CHARLIE PINGREE

Charlie Pingree – Photo by Bill Trevaskis

"being back on North Haven and working at Brown's and seeing all these people that I knew, I came to the realization that this was really my home." 

My name is Charlie Pingree. I'm 66 years old. I was born in 1952 in Boston, Massachusetts. I grew up north of Boston, in Hamilton, Massachusetts. But I came to North Haven summers, most every summer of my childhood. And I've lived on North Haven most of the last 45 years full time.

It really just felt like home to me. And I think, for me, a lot of that probably comes from the fact that I came from a divorced family. You know, I went to boarding school at thirteen. I don't think I ever really felt like I was part of a community, even the small community of a family. So, North Haven, after we'd been here for those first two years, started to feel like that and that was, you know, kind of irresistible.

 
 

My family connection to North Haven is through my paternal grandmother, Mary Weld Pingree. And her father was one of the very early summer people, rusticators, and he came to North Haven in the 1880s, had a house built at Iron Point in 1888. And my grandmother was born in 1901, Mary Weld, and she spent a good part of every summer of her life, all but one, I think she told me one of the World War II years the family didn't come, but they were here–she was here every other summer.

Leta Did your parents socialize with islanders?

Charlie No, my father and his mother, my grandmother, they were friendly and enjoyed the island people that they did business with, Franklin at the store and the guys that took care of the boats and those kinds of things. But it didn't really go much beyond that.

I mean, my father and my grandmother were the old Bostonian original rusticators here and it was like a servant class and a those-to-be-served class. And my grandmother was probably much more egalitarian than a lot of those that she grew up with. I know, I can remember hearing, I think it was Lew Haskell told me that the woman he worked for, who grew up just across the cove, summering on North Haven, she used to say, that Mary Pingree doesn't know the front door from the back door. And that's–kind of gives you an idea. It's really like a Downton Abbey kind of thing. You know? So that was her criticism of my grandmother.

My parents were divorced when I was young and North Haven was the place that I really spent time with my father. So, most every August he came and we came, my brother and I, and spent I think almost every summer of my conscious life anyway. 

Leta I’m curious, like, what were your summers on North Haven like as a kid?

Charlie Well, I can remember thinking that they were, like, the best ever. It was like action-packed, you know? This is probably when I'm ten, around ten years old, and I'm thinking every day is just–we're doing something fun. We're going fishing or we're playing golf or we're messing around in boats or sailing. Yeah, so it was beyond great. It was only like for four weeks that I was actually here.  

Leta Were you intimidated by the island kids?

Charlie I'm sure I was somewhat intimidated. I can remember all the guys, North Haven guys, used to sit on the wall down in front of Waterman's. And, yeah, it was a scary–it's like walking a gauntlet just to go up main street by all these guys. Where there smoking their cigarettes and, yeah. And I was just a puny little summer kid, you know?

Charlie (right) and two friends out on a boat ride – Courtesy of James Reynolds

Charlie and Chellie at Bank's Cove cabin

When I became a year-round resident everything kind of changed. I wasn't here just to enjoy myself for four or six weeks or whatever. Well and when I did move here I was with Chellie, so we were kind of like a family unit.

Well we were living in a cabin and had a garden and had jobs. So, it was different that way. It was 71’, 72’ that winter. I had been here most of that summer and thought, I'm just going to stay here and by then this “back to the land” thing had kind of started and the Whole Earth Catalog was out there. And so, it all seemed kind of perfect.

I think we were definitely an oddity. And here we were, we were living in a cabin, down at the shore, with no water or electricity. And we were young, Chellie was 16. 

I think after that second year, she went to College of the Atlantic. I went to vocational school, boat building school, in Washington County. And we were, I think, away about four years.

[When] we left and went to school, we thought we would live on the mainland. And we actually bought some land inland of Belfast and I built a house. Well, it was really most like a boat shop with an apartment above it. And we were going to live there. Hannah was born there and I built a handful of little boats there. But, so, we were only there maybe a year and a half.

Dicky Saltonstall–Dick Saltonstall hired me to finish a North Haven dingy of his. And anyway, so I came to finish that and being back on North Haven and working at Brown's and seeing all these people that I knew, I came to the realization that this was really my home. 

I think, I feel like I don’t really belong to either side, completely. I have lots of friends who are in the summer community and I don’t know–I’m sure they don’t view me like a native islander. We are definitely a different kind of–different from school teachers who came to work and then they came to love the place and stayed. I mean, we really had this–these roots here in this old way and yet here we were making this our year-round home. So, we never really fit in either one.

Leta Was it difficult to, kind of, bridge that gap between–

Charlie No, it didn't seem like it. And some of that I think–some of that was probably because those guys kind of knew where I came from. They knew I was from a summer family that lived down on the point and, this guy, he can't be too bad. He's living here and he's trying to do what we're doing. So, I think they probably didn't feel too threatened by me. And it was comfortable for me too, in that, kind of, the cards were all on the table. Wasn't like I could hide where I came from. 

