HERMIT ISLAND — In 1907 Sumner Sewall, 10, and his friends rowed across an inlet to a barren island just south of Phippsburg. Dunes dotted the shoreline as they made their way to a man’s cabin. Purportedly he was an odd old man. He kept a few sheep. He had no family. He kept to himself, a hermit. The boys would row over in the shallow light of evening, sneak up on his abode, and spy on him. Eventually the man died, his home disintegrated, and the island, coined Hermit Island by the young Sewall, developed into a rustic, no-amenities campground on the lapping shores of the Atlantic.
But Hermit Island didn’t start as a campground. Although the powdery sand, sea grass, and lily pads floating in a frog-choked pond frame an idyllic camping backdrop, the island was first developed as a lobster impoundment. Sewall, who grew up to become an airline executive and served as governor from 1941-45, returned to his maritime roots. He partnered with his two sons to purchase the island in 1948 so they could build a small dam, trap lobsters, and sell them in the spring when they’d grown plump. Over time taxes climbed, revenue dropped, and to make ends meet, they laid out 14 campsites along the ocean to supplement their income. Hermit Island Campground was born.
With no expensive boardwalk rides nor greasy funnel cake, the Hermit Island beach experience is simple and pure.
Today there are 270 camping sites on an island where little else has changed. There’s still no power or running water, no RVs or boxy trailers. Such rigs aren’t allowed, only tents and pickup trucks.
“We kept it this way to preserve the land, to do as little damage as possible and try to maintain the natural beauty of what’s there,” says Nick Sewall, Sumner’s son and current owner. “We wanted to change as little as possible when we built the sites.”