Our Island Heritage
According to island lore, the name "Chebeague" evolved from Chebiscodego, the name used by members of the Wabanaki Confederacy, a First Nations and Native American confederation of five principal nations: the Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Abenaki, and Penobscot. The most accepted definition of the word Chebeague is "Island of Many Springs." Other sources state that Chebeague comes from the Abenaki words T’Cabie or Chebidisco, meaning cold spring, or Jabeque or Gaboag, meaning separated, which recognizes the connectedness of Great Chebeague Island and Little Chebeague Island. Great Chebeague Island was also known for a time as Recompense Island.
The early Native American presence on the island was not year-round. During the summer months, Native Americans arrived by canoe to fish and gather shellfish for the winter months.
Early settlers included Zachariah Chandler, who bought 650 acres in 1746. Other early settlers were Ambrose Hamilton and Deborah Soule Hamilton, who had fourteen children and seventy-two grandchildren, the majority of whom settled on Chebeague. The early white settlers cleared much of the island's land for farming. Lobsters were so plentiful that they were used as fertilizer for the fields.
Early commerce on the island developed around fishing, farming, and the construction of "stone sloops," ships that carried quarried granite down the eastern seaboard for the building of breakwaters, lighthouses, and set navigational markers.
By the late 19th century and throughout the early 20th century, tourists from Canada, Boston, and points south began to visit Maine in a phenomenon sometimes known as the "rusticators movement," where residents of New England's industrial cities sought to get back to nature for a few days or weeks. The tourists filled the cottages, rooming houses, and inns, such as the Chebeague Island Inn, that dotted the islands of Casco Bay. In 1900, Chebeague Island had five hotels. Tourists arrived on steamboats from Portland.
The Chebeague High School closed in 1956; the schoolhouse, built in 1871, still stands and serves as a museum for Great Chebeague's history. The strong sense of community is highlighted in its summer months, where children often participate in the many camps offered on the island. Popular are the farm camp, clown camp, British Soccer Camp, theatre camp, and many others sponsored by the island's recreation center. Among the most popular is the Chebeague Island Sailing School, created by the island's yacht club. In the acclaimed camp, students learn about small boat sailing while enjoying the great waters that Casco Bay offers.