Throughout the second half of the 1800s, North Haven's Pulpit Harbor was the epicenter of the island's population. Farms thrived nearby, fishing schooners filled the deep, protected harbor, and homes, boat shops, several stores, a school, and a post office lined the shore. Today, with many of those buildings gone, roads diverted, and trees grown in, the area bears little resemblance to the scenes of old photographs.
At the Head of Pulpit Harbor, a working community
The land now owned by North Haven Conservation Partners, west of First Bridge and along Pulpit Harbor's northern shoreline, carries traces of an abandoned road that was once the main highway through the Pulpit Harbor community. Along that grassy old road, one finds the remnants of cellar holes, groves of lilacs, and gnarled apple trees, all hinting at the land's past.
Heading west from the bridge along the grassy, old road, a small hill marks the house site of Charles and Carrie Parsons and their daughter Emma. On a high ledge nearby sat the Parsons barn that burned down in 1936. To the north, was the Parsons work shop, which became home to a bachelor named Enie Piper and then several island families before being moved to the South Shore road as the current Lion's Clubhouse. On the shore below the Parson's home was a houseboat belonging to Charles' father, Solomon Parsons, who was a fisherman and familiar figure around Pulpit Harbor.
Further west, toward the present Pulpit Harbor town dock, a cellar hole marks the former home of Xenophen and Rebecca Leadbetter and their three children, Emma, Annie, and Freeman. Nearby, the Leadbetters had several small sheds and a very large barn. Also nearby, was a store run by Ben Calderwood and a cooper shop, which provided the barrels for storing salted fish, caught aboard the harbor's many fishing vessels. Xenophen, a ship captain and owner of several different fishing boats, built a large wharf and fish house nearby. After 1906, the Leadbetter fish house was converted into a boat house by Charlie Brown, a talented Pulpit Harbor boatbuilder.
Several years later, Brown sold the boat shop to Gus and Al Whitmore and they built boats there until 1918. By then, the once thriving community of Pulpit Harbor had gone into decline, due mostly to a dramatic drop in the mackerel fishery. Stores and the school closed as members of the community moved away. Around the same time, wealthy residents of Boston and New York came to North Haven in search of summer vacation homes. One summer resident, Charles Norton became concerned about the many abandoned buildings around Pulpit Harbor. Piece by piece, Norton purchased properties, including the Whitmore's boat shop and Leadbetter home, and then had them torn down or moved, leaving only cellar holes as remnants of the village's past.
Research and article by Lydia Brown
Photos courtesy of North Haven Historical Society
Two closest buildings are the approximate location of the current public access dock