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Higgins Beach
Location in the state of Maine
Coordinates: 43°34′N 70°17′W / 43.567°N 70.283°W / 43.567; -70.283
Country United States
State Maine
Elevation 20 ft (6.1 m)
Time zone EST (UTC-5)
 - Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)

Higgins Beach is a small beach located in the State of Maine in the United States. It is located in the town of Scarborough in Cumberland County. The beach is North of Prouts Neck and Old Orchard beach, and South of Crescent Beach State Park.

This northeast-southwest trending beach measures approximately .62 miles (1 km) and is approximately 7 miles (11 km) South of Portland and 110 miles (177 km) North of Boston. It lies between bedrocks at the southwest, sometimes known as Thunder Cove, and the Spurwink river on the northeastern end. This small seaside community has about 300 cottages. In addition, the community has two inns (The Breakers and The Higgins Beach Inn), which are open during the summer season.

Higgins Beach is most known for four things: good surf for surfers, striper fishing, the beach's quaintness, and the shipwreck embedded in the beach's sands.

This is a public beach, but with very little public parking, its use is mostly restricted to local residents. Higgins Beach has managed to retain its small-town characteristics, something that larger beaches in the area such as Old Orchard have lost in return for commercialization and tourism. This beach, by contrast, survives on the small number of visitors who have returned year after year for decades. Some of its current residents began coming to Higgins Beach in this way.

Contents

History

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General History

Higgins Farm in 1910

One of Scarborough’s first sub-divisions in 1897, a boom in construction took place at Higgins Beach between 1900 and 1910. Most of the early cottages were built by businessmen or professionals, many from Portland, Westbrook, and the Lewiston-Auburn area. Families came for the season and the men would commute to the beach on weekends via the inter-urban trolley lines.

Through much of the life of Higgins Beach, its main purpose was as a summer destination for people who lived elsewhere. This translated into most dwellings being summer cottages with no insulation for winter. A good number of those properties were rented out each summer for vacationers looking to enjoy the beach during its best months.

A different trend began to occur at Higgins Beach throughout the 1990s and 2000s where out-of-staters and retirees began to buy up Higgins Beach property and either renovate or completely rebuild houses to accommodate permanent year-around living. This has altered Higgins Beach into somewhat more of a residential community, though rental properties still exist. Local surfers often rent available properties in the winter months.

Bear's General Store

Located half way between Spurwink Road and the beach on Ocean Avenue, it served various confections, drinks, and snack foods. It also had a kitchen that served fast-food lunches such as burgers, hot dogs, and lobster rolls. It closed in the early 2000s and was re-opened and renamed 'The Higgins Beach General Store' only to close for good a couple of years later.

Capt. Albin Angell: The Higgins Beach Lobsterman

Higgins Beach has been called home by many interesting people, but the memory of Al Angell has lived on, even now, some forty years after his death. He has been called a symbol for Higgins Beach and has become somewhat of a folk hero.

Albus R. Angell was born July 13, 1870 on Angell Avenue in South Portland. The street was named for his father who was one of the first to settle there. (It is off Shore Road near the Cape Elizabeth line.) Al was educated in local schools and as a young man held a variety of jobs. For a short time he was the assistant lighthouse keeper at Spring Point Light in South Portland. He worked for the Cumberland County Power and Light Company and he helped build the concrete foundations for gun placements at Fort Williams, and Fort Preble. He even worked as a motorman for the local trolley line. It should be noted that he was a charter member of the Willard Hose Co. in South Portland. (This was an era when local fire departments were being established.)

In 1912 at the age of 42 he answered the call of the sea and followed in the footsteps of his father and brother deciding to make a living as a fisherman. He bought a small cottage on Vesper Street, which he named "Havachat". His trap line extended from the mouth of the Spurwink River to Richmond Island. In his prime he tended 100 traps that extended some 8 miles (13 km). He rowed his dory and pulled his traps by hand without the aid of a mechanical winch or motor of any kind. He had a ready market for his catch from the summer visitors to this community. He lived at the beach year round, fishing from April to December. He spent the rest of the year building and repairing traps.

Al had a boat house on the marsh near Kent Street and for many years this was the only structure in that area. It has been remodeled into a cottage and is surrounded by other cottages giving no notice of its former duty. The creek in that area is commonly known as Angell's Creek.

He was photographed by Eastern Illustrating, and the photos produced as post cards. These photos are the most common of him and show up quite regularly at flea markets and antique paper shows.

Shortly before his death he was featured in an article by the Portland Newspapers. In that article he stated that the largest lobster he had ever caught weighed 19 pounds and he had sold it for $3.

Al Angell had lived at Higgins Beach for forty years, he was laid to rest in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, South Portland.

Higgins Beach Bird Sanctuary

Located at the far end of the beach next to the Spurwink river, this fenced-off area of the beach exists to protect a piping plover nesting area (an endangered species of bird).

