The Marginal Way, a gentle footpath that follows the breathtakingly beautiful coast for a mile and a quarter between Perkins Cove and Ogunquit Village, is treasured by residents and visitors alike. It is open to the public thanks in great measure to F. Raymond Brewster’s foresight and tenacity.
Brewster, an architect, grew up in York on Chase’s Pond Road, near the woolen mill of Josiah Chase Sr. He moved to Ogunquit as a young man and devoted himself to civic improvements of his adopted village, serving as postmaster and overseer of the Ogunquit Village Corporation. He also designed and built the Ogunquit Grammar School.
Coastal lots were being divided up and sold to summer cottagers at an alarming rate. Brewster made it his business to protect as much shoreline as possible for public use. His childhood neighbor, Josiah Chase Jr., owned a great swath of oceanfront property from Perkins Cove to the mouth of the Ogunquit River. Brewster asked his friend, on behalf of the Ogunquit Village Corporation, to donate the land to the town.
Josiah Chase Jr., born in 1840, was York’s only commissioned officer in the American Civil War. After graduating from Bates College, he studied law in the offices of Judge Sewall Strout and then practiced independently in Portland. A democrat, he served as Deputy Collector of Customs for the District of Portland from 1886 to 1890, during the first administration of President Grover Cleveland. When he returned to his family homestead in York, his neighbor Frederic Raymond Brewster was still a boy. In 1895, Chase helped to establish the York Shore Water Company, an organization he would direct for the rest of his life. He also served two terms in the Maine Legislature but was defeated in his bid for the U. S. Senate.
Josiah Chase had started buying Ogunquit shore land in 1887 and filed subdivision plans with the York County Registry of Deeds during the decade that followed. It was his intention that the Marginal Way be kept as common space for the subdivision, but his friend Mr. Brewster kept after him to preserve public access to the shore. Josiah Chase finally deeded the Marginal Way to the Ogunquit Village Corporation in 1925, just three years before his death.
Brewster petitioned the town in 1942 to erect a bronze tablet at the entrance of Marginal Way to commemorate Josiah Chase’s gift to Ogunquit. Five years later, a plaque was installed but the dedication ceremony was overshadowed by a threat to local tourism. Beach and water pollution surveys, conducted by the State of Maine in 1946, identified serious problems in Ogunquit. The State Health Department closed the beach for five days in July of 1947, due to unhealthy water quality. “There used to be sewer pipes running down Israel Head Road and right out to sea,” said Helen Horn who now serves on the Marginal Way committee and the town’s sewer district.
Overseers of the Ogunquit Village Corporation voted to have a $30,000 “purification system” constructed to address the problem. One of the pumping stations needed to be located on the Marginal Way. Townspeople insisted that not more than $8,000 be spent on its construction. All the bids submitted for building a little house to hide the pumping station exceeded the budget.
Ogunquit overseer Grover S. Perkins designed a disguise for the pumping station and Winfield C. Littlefield was awarded a contract to build the 23-foot lighthouse replica for $6,795. Construction began in May of 1948 and the picturesque lighthouse was completed in time for the opening of the tourist season. State inspectors were so impressed by Ogunquit’s town-wide purification design that they encouraged other coastal communities to imitate the system.
The Marginal Way was extended further into the village in the 1950s. Rights of way were donated to the town, some more willingly than others. The world renowned footpath is now paved and dotted with landscaped benches. Unbeknownst to the tens of thousands of tourists that photograph it each summer, the lighthouse pumping station at the foot of Ontio Hill Road still functions as originally intended.
Sharon Cummins is an historical research professional in southern Maine. For more interesting stories about Ogunquit and other “surprising episodes in the history of Southern Maine”, visit her website at www.someoldnews.com.