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Chip Black: Building HHLT from the Ground up

One in a series of profiles of people who played a key role in the first 35 years of the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust.

Meaghan Gonsior photo

You can see Chip Black’s handiwork throughout the 35-year history of the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust (HHLT). In fact, you could say that the long-time member of the Board of Trustees helped build the organization – and when it comes to the HHLT’s Harpswell Neck Road headquarters, you’d be literally correct.

Black was there at the beginning. The Orr’s Island contractor said he initially joined the Harpswell Historical Society in the late 1970s “because I always wanted to know about where I came from.” He was a member of the society in 1983 when Walter and Helen Norton purchased the Tarr-Eaton House in Harpswell Center, and then he jumped to the board of the Harpswell Heritage Trust, which was formed to help manage the property. “Land trusts weren’t as numerous back then as they are now,” Black said. “It showed great foresight on the part of the Nortons and others to get the ball rolling.”

Over the intervening decades, Black watched his hometown change and grow. He remained on the Board of Trustees as the Harpswell Heritage Trust also changed and grew and, in 2001, became the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust. In 2006, the land trust received a gift from Bill and Jomay Barron of a 1.5-acre lot in North Harpswell as a location for an office and community space. In 2006, Black left the board to build the attractive new office building.

Ralph Harvey Black, now 73, has been known as “Chip” from childhood because “I didn’t want to be called ‘junior.’“ He came from a long line of Blacks based initially on Bailey Island and later on Orr’s. “Everyone was in the fishing business. My family migrated from Kittery to Bailey Island, where they were pushed off to Orr’s Island because they were squatters of swarthy complexion and that didn’t please the local pastor’s wife.”

Black attended grade schools on the islands and graduated from Brunswick High in 1962. He attended college in Presque Isle but initially flunked out. “I thought I wanted to be a school teacher, but it turned out I didn’t really like school,” he recalled.

Black came back to Harpswell, became a building contractor and part-time lobsterman and served on various town committees. He also owned and operated the Bailey Island Motel for 22 years. In the early days of HHLT, trustees often met at the motel or in board members’ homes.

Some residents weren’t initially sold on the land trust concept, Black remembers. “Some people were aware that preserved land came off the tax rolls, and they weren’t too pleased to see property go to non-taxable status,” he said. But he added that “public access was always important to people.”

HHLT Executive Director Reed Coles, a classmate of Chip at Brunswick High School, noted that “Chip’s dedication and persistence was a major reason that HHLT became the organization it is today.”

Today, Black says he is pleased with the direction of the organization he helped to construct from the ground up. “Preserving some of the beauty of Harpswell and as much open space as we can – that is really an important mission,” he said.