The Lobster Coast
Colin Woodard
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Buy *The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier* online

The Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier
Colin Woodard
384 pages
April 2005
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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The Lobster Coast takes readers on a fascinating voyage of coastal Maine, its people, history, and its largest industry – lobsters. A native Mainer and journalist, Woodard begins by recounting his trip and events to Monhegan Island for “Trap Day,” a ritualistic day in November when all island lobstermen simultaneously bring their lobster traps to the wharf, signaling the start of lobster season.

Interweaving the events, people, and imagery of the rugged coastal settings (in a semi-Charles Kuralt style) mindsets the reader to the uniqueness of costal Mainers, rough, independent, entrepreneurial, with traditional values that guide their way of life and sense of survival.

The next two parts of the book are a brief chronology of the coastal regions cultural history. The first part (1500-1800) starts with an overview of native Indians (Wabanaki) and the struggle between England and France to control and colonize the coastal territory of what is now Maine for its abundant natural resource of codfish. Continuing through the migration of “Old Settlers” from Massachusetts, the Puritans, coastal Maine’s first permanent settlers of Scottish-Irish decent, to the early land barons Henry Knox and William Bingham, and eventually Maine’s statehood in 1820, it depicts the coastal geography and political and social demographics of a rugged land and people searching for their identity.

The second part (1800-Present) seems more interesting than the previous section, but this is due mainly to the timeframe. Starting around the Civil War, Woodard takes readers through the boom and bust years of coastal Maine, from the rise and decline of new industries, i.e. lumber, granite, limestone, and canneries, to tourism and vacationers called “Rusticators” who ranged from artists and writers like Thomas Doughty, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Cleveland Amory to the wealthy likes of John S. Kennedy, George Vanderbilt, and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. At this point, the focus shifts to Maine’s fishing industry, starting with an overview of Maine’s fishing fleet in 1860 and progressing through the lobster craze, when lobsters were in high demand as an exotic food (1850-1880), to the depletion of Maine’s profitable fish life and the collapse of Gulf Maine fishing.

The book concludes with a look at the Maine lobster - its history, habitat, and research - and accolades for lobstermen in their efforts to preserve the environment and natural resources which support their livelihood. Woodard also wonders about the future, if coastal Maine will retain its independence and traditions or succumb to the development sprawl making it just another suburban habitat.

In his second outing (he is also the author of Ocean’s End), Woodard meticulously details the political, geographical and social demographics, which tend to be drawn out at times. The fluent journalistic style and personal adventures, i.e. “Trap Day” and diving for lobsters, makes a nice break from the more rigid historical information. A fascinating insight of the fishing /lobster industry and a territory, told by a native Mainer who serves up a great book.

© 2005 by Wayne Adam for

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