The History of Cleaves Cove and the 18th Century Cape that Never Arrived
Beverly Massachusetts Blacksmith, Robert Cleaves purchased shorefront land near what we now know as Walker’s Point from James and Jane Smith in 1732. Over the years that followed he accumulated additional lots until his property encompassed 281 acres, all the land between Walker’s Point and the Wildes lot at Turbat’s Creek, from the shore to the Wildes District Road. The Cleaves Farm also included Bumpkin Island, once called Albatross Island. For generations, sheep from the Cleaves farm grazed on the island that was the site of several documented shipwrecks.
The property passed to Robert’s son James, a revolutionary war veteran, and then to James’ son Theodore Cleaves. Theodore’s widow Hannah was known to the early Cape Arundel Cottagers as a quaint country oddity residing far down a rustic path through the woods beyond the bounds of their summer civilization. She graciously received frequent well-turned-out visitors as would her stepchildren after she passed.
Theodore’s two children by his first wife, Orlando and Sophronia Cleaves remained at The Cleaves Farm until the early 1900s when The Kennebunkport Seashore Company and their representatives, L.F. Cutter and Eben Stanwood bought the property for future development leaving ‘Lando and Phronie Cleaves with a life tenancy. Sophronia died in 1905 and Orlando died in 1911.
Historian Henrietta Schmidt of Turbat’s Creek remembered the old Cleaves farmhouse from her youth. It sat just to the left of what is now Windemere Place. The front door of the little old cape faced the ocean. The barn and outbuildings were between the house and the overgrown path that had been The King’s Highway. Henrietta liked to say that the current Ocean Ave “passes over the floor of the old barn.” That section of King’s Highway was widened in 1937. The current road wasn’t built until the 1950s. All houses in that area have been built since 1960.
In 1964, the Witherell family of Saco purchased a lot on Ocean Avenue near Cleaves Cove. The lovely old Cleaves farmhouse had long since rotted away but the Witherells wanted an old cape on their property similar to the Cleaves place. They purchased a 185-year-old West Rockport cape from the Rockland and Camden Water Company, that had to be moved. The old house with its antique poured glass windows and 3 ancient brick fireplaces, was hauled 7 miles overland to the Rockland shore and then loaded onto a barge. Kennebunk Star photographer, George Stevens was onboard the tug Seawind with Capt. William Clark and his crew as she headed out on the 100-mile sea voyage to Kennebunkport on August 7th at about 3pm. The plan was to land the house at the Wandby Cove, haul it up onto Shore Road and then lower it onto the Witherell’s foundation, already in place but it wasn’t to be.
Just after the sun sank below the horizon, several people at Biddeford Pool and Cape Porpoise thought they saw the barge and the tug making its way to Walker’s Point but it was a case of mass wishful thinking. By then the house had only traveled a few miles from Rockland. About 10 hours into the journey, in the wee hours, the 1 ½-story, 24 x30 foot house slipped off the barge during a sudden squall 12 miles SW of Monhegan Island.
All’s well that ends well. Nobody was hurt and the Witherells were insured. I wonder how many sea creatures have lived in that old house since 1964.
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