In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Surry by the Bay

Spectacular Landscape, Spirited People

Nineteenth Century

'Melissa Trask,' 1884
'Melissa Trask,' 1884
Maine Historical Society


Seafaring enterprises played a major role in Surry's economy during the nineteenth century. There were sea captains (Master Mariners) in the Coggins (four generations), Treworgy, Clark, Haskell and Torrey families. The older boys in almost every family went to sea as ordinary seamen and many of them died at sea.

The heyday of American shipping was from 1815 to 1859, and shipyards were a significant employer of Surry workmen in Surry village, East Surry and Newbury Neck. During those years, over 50 vessels were built in Surry, including 15 schooners, 5 barks and ten brigs. A steamboat even docked at Steamboat Wharf on Contention Cove.

Started in 1839, the village shipyard was located at the present day town landing. Frank Jellison, who served many years as a Surry selectman, was ten years old in 1873 when he observed the last ship, the Joshua Grindle, launched there on July 4 with a large community wide celebration.

Nothing is left today to show that a once busy shipyard operated at the end of Newbury Neck, but William Coggins, the shipyard owner, was an astute businessman as well as an outstanding ship builder. The yard goods sold at the store he operated at Newbury Neck came from Boston, New York and other ports in ships which Coggins owned.

The men who built the ships were paid only for the days that they worked. If one of the men needed a rowboat to go to his home at Morgan's Bay or East Blue Hill over a weekend, he was charged fifty cents for the same. Regardless of how proficient a young father was with an axe, adze or saw, he did not receive 75 cents a day (apprentices received fifty cents) per day until he was 21 years old. Each workman furnished his own tools, all of which were sold at the store of William Coggins.

The Civil War

With an 1860 population of 1319 (the highest it had ever been), Surry sent 122 men into the Civil War which significantly impacted the economy and lives of those elderly, wives, and children left behind. Leverett and Addie Morgan's son did not want to join the war effort, so they made a deal with another man that if he would fight in their son's place, they'd give him four or five acres of land. This property lies in what is now known as the Morgan Bay area of town.

Surry paid a town bounty of $22,948 to the Union cause.

Eighteen Surry men served in the First Maine Heavy Artillery. Of these, six were wounded, three were killed in action, and one died of disease. In total, 17 Surry men died in the Civil War. It was a terrible toll, one that had to have caused great sadness and grief among those remaining in Surry.


By 1870, Surry was producing goods for the clothing, building, and shipping industries, plus it housed a carding mill, tannery, stave mill, shingle mill, corn and barley gristmills. At the same time, many East Surry men, along with other Mainers, were migrating to California to use their foresting experience felling Redwoods.

The 1881 edition of Colby's Atlas – Hancock, County, Maine lists five Surry merchants and dealers selling dry and fancy goods, boots, crockery, paints, groceries, confectionery, etc. There were also two mining companies, the Blue Hill Bay Company and the East Surry Company.

Despite the town's many businesses however, a worldwide economic recession was descending on Surry and its robust economy was drawing to a close. Between 1860 and 1900, four shipyards closed, the mines failed, and the town's population dropped 25 percent.

Perhaps F.B. Foss, a native of Surry, summarized the town's economic downturn best in two verses of a poem he wrote for the 1903 Centennial:

Old Surry was blessed by nature/With her harbor, hills and steams/The streams that furnished water power/Before days we knew of steam.

But the mills that once run buzzing saws/Have now gone to decay/And the business men who built them/Have long since passed away.

Separate Neighborhoods

By the late nineteeth century, Surry was a “ meandering mix of isolated hinterlands and insulated peninsulas, populated by certain and defined neighborhoods of people whose purpose and visage within their exclusive districts distinguished them from the others.” (Anne Dolan) Due to its unusual geography, the town was unofficially split into four distinct regions: East Surry, Newbury Neck, Surry Village and the Toddy Pond area, each maintaining its own school houses, churches, and graveyards.

Main Street and bridge, Surry, 1912
Main Street and bridge, Surry, 1912
Surry Historical Society

Probably because Surry originated in East Surry, which was tightly tied to Ellsworth, East Surry residents tended to be affluent, and adventuresome, as they farmed, traveled and interacted with Ellsworth citizens. East Surry residents proudly capitalized the E in East.

Residing on Surry's peninsula, Newbury Neckers were mainly impoverished squatters surviving as farmers, hunters, fisherman.Theirs is partly a story of discrimination; they were often referred to as Otter's Tail Squatters living on No Man's Cape. They worked together as a tight-knit group.

Surry Villagers also tended to be farmers, but they included a smattering of blacksmiths, grocers, and miners. The village was the geographic center with a state road running through its center featuring a town hall, grange hall, two stores, churches, a blacksmith's shop, a schoolhouse, a boarding house and two wharves, where, for a time, loads of coal and pulp wood waited for the freighters to arrive.

Those settling on Toddy Pond eked out livings as farmers too, but they also hunted, fished and worked as stone-cutters. Toddy Pond itself was not a pond, but rather a river valley known as Eastern River until 1830 when dams were built to operate saw mills
Still, despite economic travails and some neighborhood tensions, residents seemed happy. In that year's Centennial Souvenir, a long-time resident of Toddy Pond, Dr. R.L. Grindle, wrote,

Surry Historical Society

...for the name of Surry awakens within me the tenderest feelings of which I am capable—the remembrance of childhood days and earliest years of my life. And it all seems to me like a dream or a fairy tale, when I think of myself as a small boy moving along among so many busy people, all actively engaged in the pursuits and business interests of the time, farming, ship-building, lumbering and shore fishing. And in Surry, as I remember it in those days, there was really much business activity with everything on a large scale: large farms and mowing fields, great piles of mussel-bed, with large barns and hay crops And...there were often three or four vessels on the stocks building at one time, employing fifty or seventy-five ship carpenters; with five or six woodcasters continually running to Boston, and even a larger number running to Rockland with kiln wood.

In that same Centennial Souvenir, Rev. J.D. McGraw wrote, “In the town of Surry we have not a single rum shop. In the town of Surry we have no drunken men that I know of.”

Prohibition Postcard, Surry, 1927
Prohibition Postcard, Surry, 1927
Surry Historical Society

No doubt Rev. McGraw would have been dismayed to learn that by 1918, the town of Surry's Carrying Place was providing the perfect place for rum runners. According to Cush Lane, a summer resident, when high tide fell around around 10:30 at night, there would be lobster boat lights flashing all along the Neck and the boats would come in, off-load liquor, and load it onto Old Packard touring cars. Cruising down the Neck minus their headlights, the drivers would secure their cargo, and slip away towards Bangor and Mount Desert Island.