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Leland Merrill on Widgery Wharf

Wharfside

Leland Merrill on Widgery Wharf

Galen Koch

Between Chandler's Wharf, to the east, and Union Wharf, to the west, there stands a narrow wharf, flanked by fish houses and lobster boats. It is here that Leland Merrill, a 92 year-old resident of Portland, has worked for the past 66 years.

Play the slideshow above to hear Leland's story. If you prefer an audio story, go here.


Born on Cliff Island in 1924, Leland Merrill has spent his 92 years of life living and working on Casco Bay. Leland, along with eight other lobstermen, bought Portland's Widgery's Wharf from a private owner after World War II. He's spent over 66 years coming to this wharf in Portland Harbor. 

On a bright morning in June, I picked Leland up from his home on Danforth Street in Portland’s West End. Leland directed me through Portland's busy streets - to a blue signpost on Commercial Street. The sign marks the road to Widgery Wharf, but if you were just passing through you might think the road leads to public parking lots. Past the rows of cars parked along Commercial, there's the wooden-planked deck of Widgery Wharf. Stepping onto the decking feels a little like going back in time. 

A fish house in Widgery. Photo © Justin Levesque 2016

A fish house in Widgery. Photo © Justin Levesque 2016

Leland Merrill on Widgery. Photo © Justin Levesque 2016

Leland Merrill on Widgery. Photo © Justin Levesque 2016

Many wharves in Portland remain devoted to work. But Widgery is unique - it is almost entirely devoted to lobstering. Aside from a few gill netters, Leland estimates the wharf is 98% lobstermen. Pick-up trucks drive up and down the narrow deck, water rushes from lobster tanks, and men greet each other as old friends. It is, in a way, idyllic.

Leland bought a share of Widgery Wharf after World War II, with eight other lobstermen. He’s since transferred his fish house and boat tie-up to his son. He still makes coming to Widgery a part of his morning routine.

Leland and lobster traps, Widgery Wharf. Photo © Justin Levesque 2016

Leland and lobster traps, Widgery Wharf. Photo © Justin Levesque 2016

On the morning I accompanied Leland to Widgery, he told me stories of the wharf, his life as a lobsterman, and his childhood on Cliff Island. To hear Leland’s story, watch the slideshow above.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Leland’s friend, Barbara Freethy. Barbara reminded Leland of a cassette tape he had given her, some twenty years before. You can hear Leland’s stories from that tape in the audio players at the bottom of this page. The tape contains stories of growing up on Cliff, stories that I was unable to include in the audio piece but that should be heard by anyone with an interest in life on a small, remote island.


Thanks to Leland Merrill for sharing his story.

Working Waterfront Stories explore the people and places in Portland Harbor through photos, audio stories, and video. This project is made possible by the Waterfront Alliance and Casco Bay Estuary Partnership. Thanks for Justin Levesque and Jenny Rebecca Nelson for their photography and collaboration. Music for this piece provided by Ross Gallagher and Henry Finch. Animation by Lake Buckley.

Galen Koch © 2016