Fairy Houses on Mackworth Island

Not the Portland I’m used to.

I just returned from a two-week trip to New England. Since I had never been to Maine before, Will and I started there and moved slowly south during my visit. I thought it would be fun to go to the other Portland. After spending some time in New Hampshire at America’s Stonehenge, that I talked about in my last post, we went on up north. Portland, Oregon is named after Portland, Maine by the way.

Will had found something online about fairy houses in some park in Falmouth, near Portland. We began searching for it, but all we had was the name of the island on which they were supposedly located. Google maps drew us a route directly to the center of the tiny island, accessible by a bridge, and we obediantly followed. On the island we passed through some open gates and looked around at a parking area, with buildings in the distance, but no signs helping us find fairies. Will pulled to a stop to look at the map again, and I noticed a man outside that had been staring at our vehicle and walking toward us. He came from the direction of a building with a sign on it that said SECURITY.

“Will, I think this guy wants to talk to us,” I said, as I noticed that we were in a parking lot for Baxter School for the Deaf. “Maybe he can give us directions.” As the man approached, Will rolled down the window of the car.

“Can I help you?” the man asked, in a state-your-business kind of way.

Will says in the most sincere and earnest sort of way, “We’re looking for the fairies.”

The man was perfectly still with a face devoid of any expression. He blinked. After a pause he said, “You can’t be here on campus.”

Telling the story later, Will said it was as though the security guard heard the words, decided to ignore them, and chose to state what he had intended to state in the first place. In retrospect, it is hilarious! “We’re looking for the fairies!” We must have seemed like crazy people. Ha ha!

View of Casco Bay from Mackworth Island.

We turned around and noticed what we missed at first: a parking lot to be entered immediately after crossing the bridge. There is a state public area that encompasses the beach and shore of the island, but not the center. From the lot we could access a lovely 1.25 mile trail that runs in a ring around the circular island. For a chilly evening, there were a surprising number of people there to use the trail for fitness, walking the dogs, or just to enjoy the views of Casco Bay.

With or without fairy houses, it was a nice evening to take a walk, so off we went. There are multiple places to access the beach, and we did. I was mesmerized by the rock formations we found. