875); Isle au Haut, ME (1876-1878); Rockland, ME (1879-1882); Deer Isle, ME (1883; 1884); Isle au Haut, ME (1885+). It was reported by Robert Applebee that she was lost in a collision with the British schooner VADA, Deer Isle Thorofare, on 24 October 1891. The Republican Journal of 29 October 1891 reported, “The schooner VADO, of and for St. John’s, NB, passing through the harbor at Green’s Landing Saturday morning, collided with and dismasted the schooner ACCUMULATOR of Isle au Haut, then ran into and sunk the schooner CARRIE A. PITTMAN of Castine, loaded with paving stones. She then drifted into and broke the jibboom of the schooner WILLIE of Deer Isle.” In checking the “List of Merchant Vessels” she is last listed as registered in 1910, but there is no reference as to her fate.

        Ezra would have been Hilton’s great-great grandfather, Charles H., is great-grandfather and Harold was his grandfather. Hilton added, “I don’t think my great-great-grandfather lobstered, but my grandfather Charles did and his son, my grandfather, he was a better carpenter than he was a fisherman and of course my father lobstered as long as he could. My great-grandfather Charles had the JEANNETTE F., which Harold Gower built (hull #45), in ’49. My grandfather also had the SACHEM, which had a sprayhood and a model A engine. That was his summer boat. He’d haul in that in the summertime and then he had a bigger boat in the wintertime.”

        In searching some records I found the Capt. Charles H. Turner ordered another JEANETTE F., a 35’ foot lobster boat, from Riley Beal of Beals Island in 1951 and Robert W. Turner, Jr. had the 27-foot REBECCA ROSE built in 1967.

        Hilton said, “My father, he had to go to high school up here because out on the island (Isle au Haut) they only had up to 8th grade. He lived out there until I was two years old. I was sick and my mother just said, ‘you know we need to be closer to the hospitals’ so we moved up here, but my grandparents stayed down there until they were in their 70s. I would spend summers, sometimes I’d go down there Monday morning and I wouldn’t come home until Friday night or Saturday morning. I spent a lot of time down there.”

        When asked if he remembered Phil Alley of Jonesport, who summered out on the island, Hilton said, “Of course. I think he moved up here in the ‘40s because his sister married Gordon Chapin and he lived on Isle au Haut. I don’t know how they ever met. Phil had your boat (CINDY JEN), I remember when that boat was new, BERNADINE & GERALDINE. I’d say he probably owned it 10 years. He and Reggie (Alley of Jonesport) were friends and neighbors. His wife died and he went back to Jonesport and Reggie wanted the boat. Reggie lobstered with it some and Phil would go with him. I remember that boat was all varnished inside the cabin and the transom was all varnished. That boat doesn’t even look the same to me, the trunk house looks right but the proportion of the cabin are different, it makes it deceiving.”

        “Every once in a while,” continued Hilton, “I see a picture of the boat my great-grandfather had, called DIRIGO. That boat was tied up down to the Atlantic Avenue dock, must have been in the ‘40s, because he had the mail contract for a while back in the ’30s when they walked back and forth from Isle au Haut. They walked 14 times in February and that is a long walk, six miles. He said it felt like it was uphill both ways. There was Noyce McDonald. He would have been a little younger than my great-grandfather and he walked with him some. There was four or five of them that walked out. Noyce’s wife made him take a rowboat with them, well, they’d get just out of town and they ditched the rowboat. The ice was solid enough, but he said you would hear it creaking some.”

        Getting back to DIRIGO, Hilton added, “That boat was rigged so you could haul on both sides and I think she was built over in Thomaston, I believe Newbert & Wallace. There were some Beals Island boats out on the Island. Harold Chapin had a Ralph Stanley boat, his last boat. That was a nice boat. Billy Barter had one of Osmond’s boats then another guy Greg Runge, he had a Gower boat (SHOCK WAVE, Hull #97, which was originally built for Mike Wilson in 1965). He had one of the 38s kind of like the one that Andy Gove had. Now that first boat of mine was 36 by about 10½. It wasn’t a real wide boat, but real narrow in the stern and real narrow forward and she was built down because Gramp always said, ‘I don’t want a boat with a five-gallon bucket and I think I am sinking.’ That boat is over the shipyard (Billings Diesel & Marine), PAJAMA MAN (x-JEANETTE F. named for Hilton’s great- grandmother), and you’d never know it is the same boat.”

        Hilton started fishing in 1980 and explained, “I’d been out of school for a while and I went stern for several people, I went with Jon Eaton over in Brooklin for a couple years. His boat was SHEILA MARIE, a Stanley (Lyford). I went with my uncle Dick Turner some and I went with my father some. He had AHAB, a Bruno, and he went gill-netting in that. Then he had the boat I have now built (now RHONDA JEAN, named for his Hilton’s wife), originally, a 34 Duffy, which will be 42 next month. I just had it down to Oceanville Boat putting a new platform in it. Wade Dow (Bridges Point Boat Yard) built the boat originally. I replaced the top, which Eric Dow did one winter.”

        “When Dad was a kid his grandfather found a row boat,” said Hilton, “like 14-foot long. They weren’t real wide, they were a nice boat. Well, he found one that the stern was rotten in, the rest of the boat was in pretty good shape. His grandfather bought that boat for $5, took it home and cut her off 6 inches and put a stern in it for him. My father took that boat and he rowed it for two summers and hauled his traps and caught flounders. Back then you could catch a lot of flounders and you could bring them into town and there was a store by the Co-op II and they’d buy them, fresh flounder. Well, he got money enough so he sent to Sears to get an outboard. Every day at lunchtime the kids would go down to the post office, and one day it showed up. They grabbed that outboard went up to the school, they hooked it to the back of a chair and he said they got some gasoline at the store on the way and before the day was over they had the thing running sitting in the school house.”

        York Island is just to the east of Isle au Haut, and makes up a little tiny bay. Hilton said they even had a grocery store on there one time because they’d have people come down and fish and stay there because they couldn’t commute as well back to Stonington. “I almost think that is what Phil did when he first came up,” explained Hilton. “They camped out and fished and they caught a lot of herring. He fished with Gordon and Carroll Chapin. Gordon is married to Phil’s sister. Billy Barter’s wife is Bernadine, Phil’s daughter.”

        When asked where he fishes, Hilton said, “I fish Isle au Haut and in towards town too, I don’t come in too close but down through Merchant’s Row.”

        Isle au Haut has changed a lot over the years, as it is mostly a summer colony today. Hilton said, “There is 20-some houses and they all have their own dock, they used to have their own post office even. There are three guys that work all summer long, five days a week, tending them. Of course, the Maine Coast Mission goes out there quite often. There are about 50, who spend winters out there, but you know something, I can only count ten that actually didn’t come from somewhere else. I think when I was a kid there was about that many people, but they all had been there. Linda Greenlaw was a summer kid, but I never met Linda Greenlaw until I was probably in 8th grade. I knew her sister (Rhonda) who was just a whisker older than her. Linda’s grandmother of course came from the Island.

        “Now, Isle au Haut is part of Knox County, do you know why that came to be?” asked Hilton, “Well, back years ago when the steamers were running you could get on the steamer in Rockland and go to Isle au Haut because they had a dock and they had a resort. People would come in on the steamer and up over the hill and that was where they would stay. It got hard to do the town business, my great-grandfather was a selectman for years, and he’d have to come up here, get in the vehicle, go up get on the barge on Deer Isle, and go across. It would be more than a one day thing. When they switched to Knox County you could get on the steamer go to Rockland, do your business and catch one back that night. That is why it came to be Knox County, not Hancock.”

        Hilton not only fished for lobsters, he also went scalloping, saying, “I went with John Eaton, and George Boyce one winter. I sold to my lobsters at Caldwell’s. There were the two brothers and they moved up here in the 40s and they bought the business. They were from Hancock. They bought lobsters down there for a while, 40 years anyway. One of their sons, Tom, took it over and he bought until he didn’t want to do it anymore. Their grandfather had the first lobster pound in United States. They had one on the Stonington side and the one on the Moose Island causeway. They bought the whole outfit from Gene Tessey. He was an Italian that lived over here for a number of years and all of a sudden decided he wanted to go back to Italy. He sold out and went back to Italy and that was it, never heard of him again. The Caldwell’s were good. Back then if you needed something, I could go in there and order it and they’d load it in the truck and it would be sitting right in the dooryard. You’d pay it back over the summer when you brought your catch in.”

        “Mentioning about herring,” said Hilton, “they say there’s no fish around. We have sailed through more herring this summer in these bays then in years. I hauled a trap this summer and it came up and it looked like a snowstorm was on it.  What the heck was this? Well, it was spawn and the traps were full of herring they were stuck in heads. I’ve never, ever seen that before and you know what? That trap wouldn’t catch a lobster for about two more hauls, lobsters do not like herring spawn. I thought lobsters were scavengers that would eat anything but they don’t.”

        Hilton switched back to the family, adding, “Did I tell you that Beals Lobster in Southwest, that was my great- great-uncle that started that, Harvard Beal. He was one of the Beals that came up from Beals Island. There was 10 of them and my great-great aunt was Ralph Ellis’ wife. I mean there was quite a fleet from Beals Island. One old guy said to another fellow that lived here, ‘We came up here from down Beals Island’ and he said, ‘Yeah you did, you come up here and you set your traps and then every time you haul them you move a trap berth closer to the shore until you finally got in town.’

        “Back when my mother and father were first married,” continued Hilton, “my mother of course was from Southwest Harbor and her father had a construction company (Billings & Hamlin). They had some good clients, the Rockefeller’s kept them going for quite a few years. Well, Doug Gott bought my grandfather out.”

        If you care about the industry you get involved with organizations that try to protect it. Hilton is the president of the Downeast Lobstermen’s Association, a position he has held for seven years. He was also chairman of the lobster council for ten years and is still the chairman of the Stonington Harbor Committee, which he has done for 35 years.

                Hilton has two sons, Andrew knew that fishing was not for him and he went west to Denver, Colorado and works in the financial world. His oldest son Ethan took his father’s path and operates CAPTAIN JACK, an MDI 37,