The Lane School on Malaga Island

Mss A 1900 Pg15Captain George W. Lane, a Christian missionary and a Civil War veteran, first visited Malaga Island in 1906. The island, located in the New Meadows River near Phippsburg, Maine, is now an uninhabited state preserve, but in Captain Lane’s time the island was the site of a small mixed-race community of fishermen. In the summer of 1906, Captain Lane and his family rowed almost every day from their summer home on Horse Island (now Harbor Island) to Malaga. The inhabitants were poor, and there were few opportunities for education. The Lanes changed that. Captain Lane led regular church services for the residents of Malaga Island, while his wife, Lucy (Holden) Lane, and their daughters started a school for the island’s children.

Their story is told in two small scrapbooks in the R. Stanton Avery Special Collections. “A history of parts of Capt. and Mrs. Lane's and their daughter’s work among a neglected people on Malaga Island, Maine” (Mss A 1900), compiled by Fred H. C. Woolley, of Malden, Massachusetts, contains photographs, letters, and newspaper clippings that document the Lanes’ efforts to establish a school on the island.

Woolley and the Lanes were members of the same church in Malden, and Woolley received regular letters from the Lane family while they were at their summer home in Maine. He supported their missionary work on Malaga Island, and led an effort to raise money to buy a motor boat for Captain Lane. He also wrote articles for local newspapers about the living conditions on Malaga Island and the work that the Lanes were doing there. Clippings of some of Woolley’s articles are contained in the scrapbooks, along with several photographs of the island school and the pupils. The scrapbooks also contain five thank-you letters written by the students to Fred Woolley, who donated clothes, books, chalk, and a blackboard to the school in August 1907. By the summer of 1908, Mrs. Lane and Woolley had raised enough money to build a separate school building for the children of Malaga Island. The building was completed and ready for use in October of that year.

Fred Woolley’s scrapbooks only document the years 1906 to 1908. Malaga Island was first settled around 1860. By the early 1900s, Malaga Island and its inhabitants were the subject of regular newspaper articles portraying the residents as ignorant, uncivilized, and degenerate.  In 1911, eight of the island’s 40 inhabitants were institutionalized at the Maine School for the Feeble Minded. The State of Maine bought the island the next year, and ordered the residents to leave by 1 July 1912.

The new school house was moved to Muscongus Island. The state also disinterred all of the bodies from the island’s cemetery and reburied them in the cemetery at the Maine School for the Feeble Minded. The history of Malaga Island remained largely forgotten by the general public until recent years. In 2010, the state of Maine apologized for its treatment of the Malaga Island residents. Two years later, the Maine State Museum opened an exhibit on the history of Malaga Island, and Fred Woolley’s scrapbooks were loaned to the Museum to display during this exhibit.

The community on Malaga Island was eliminated in 1912, and few traces survive. The scrapbooks in our special collections are some of the few documents that remain about the island’s community. The first volume of the scrapbook has been digitized, and it is available to our members through the Digital Library and Archive in our library catalog. While this manuscript is not a new addition to the Digital Library and Archive, some of the pages were recently rescanned and updated.

Sally Benny

About Sally Benny

Sally Benny joined the staff of NEHGS in 2010 and works in the R. Stanton Avery Special Collections Department. She has an M.S. in library science with a concentration in Archives Management from Simmons College. She previously worked at the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. Her interests include digital preservation; digitization; and genealogical research in Nantucket, Virginia, North Carolina, Cornwall, Finland, and Sweden.View all posts by Sally Benny