The Story of Hog Island


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Since its founding, the Audubon Camp on Hog Island has instilled a love for nature and a commitment to conservation in its campers and has attracted some of the leading figures of the national conservation movement to the island as campers, instructors, photographers, and more. Explore stories from Hog Island's past and discover the impact the Audubon Camp has on those who visit it.

Native American History on Hog Island

The story of Hog Island begins long before the Audubon Camp in Maine was founded and well before European settlers began to explore and colonize the Maine coast. Hog Island was first inhabited by members of the Abenaki nation, which is part of the Wabanaki Confederacy. Although little is known about this period of Hog Island's past, shell middens on the island's beaches that still exist today provide evidence to this rich history. These middens contain layers of shells, bones, and artifacts that offer insights into daily life on Hog Island in this period, providing clues about the diet, hunting and gathering patterns, use of tools, and seasonal movements of the Abenaki nation. Today, rising sea levels endanger this important part of the historical record.

Agricultural History On Hog Island

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Hog Island was largely used for agricultural purposes. It is believed that the name "Hog" refers to the island's past use as pasture for livestock. In 1769, a man from Pembroke, Massachusetts, named Jacob Keen purchased land on Hog Island and lived there for some time. During this same period, commercial activity along the coast of Maine was growing, much of it concentrated in industries like shipbuilding and fishing. This expansion of local industry reached Hog Island as well; in the early 19th century, new buildings were constructed on the island, including the Queen Mary, which was initially a ship's chandlery that sold supplies and equipment to passing ships. The growth in economic activity on the coast and in Muscongus Bay brought new threats to Hog Island ecology, prominent among them the the risk of logging to supply the shipbuilding industry - which in the early 20th century would catch the attention of two determined women with strong commitments to conservation.

Hog Island As Summer Retreat

During the early 20th century, a couple from New York, Joseph H. Ambrose and Nelle Ambrose, owned and operated the Point Breeze Inn and Bungalows as a summer resort. Primarily aimed at wealthy tourists from bigger cities, the Point Breeze offered its visitors access to a rustic setting combined with comfort and convenience, such as daily delivery of newspapers from Boston and New York. Promotional literature for the Point Breeze stressed its natural beauty and the wilderness experience available to guests; one brochure proclaimed that the island "still retains its natural beauty, rocky shores, cliffs wooded to the water's edge, spruce, fir, and pine trees more than sixty years old, with trails and walks through them, having openings here and there to admit the sunlight." Guests could rent rooms in the main buildings or cottages scattered along the island; in addition to daytime activities like swimming, boating, and croquet, music and dancing were available at night. Many Point Breeze buildings were updated and repurposed for the Audubon Camp once it opened. For instance, the Point Breeze "Casino," which held its dance hall and music room, became the Queen Mary.

Mabel Loomis Todd and Millicent Todd Bingham Work to Save the Island

The camp on Hog Island would never have existed without the determined efforts of two women, a mother and daughter with a shared drive to ensure its preservation. In 1908, Mabel Loomis Todd and her husband, the astronomy professor David Todd, became part owners of Hog Island, where they established a summer vacation camp the following year and returned most summers thereafter. In 1919, Point Breeze closed, leaving Mabel Todd, David Todd, and their daughter, Millicent Todd Bingham, the only regular occupants of the island. During this period, both women continued to work for the island's preservation; according to her daughter, Todd "protected it in every way she could, from fires left by careless picnickers, from persons cutting masts or Christmas trees or digging for relics in the prehistoric kitchen-midden." In 1910, Todd formally banned hunting on her land to ensure the protection of its wildlife. After Mabel Loomis Todd's death in 1934, Bingham continued to ponder the island's long-term future. She wrote later, "I could never feel that I owned such a seemed, rather, the property of all those who cherished it and who wished to preserve it for others who would cherish it likewise in years to come...So I began to wonder how I could make such a dream come true." At around the same time, Joseph and Nelle Ambrose, the owners of the Point Breeze Inn and Bungalows, expressed interest in selling their land but agreed to wait while Millicent Todd Bingham sought a buyer who shared her commitment to the island's conservation. Throughout 1933 and 1934, Bingham met with many Maine-based organizations, natural history societies, and ornithological research groups but, given the Great Depression, struggled to find a buyer.

Audubon Camp Founding

In 1935, Millicent Todd Bingham was introduced to John Baker, then the new Executive Director of the National Association of Audubon Societies. The two quickly discovered that they shared complementary visions: Bingham's the conservation of Hog Island, Baker's the creation of a camp for teachers to learn about the study of nature. This was the beginning of the Audubon Camp in Maine: the recognition that educating teachers about the wonders of the natural world and the urgency of conservation would allow those educators to bring that lesson back into the classroom, ensuring that a new generation of American children would grow up exposed to both ideas. The two conservationists immediately began to make plans, Bingham to purchase the remaining land on the island with money from her mother's life insurance policy and help from her friend, James Todd, and Baker to begin fleshing out how the camp would work. Bingham and Baker agreed that she would lease the island to Audubon for a dollar a year, and the Todd Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1935. Baker chose Carl Buchheister, a Latin teacher in New York, as the first camp director, entrusting Buchheister with the responsibility of hiring the camp's first staff and developing its initial curriculum. To read Baker's letter offering Carl Buchheister the position of camp director and Buchheister's response, click here and here. To read Buchheister's account of the camp founding and its early years, click here.

