Historic Highlight

There's No Electricity, Plumbing, or Central Heating Here

A Revolutionary War vet’s solitary Federal offers a window into an abandoned island’s past.

Tubbs-Reed House on Swan Island
TEXT & PHOTOGRAPH BY JULIE SENK

The slip of an island in the Kennebec River between Richmond and Dresden has had many names. Early Abenaki inhabitants may have called it Swango, or Sowangen, meaning “island of eagles,” a moniker that was likely shortened to Swan Island by colonists in the 1700s. Their small farming and fishing community was incorporated as the Town of Perkins in 1847, then nearly abandoned in the early 1900s, when changes in industry drove away residents in search of jobs. Now, the island is maintained by the state as the Steve Powell Wildlife Management Area, a name that belies a history still visible in the remaining cemeteries, stone foundations, and vacant houses scattered among the trees.

One of the earliest residences still standing is the circa 1800 Tubbs-Reed House at the island’s northern tip. The hipped-roof Federal was constructed by Revolutionary War vet Major Samuel Tubbs at the onset of a prosperous period when industries like ice cutting, shipbuilding, and lumbering were taking hold. A peek through one of the replacement 12-over-12 windows reveals modest Federal touches, such as delicately molded fireplace mantels, as well as furnishings that belonged to the Reed family, who purchased the property in the 1830s. Although the Reeds lived there until the early 1900s, the home never received electricity, plumbing, or central heating. It was eventually rehabbed by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which began purchasing island parcels in the mid- 1900s. Today, visitors can walk seven miles of trails south of Tubbs-Reed, taking in a place the department now bills as “An Island in Time.”

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