One of a series of articles exploring the natural and human history of Harpswell Heritage Land Trust’s protected land.
By Nancy West
The closest you’ll find to a high-rise at Potts Point Preserve is a cairn, and it will founder in the next storm. The closest you’ll find to high density housing there are pockets of single-family shells. This is by design. Harpswell Heritage Land Trust acquired the Preserve in 2000 through contributions by neighbors on the northern upland stretch of Potts Point. The Preserve was created to protect the shore from development and to preserve its natural features.
Potts Point has long had European residents. The first was Richard Potts. We know he lived in North Yarmouth—now Harpswell—by 1666 because he sat on a jury trying James Robinson, a cooper from Black Point, for the murder of Christopher Collins, also of Black Point. (Robinson was found not guilty. Collins was “slain by misadventure.”)
John Bracey confirmed that Richard Potts lived at the end of Harpswell Neck in 1670 and perhaps as early as 1650. In 1701, Bracey “testifieth that, to my certain knowledge, Richard Potts did possess and enjoy and improve & build upon a neck of land called Potts’ Neck, which joins to Merriconeage in Casco Bay, in ye Province of Maine, for above 30 years ago, and ever since till ye Indians in ye time of sd Edmond Andros, Governor, captured him to draw off, and that no Englishman ever subdued or build upon ye sd Neck or ever lived thereon except Richd Potts, aforesd, or his family, in any remembrance which if any had[?] within 50 years past I should have known of it…”
Potts also owned Haskell Island, “an Island on ye west of ye south end of sd Neck, called now [New?] Damerus Cove, which sd Potts dried fish on, having some years 3 boats and some years 2 boats, and that Richd Potts, aforesd, held or improved ye sd Neck or sd Island as his own, without any molestation or interuption that ever I heard of during ye time aforesd.” Fishermen still work the waters Richard Potts knew between Potts Point and Haskell Island.
If history is a story with written documents such as grand jury proceedings, the Preserve has a long history by American standards. If you broaden history’s definition though to include any physical evidence of prior events, the Preserve has a much longer history. You can see the evidence. One line of evidence speaks to modestly deep time and the other to really deep time. The first are grooves on flattish rock surfaces as in the photo to the left. Glaciers, which dragged cobbles and boulders embedded in their base like an icy rasp, ground grooves into the bedrock during the most recent glaciation, sometime between 30,000 and 15,000 years ago. The grooves trend south-southeast, showing the direction glaciers flowed. The layer of mud or clay at the Preserve and elsewhere around Casco Bay (those that might cause one to slip and land on one’s rear) is also evidence of this glacial grinding, as the residue of the rocks pulverized under advancing ice sheets.
Evidence of really deep time are the rocks themselves. They formed from sediment spewed from volcanic islands off the shore of what became North America around 450 million years ago. These are the same rocks, called the Cape Elizabeth Formation, that you see at the McIntosh Preserve near the south end of Bailey Island. They differ in a profound way though: at Potts Point, flat rock surfaces dip down to the east; at the McIntosh lot, they dip to the west. The rocks are folded! The low spot of the fold must lie below Merriconeag Sound. Collision between proto-Europe and proto-North America as the supercontinent Pangea was being assembled folded and buried these sediments about 10 kilometers deep, making the rocks you see today at Potts Point. They are a geologist’s version of historical documents.
Enough history. Potts Point awaits you. Its lovely and dramatic scenery is preserved such that you can enjoy it in solitude or with family and visitors. Get out there, and think well of those who contributed time and money to make the Preserve possible.
Grand jury: Collections of the Maine Historical Society, Vol. 1. 1831. p. 120.
John Bracey: “Early Conveyances of Land in North Yarmouth, Maine.” Dr. Charles E. Banks and William Sargent. 1881. [From the York County Records]. In Old Times, Vol 5, no. 4.
Glacial history: “Surficial Geologic History of Maine”. Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry. https://www.maine.gov/dacf/mgs/explore/surficial/facts/surficial.htm Captured 30 August, 2018.
Cape Elizabeth Formation: Hussey, Arthur M., II. 2015. A Guide to the Geology of Southwestern Maine. Portsmouth, NH. Peter E. Randall, Publisher. 229 pp.