ABOVE The cottages on Auditorium Park, where camp meetings were held in Northport’s Bayside village, are named for the hometowns of the church societies that built them.
TEXT BY VIRGINIA M. WRIGHT
PHOTOGRAPHED BY BENJAMIN WILLIAMSON
A storybook village lies just east of Route 1, hidden behind a curtain of trees on a hill sweeping down to the sea. Here on the coastal edge of Northport, gingerbread cottages stand cheek by jowl on narrow streets, a Lilliputian library nestles in the shade of a weeping willow, and folks gather in the evenings on the village green to watch children race sailboats on Penobscot Bay.
Bayside is primarily, and has always been, a summer place. The mood is as mellow as an ocean breeze in July. Just a few people work here, among them the village agent who sees that potholes are patched and parks are mowed, the teenagers who lifeguard, and the 90-year-old professor emeritus, Robert Sherman, who mends his neighbors’ 150-year-old porches, though he doesn’t consider that work so much as an intellectual exercise. The seasonal police officer doesn’t have much to police beyond parking scofflaws and drivers exceeding the 15-mile-per-hour limit on Broadway, the main drag.
ABOVE 1) A lacy beauty on Broadway. 2) Except for their paint schemes, the cottages facing Ruggles Park are nearly identical. 3) Carved porch railings on another Broadway residence. 4) A resident donated Shady Grove Cottage to the Bayside Historical Preservation Society, which moved it from Griffin to George Street and restored it as a museum.
Lisa Webster strolled this neighborhood for the first time 30-odd years ago with her soon-to-be husband, Daniel, a descendant of one of the area’s original overseers and a Baysider since babyhood. The village is a 15-minute walk from one end to the other, but, as Lisa discovered, it’s best to allow two or three hours because on every other front porch sits a friend eager to chat. “That week there were garden parties and a poetry reading in the park,” Lisa recalls, “and every evening Daniel’s grandmother went down to the wharf to watch the sunset with her friends. It was idyllic, a throwback. It was the kind of place I thought only existed in books.”
Each subsequent year, the Websters spent more of their summer in Bayside, lured by the neighborhood’s compactness, which freed them and their three children from the play dates and car dependence that regimented their life in Pennsylvania. Today, Daniel is known as “Mr. Mayor” for stewarding the community website and newsletter, Lisa just finished a stint as yacht-club commodore, and the couple is summering in their third cottage, a 1940s place on Kellys Cove in what Baysiders call “the suburbs,” a half mile south of the village, but within the boundaries governed by the Northport Village Corporation.
ABOVE & BELOW Elsewhere, the houses vary in their Carpenter Gothic details. The earliest were probably white with green trim, which gave way to whimsical colors after Bayside transitioned from religious retreat to secular summer colony, says village historian Beverly Crofoot.
A 28-acre national historic district, the village comprises 158 buildings, most of them small, one-and-a-half-story Carpenter Gothic houses snugged so tightly one could lean out the window to borrow a cup of sugar from next door. The community’s roots stretch to 1848, when two dozen area Methodist churches acquired land on Penobscot Bay and established the Wesleyan Grove Camp Meeting, a week of prayer and sermons held every August. Within a few years, the meeting was attracting as many as 10,000 congregants, some of them day-trippers, others campers who overnighted in rows of white canvas tents.
By 1874, the campground was “on its way to becoming the most popular resort on the bay,” reported the Belfast Progressive Age. Families and church societies had erected cabins on 70 of the 20-by-50-foot tent platforms, and the Wesleyan Grove Association had just completed a wharf to accommodate steamships delivering excursionists, many of whom were more interested in swimming, fishing, and sailing than singing hymns. The association went on to lay out streets, dig wells, and build a sewerage system, which encouraged more cottage building and longer stays. By the turn of the century, the number of houses had more than doubled, a 64-room hotel had opened, and the summer colony had a new name: Bayside.
In 1915, the financially strained Methodists turned over jurisdiction of their grounds to the cottage owners’ newly formed Northport Village Corporation, the same quasi-independent authority that oversees Bayside today. As a self-governing village within the town of Northport, Bayside provides nearly all of its own municipal services, operating on a budget that an elected board of overseers presents to property owners at their annual town meeting in August.
The hotel burned down in 1919, and the last camp meeting was in 1935, but nearly all the campground cottages survive, albeit with modest alterations and additions. (The small lots limit expansion.) Similar to their famous Wesleyan Grove cousins on Martha’s Vineyard, they are narrow and tall, with board-and-batten siding, carved, cut-out, or patterned trim and balustrades, and lighthearted names. A bedroom or two is tucked under the steeply pitched projecting gable roof. Most houses have been updated with drywall or paneling, but few are insulated. Exterior paint schemes are playful, like Little Harbor’s pink-and-purple trim and Squeeze Inn’s bright-yellow siding and cornflower-blue accents.
ABOVE Robert Sherman, pictured at his cottage with his wife, Joy, helped build the brown-and-tan library, which is filled with donated books and operates on an honor system.
Robert, the porch mender, and Joy Sherman reserve their whimsy for the interior of their 1890s blue-and-white gambrel, Unity Too. Robert has adorned the walls, shelves, and stairway with antique signs, photographs, posters, toys, and other Americana that he finds at flea markets and yard sales. A retired University of Florida philosophy of education professor, he bought the cottage sight unseen from a colleague for $7,200 in 1973. He named it after his hometown, Unity, located 30 miles inland; the “too” is a nod to an older Unity cottage that faces the former camp-meeting site.
A skilled carpenter, Robert once wrote an academic paper arguing that carpentry is as much a cerebral effort as it is a physical one. He so enjoys doing repairs for neighbors and the village agent that Joy calls him “the rot man.” He helped build the library, which comprises two buildings the size of garden sheds connected by a miniature brick courtyard, and he worked on restoring the Bayside Historical Preservation Society’s house museum, Shady Grove, to its late-19th-century state.
His ingenious solution for stopping up the scores of holes that had been drilled for electrical wiring: wine corks. He put out a call to Baysiders, who happily drank up and donated. With the holes plugged and painted, the little green-and-white, shuttered cottage is, like all of Bayside, simple, sweet, and of another time.