Nature Activities and Conservation Education for Teachers

When the Audubon Camp in Maine opened in 1936, teachers were central to its mission; the founders of the camp shared a belief that teachers exposed to ideas about conservation would instill that value in their students. Developing a curriculum for the camp was an ongoing process and reflected changes in broader thinking about ecology and environmental education. In 1936, the camp offered courses in Bird Life, Plant Life, Insect Life, Marine Life, and Nature Activities. The first four areas of study reflected a relatively strict division of the natural world into types of species, while the fourth focused on practical teaching methods to guide teachers in bringing conservation education back to their classrooms. In the camp's early years, there was a focus on species identification in a field setting, which reflected an educational tradition drawn from museum and university research and teaching methods. Over time, as the audience of the camp broadened to include adults with a general interest in the environment as well as teachers, this perspective shifted to a greater emphasis on recognizing ecological systems and relationships and making connections between individual species and their broader environment. To explore materials used in the teaching program and the evolution of the curriculum, click here.

Women of Hog Island

Since its founding, women have played a crucial role in shaping the Audubon Camp in Maine. Women have taught at the camp since Dorothy Treat joined the faculty its first summer, and women have led from behind the scenes, working in partnership with camp directors to ensure that daily operations went smoothly. Harriet Buchheister, who came to the Audubon Camp in Maine beginning in its first summer, initiated this tradition, working closely with her husband Carl Buchheister to manage the camp, serving as the camp dietician and overseeing the kitchen and household management at the camp. Instructors' wives like Helen Cruickshank and Virginia Cadbury also performed important duties. Cruickshank took photographs documenting the camp, and Cadbury served as the camp secretary for many years while her husband Bart Cadbury worked as an instructor and director. By 1981, this kind of partnership become more formalized, with the couple L. Manlius Sargent and Mary Sargent serving as co-directors of the camp.

Audubon Camp in Maine and Scientific Research

The long tenure of so many faculty at the Audubon Camp in Maine fostered a deep local knowledge of the ecology and environment of Hog Island and coastal Maine. This local knowledge coupled with the research and scientific expertise of the faculty made the camp an incubator for sustained scientific inquiry. The most famous example of this today is Project Puffin, an effort begun in the 1970s by Stephen Kress to reintroduce puffins to Eastern Egg Rock while documenting and studying the process so that it could be replicated elsewhere if successful. But this effort rested on a long tradition of research, from Arthur Borror and Bartram Cadbury's published work on subtidal communities in Muscongus Bay, which was based on years of dredging results from camp field trips, to banding and monitoring of seabird populations, to Allan Cruickshank and Joseph Cadbury's annual censuses of birds on Hog Island. Student assistants also began to complete research projects during their time on Hog Island, instilling those same skills in the next generation of environmental scholars. 

Branching Out: Family Camps, Youth Camps, and Specialized Offerings

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Audubon Camp in Maine began to offer more specialized sessions, designed to reach a specific audience or teach a particular skill. In 1983, the first Youth Camp sessions were offered under Director Craig Newberger, with the intent to engage young people directly and immediately in conservation learning instead of reaching students through their educators. In 1998, the Audubon Camp in Maine added Family Camp sessions, making camp activities accessible to families who otherwise might not have been able to participate. That same year, instructor Eric Ylagan launched the first Naturalizing by Kayak session, designed to combine mobile conservation education with kayaking skills. These kinds of special sessions broadened the appeal of the Audubon Camp in Maine, reaching new audiences while remaining true to the ethic of hands-on environmental and conservation education that is at the heart of the Hog Island tradition.

Friends of Hog Island and Looking to the Future

In 1998, Friends of Hog Island was established to support the camp's work, promote continued engagement with the camp for past campers and staff, and raise needed funds. Although Friends of Hog Island was established in partnership with the National Audubon Society, daily operations of the camp were transferred to the Maine Audubon Society in 1999, creating new urgency for the Friends of Hog Island's mission. In June 2008, economic losses forced Maine Audubon to close the camp. In May 2010, Project Puffin/Seabird Restoration Project opened Hog Island with four sessions. In November 2010, campers agreed to form a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and adopt the name Friends of Hog Island. The new FOHI promised to provide Hog Island Audubon Camp with $50,000 a year, volunteers to staff sessions and work weeks, and a three-year business plan for the camp. Today, while ownership of the camp remains with the National Audubon Society and programs are operated through the Seabird Restoration Program, Friends of Hog Island continues its mission to support the camp with an annual donation and volunteers throughout the summer. To read the original Friends of Hog Island founding resolution, click here. Information on the nonprofit founding documents will be added at a later time.