Higgins Beach Clubhouse

The main meeting place for the community. It serves various functions such as for community meals, poker night's, doughnut breakfasts, and entertainment functions.

Higgins Beach Grill

The first store at the beach was called the Higgins Beach Grill. Located on the corner of Greenwood and Ocean Avenue, it included a bowling alley, barber shop, store, and restaurant. It burned in 1902.

Higgins Beach Inn

After the death of Hiram Higgins in 1892 his three children capitalized on their inheritance by selling or developing the property now known as Higgins Beach. Brothers Walter and Edward Higgins both built new homes on Ocean Avenue. Edward's was an eight room house on the corner of Greenwood that would become the Higgins Beach Inn.

These brothers had learned from an early age that there was an opportunity to make money from people who liked to come to the beach and they were pleased to have the business. Their development plans had been slow due to the lack of a good water supply, In time the water problems were resolved and more and more people came to the growing summer colony.

Early in this century there was only one hotel at the beach, the Lawson House on Pearl Street (known today as the Oceanside Apartments), but years ago it was a rooming house and had a dining room open to the public. When the Lawson House was full it was common practice for people with cottages to rent rooms, and Ed Higgins found a steady source of income from accommodating people in his home. As time passed Ed saw the potential for a second hotel at the beach. In the winter of 1922/23 he built The Higgins Inn. The hotel structure was actually an addition to his home, which was initially built in 1903. The design of the hotel was an extension of the architectural style of the house. The hotel had 30 guest rooms and the dining room seated eighty people. The rooms were furnished with wool blankets that had "Higgins Inn" woven into the fabric. A few of these blankets survive as treasured mementos. Ed acted as innkeeper and his wife Ora did the cooking.

Ed and Ora continued to operate the hotel through the war years finally selling to Maurice Warner in 1945. Retirement did not suit Ed and Ora for they went on the establish the Conora Restaurant, on Ocean Avenue. Maurice Warner operated the hotel for ten years, through the summer season of 1954. The only significant aspect of his tenure was that when he sold the property he retained the building next door which was used as helps quarters.

For the period 1955 to 1964, the owners were Kenneth and Dorothy Laughton. In 1957 Kenneth and Dorothy purchased The Breakers on Bayview Avenue as an annex. They operated both properties serving all the meals at the Inn. On an average night they served dinner to 100 people. After the season of 1964 they sold the Inn to concentrate all their efforts at The Breakers. John Derry purchased the hotel and operated it for three seasons. It was during his tenure that liquor was first served. John M. "Jack" Harrison purchased the Inn in 1968 and with his wife Carlene operated the business for twenty eight seasons, longer than any of their predecessors. They changed the name from Higgins Inn to Higgins Beach Inn, and had a sprinkler system installed. In 1997 the Harrisons sold to Bob Westburg and Diane Garofalo. The first year of their ownership seemed like a rebirth at the Inn. Bob and Diane have invested time, money and their talent to restore the property.

Higgins Beach Market

Located at the intersection of Spurwink Rd and Ocean Avenue, this small market primarily serves fresh fruits & vegetables to residents of Higgins Beach.

Higgins Homestead

In the eighteenth-century, a large farmhouse stood at the end of Pearl Street extension.

Howard W. Middleton Shipwreck

The Howard W. Middleton wrecked at Higgins Beach on August 11, 1897. A coastal schooner, the Middleton was behind schedule and was sailing at night. In dense fog, the vessel, bound for Portland with a load of coal, strayed off course and struck a ledge in the mouth of the Spurwink River. The fog was so thick that the crew didn’t realize there was a community at Higgins Beach and went ashore at Cape Elizabeth. The Next day the fog lifted and it was discovered that the ledge had ripped a hole in the vessel below the waterline.

Tug boats came from Portland and tried in vain to pull the Middleton off. A dew days later, filled with water, the keel broke with the action of the tides, and the vessel was declared a total loss. The Middleton was stripped for salvage, and most of the coal was saved. It has been said that the legitimate salvage crew worked by day and a clandestine group worked by night. The group of locals put up enough coal to last three winters. In September of that year, a storm drove the Middleton further inland. The remains are still visible on the beach near the bank of the Spurwink River.

As told by Emma Bray David (December, 1967):

"The old wreck down by the river has been a part of the scenery here at Higgins Beach so long that most folks just take it for granted. But there are some of us who can remember when it wasn't there and when it came. Way back in 1897, August 11, that was a bad, bad night-foggy! It was so thick it looked as if the space between earth and sky was stuffed with gray-white cotton.

"A bunch of "us kids" rode over to Bowery Beach on our bicycles to a square dance that evening. It was clear when we started; but when the dance was over and we set out for home, it was so foggy we were afraid of running into each other on the river coming down Meeting House Hill and across Spurwink. However, we made it without a mishap. About two o'clock my mother was awakened by loud curdling noises out towards the water, but she could see nothing. When morning came and the fog cleared, we saw a three-masted schooner stationed well inshore near the first point in the river. It was a beautiful ship-majestic-setting there as if at anchor. She didn't look at all like a wreck with a big hole in her hull.

