From the Salt Institute gallery show of Malaga Island: A Story Best Left Untold, produced by Kate Philbrick, photographer, and Rob Rosenthal, radio producer.
The community on Malaga remained relatively unchanged for many, many years from the 1860’s to the turn of the century. They fished, raised families, and did what they could to eke out a living on Maine’s fairly unforgiving coastline.
But, while island life stayed somewhat constant, the world around Malaga changed. In particular, the economy collapsed. Traditional industries like wooden shipbuilding and fishing declined precipitously.
By the early 1900’s, the state of Maine, including costal towns like Phippsburg, looked to tourism and development as way to dig out of the state’s economic slump. It’s around this time Maine was dubbed “Vacationland.” And, article after article in newspapers proclaimed the New Meadows River area around Malaga ripe for spas, inns, and second homes.
“From the mouth of this pleasant river throughout its entire length, its waters are dotted with islands and pierced with pleasant land points which afford perfect locations for the construction of pleasant summer houses.” Front page, Bath Independent and Enterprise, 1903.
In this context, the Malaga mixed-race community was viewed as a burden, an eyesore, and a possible impediment to economic growth. While the eviction of the islanders was prompted by racism, eugenics, and political retribution, tensions over the island were clearly fueled by economic woes so removal of the islanders was seen as a way to solve part of that problem.
Oddly, though, after the village was cleared from Malaga, nothing ever happened on the island. No hotels. No spas. No second homes or cottages. Nothing. Ironically, a few Descendants now store some of their lobster traps and fishing gear there. But, the island remains relatively untouched.Today, Malaga is owned by Maine Coast Heitage Trust (MCHT), a conservation group. MCHT has created a walking path and erected some signage but they plan to keep the island wild and uninhabited while still allowing the fisherman their limited use of Malaga.