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Great Cranberry Island's Preble House

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Preble House, Great Cranberry Island, 2011
Preble House, Great Cranberry Island, 2011

Item Contributed by
Great Cranberry Island Historical Society

Text by Phil Whitney, Bruce Komusin, Wini Smart, Michael Macfarlan, and Anne Grulich

Images from Great Cranberry Island Historical Society and Acadia National Park

For nearly 200 years the Preble House has stood watch on its hilltop above Preble Cove on Great Cranberry Island. Since 1827 it has been home to prominent and not-so-prominent Cranberry Islanders.

Preble House, Great Cranberry Island, ca. 1895
Preble House, Great Cranberry Island, ca. 1895

Item Contributed by
Great Cranberry Island Historical Society

The home was central to the lives of each of the 19th-century Hadlock, Preble, and Spurling family members who passed through its doors.

It sheltered the relics and lore of a century of their expeditions, exhibitions, shipwrecks, romances, rivalries, wealth, religion, and civic duties.

In addition, Preble House served as the backdrop for two books by Rachel Field: God's Pocket, and Hitty, Her First Hundred Years.

Preble House was built in 1827, seven years after Maine became a state. Native Americans still came and went on Great Cranberry Island, and schooners were built in the island's coves and sailed from its shores to the Arctic, Europe, and the West Indies.

In its first century, Preble House saw westward expansion, the gold rush, railroads, the Civil War, and industrialization alter the face of the nation and the island.

The Preble House, Great Cranberry Island, ca. 1935
The Preble House, Great Cranberry Island, ca. 1935

Item Contributed by
Acadia National Park

Captain Samuel Hadlock Jr. (1792-1839) built the house, but it took its name from its second owner, William Pitt Preble (1811-1905). Preble married Captain Hadlock's sister, helped raise nine children, and added to the home and property. Then he married Captain Hadlock's daughter.

Preble lived in the house until his death.

The long, low, attached barns in the 1895 photograph attest to the farming and shipbuilding enterprises of Preble's era. At one point, he raised the roof to house his boatbuilders on the third floor.

The small detached building shown in the 2011 image served as the Island's first Post Office as early as 1847.

After Preble's death, the house passed from kin to kin and was sometimes rented out. It fell into disrepair, as is evident in the 1935 photograph, but was restored in 1947. The home's more recent owners, the Marr and Macfarlan families, donated myriad artifacts, photographs, and documents from the house and property.

Captain Samuel Hadlock Jr.

In 1821, Captain Samuel Hadlock Jr. (1792- ca.1830) set sail with his brother, Epps; four Inuit from Grady Harbor, Southern Labrador; 10 sled dogs; and his collection of stuffed Arctic animals and exotic artifacts to tour New England, England, and Europe as a traveling showman.

Capt. Samuel Hadlock Jr., London, 1824
Capt. Samuel Hadlock Jr., London, 1824

Item Contributed by
Acadia National Park

Earlier that year, according to oral histories, his wife, Amah Richardson, died. The couple had three children whom Hadlock left behind when he set sail. The trip was a disastrous undertaking; none of the Inuit survived, all of the sled dogs died, and a fortune was made and lost.

In 1826, Hadlock returned to Great Cranberry Island with his new Prussian wife, Hanna Caroline Dorothea Russ (1803-1889), and their infant daughter Jane Matilda, but without his valuable artifacts. He and Samuel Spurling, his brother-in-law, then built the large house atop the hill on Great Cranberry Island that came to be known as the Preble House.

Two years later, Hadlock set sail for Greenland with a crew of 19 on the Minerva, a 75-gross-ton, 64-foot-long, two-masted schooner built in the Great Cranberry Island Pool. He never returned.

The Minerva was "frozen at the ice" and everyone perished. When Hadlock's widow learned of his fate, she left the Preble House and Great Cranberry Island. She married Andrew Haynes in Southwest Harbor in 1839 and had two more children.

Captain Hadlock's exploits were initially recounted in God's Pocket, a 1934 novel by Rachel Field. In recent decades, however, scholars have scrutinized documents that would not have been available to Field, and have developed a thought-provoking account of the reality behind Hadlock's journeys.

For further information:
"Beyond God's Pocket," the Islesford Historical Society's Occasional Paper No. 12, June 2003.

Chebacco, The Magazine of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society, Volume VII, 2005.