"It was the Howard W. Middleton, strongly built of white oak and yellow pine in 1882 at Camden, New Jersey-a really noble ship. It had left Philadelphia on August 2 with 894 tons of coal for Peter Nickerson and Company in Portland. Captain Shaw was trying to make Richmond Island Harbor inside the breakwater to lay over till morning. Instead, he ran onto that rock near the mouth of the Spurwink. On our geodetic map that rock is charted simply as "obstruction" and it is only about 28 feet (8.5 m) deep there. If you stand at the foot of Champion Street at a very low tide, you may see the top of the rock beneath a breaker. You can always see a breaker there a couple of hours before and after dead low water.

"Well, there was lots of excitement! The crew came ashore and talked with the residents. Tugs from Portland Harbor plied the water for days taking off coal. She had soft coal in her lower hold and hard coal between decks. On August 12th, she was declared a total loss and was placed in the hands of the underwriters. People began to pick up coal on the beach by the buckets and barrels. Mrs. Kenney remembers that her father drove over from Westbrook with a cart and got two tons of coal for winter.

"People were eager for souvenirs, of course, and many of us remember when some big boys stole the ship's bell. But the Captain or the Sheriff made them return it to the Captain.

"There she stayed on the rocks, pretty as a picture (although she was really broken in two), all the rest of August and was there when we left in September. Sometime that following winter a storm broke her up and washed her ashore where she now lies. There is a piece of it in the river, too, which can be seen at low tide. There are always changes around the old wreck. Years ago there was quite a big swimming pool around the ocean end of it with water as deep as eight feet near the boat. A twelve year old boy was drowned there one summer.

"Some years the ribs of the hull stand up head high above the beach and perhaps the next year they will be buried in the sand. For years we picked up beautiful iridescent pieces of coal showing red, green, and blue; and even now you may find a lone piece from the old Howard W. Middleton. A few people have a picture of this boat on paper weights. These pictures were taken from the beach and showed this proud, three-masted vessel in her last days of beauty.

"P.S. In talking with several people, I found that my memory did not agree with theirs. I had the date wrong and I couldn 't think of the name, but I did remember the number of tons of coal. However all the facts herein have been verified by the old newspaper records of August 11 and 12, 1897."

Len Libby's Candy Store

Located minutes from Higgins Beach on Spurwink Road, it served homemade candies to residents for years until its closure in the 1990s. Len Libby was born at Prouts Neck. He was the son of the proprietor of the West Point Hotel. His family moved to Portland when he was twelve. At thirteen, Len began his candy making career. He learned the trade by working for several different firms, but had to quit for health reasons. Around this time, he bought a one hundred, thirty-five acre farm at Spurwink and set out the be a market gardener. Shortly after, he re-entered the candy-making trade, building his candy shop across from his residence.

Oceanside Hotel

Built in 1897, the Oceanside was the first hotel at Higgins Beach. Located on Pearl Street, it was originally called the Lawson House, after the proprietor. It stands today as an apartment house.

Silver Sands Hotel

The Silver Sands was built as a summer cottage by Dr. Loring S. Lombard, c. 1907. Originally much smaller, it evolved into a summer hotel, renting rooms and serving meals. Eventually it was converted to efficiency units. There were six individual cottages also on the property.

The Blizzard of 1978 along with another Nor'easter less than a month earlier ultimately forced the demolition of this Higgins Beach landmark. Located at the bottom of Ashton Street, this hotel was located right on the water's edge with very little defense against storm surge. The water destroyed the sea wall protecting the hotel and washed out the bottom floor of the hotel. After 70 years in business, it had to be ripped down. A vacant lot now sits where the Silver Sands Hotel once stood.

The Breakers Inn

The Breakers was built on Bayview Avenue in 1900 by Portland businessman Frank P. Cummings as a summer home in the first decade of the 1900s. In the early 1930’s, it became a guest house and has accommodated summer visitors at Higgins Beach ever since. The porches were enclosed in the 1940’s, and major additions were made in 1964 and 1985. The Breakers Inn has been operated by the Laughton family since 1956. There are 16 guest rooms, each with a private bath.

The Conora Restaurant

The Conora Restaurant on Ocean Avenue was built by Ed Higgins as a retirement business after he sold Higgins Inn. The name was derived from a combination of the first names of his daughter Constance, and his wife Ora. His son-in-law, Lawrence Harmon, eventually ran the business. The Conora was well known for its fried clams.

The Pavilion

The replacement for the Grill was called the Pavilion. It was built the following year in the same location, and served as general store, soda fountain, and bowling alley. It was torn down in 1960. It was located at the corner of Ocean Ave. and Greenwood.

References

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