Down East - Late Summer 2011 travel blog

East Quoddy light house

from afar

Roosevelt cottage

great view

bullhorn calling

oval window

Ken sipping tea


In these days of pervasive air conditioning, it is easy to forget how miserable we used to be in the hot, humid days of summer. I can remember a few days as a kid when we would move into the basement, eating and sleeping in the relative coolness. Folks without basements just had to suffer. Rich folks from Boston, Philadelphia and New York City would migrate to the sea coast and points north. Newport and Bar Harbor were the trendy destinations in the early 1900’s, but the wealthy parents of Franklin Roosevelt preferred to summer in the more rustic environs of Campobello Island in New Brunswick.

Roosevelt’s father was a railroad magnate and the family would leave their home in Hyde Park, NY and take a two day journey by train to Eastport and a boat the last few miles to the island. After he and Eleanor married and had five children, they would bring forty trunks of necessities on the trip as well. This was where the young family spent their summers enjoying nature. At the height of its popularity there were three large hotels on the island and a number of other "cottages" as the 34 room home was called. The home had 18 bedrooms and running water, but no electricity or phone service. Compared to the mansions we have seen in Newport, it was quite rustic and we could see why such a fine building could have been regarded so humbly. Roosevelt was at Campobello when he was struck by polio and did not return for twelve years. As his political career flourished, it was harder and harder for him to find time to get away to his beloved childhood summer home. After his death Eleanor continued to cherish this location and returned for the last time in 1962 shortly before her death. Her children rarely used the place, so it was purchased by the Armand Hammer family who wanted to turn it into a permanent memorial to FDR. This was a bit tricky since the island is and has always been part of Canada. Today the site is run by a foundation staffed and funded by both the US and Canada.

Although Campobello Island is about four miles away from Eastport, we had to take two ferries to get there and drive forty miles to get back. Someone needs to build a bridge. The house was beautifully preserved and landscaped, and it was a pleasant surprise to discover that there was no admission fee. We also were not charged to attend the "Tea with Eleanor," a special presentation limited to twenty visitors a day. While we enjoyed tea and cookies, park staff talked about Eleanor's life and all the activities and events she sponsored here.

The Roosevelt estate comprises the southern end of the island and the middle is a provincial park that includes a golf course that FDR started. He met with some resistance as the local farmers continued to graze their sheep on the fairway. The East Quoddy Head light house marks the northern end of the island. At low tide tourists can cross two channels between the main island and the speck the light house is on and go inside. However, signs are posted warning that the tide rises five feet an hour creating powerful eddies and you can get stranded there for eight hours until the tide goes down.

There are still some typical families living on the island and it has a school, but it appeared that the FDR home is what is really keeping the place going. With its remote location and the requirement to show a passport and go through immigration to enter and leave, it take some effort to make it here as a tourist or a resident.

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