Well maybe at that age. I wanted to be like everybody else. I can remember, I never wore shorts and I'm sure I wore boots every day of the summer back then because that's what North Haven guys did, right? And it wasn't until somewhere further along the line when I realized I can be myself here and I don't have to try and look like everybody else. Because I'm never going to be like them. Or be them, right?

And, you know, it probably was a good way to come into the community. You kind of keep your mouth shut, listen to people, and not try and make big splash or waves or tell people the right way to do something. So, yeah, and it wasn't until I became a little older, more mature that I put on my shorts and my sandals.

Leta I was curious what your family thought about you living on North Haven.

Charlie I'm pretty sure my father thought it was all a crazy waste of time. And I don't know what his expectation really was for me, but I'm sure it wasn't living in a cabin and driving a dump truck for Elliot Brown. So, he was never that encouraging. And my mother and my grandmother were very relaxed and seemed like open.

 

Charlie and Chellie with their three children

 

Well, we sailed. We had a Knockabout, which is really a Dark Harbor 17, and my dad raced it and we–my brother and I would sail with him and help him. And we had a–family had a dingy too and we raced that. 

I loved being in boats. I loved to sail. I mean, it was all kind of logical. I just didn't know that this was something that I could do, I suppose. I'd never really considered it. Because I had no experience building anything, you know? I grew up in a divorced household. Living in a suburban neighborhood with my mom. So, I didn't have any experience with the kind of stuff. 

Leta So how did you start doing it?

Charlie I think a friend of my mom’s had suggested that I liked boats, maybe I should think about going to this new boat building school. So, it really wasn't–it wasn't like one day I said, I gotta build boats. But, about two months into this boat building school and I was obsessed. 

Charlie in his boat shop

Well, I dropped out of boatbuilding school. It was actually moving too slowly and they were just making me do things that I didn't think I needed to do. So, another guy and I we built an outboard boat, about the size of a Banks Cove 22 actually, out of wood. It wasn't a very good boat, but–the design wasn't very good and it was all wood and it took us quite a while to sell it. But eventually we did.

Anyway, so that was the first boat. And then, I did a few small dory-sized boats and I built some rowboats for Camp Kieve and finished off a bunch of fiberglass North Haven Dingys and some fiberglass rowboats

Then, actually, I just did general woodworking. And Jon Emerson and I were partners for a while and we built some furniture, built some cabinets, and then somewhere along the line–I didn't have a boat of my own at that point. But I wanted a–needed a powerboat, so I built a wooden Banks Cove 22 and that just kind of rolled along or rolled into building more of them out of fiberglass. So, that’s kind of it evolved into being my own business.

A Banks Cove 22, designed and built by Charlie – Photo courtesy of Barney Hallowell

Charlie at Brown's Boatyard on North Haven

Well, I've been on a number of boards. I never, as a younger man, I don't think I was a very important board member. I didn't probably contribute that much. But, as I've gotten older I definitely feel like I’ve got more to share. My thing seems to be building and building affordable housing opportunities for island people, which obviously is a critical part of North Haven's vibrancy or its continued vibrancy is to have places for young people to live.

So, I was a founding member of our sustainable housing board. And I did get it off the ground by donating a corner of my property to build our initial house, which is now the Trevaskis-Naliboff house. And it's continued to be a focus of mine. 

Well it is a concern. Property values are crazy high and the work opportunities here don't make it possible for working islanders to buy land and the cost of building a house is atrocious today. Construction is incredibly high–expensive. So, something needs to change. There's lots of old houses in town and they do come on the market and some of them offer possibilities for islanders. But, a lot of them are in such terrible condition that you still spend a lot of money for a house and really for it to be sustainable you need to put a bunch of money into it and it's a daunting task.

So, we're trying to make it easier for people and we've done a few rentals, two rental units–or three rental units and two houses. We protect them with a deed covenant, keeping the house in the year-round community, eliminating the re-sale costs of the house, we guarantee that it will stay affordable.

And the future, hopefully, we will be building a subdivision of affordable housing with five houses on an eleven-acre lot on the South Shore Road. So, we’re just now working on those plans.

What's different about North Haven is this other part of our community, that's the summer people, that is kind of unusual. So, you get the remote, rural, pain-in-the-ass part of it and the strange social mix that you have here that makes it interesting and fun, really.

I know that that dichotomy between very wealthy people from away and those people that work for them here is kind of a strain, I think. And I think it makes islanders resentful in that a lot of it is that holdover from the old days where there was really this class distinction. But there's some of that I think continues and whether it's passed along from generation to generation or whether it's something heartfelt, I don't know. I mean, it doesn't seem like there are a lot of those old school summer people. I mean, we all know some that just piss people off and treat people badly. But there aren’t a lot. I think, for the most part, people are pretty decent.

Charlie sailing the Flying Fish, a trimaran he designed and built himself

 
 

Unless otherwise noted, photos courtesy of the Pingree family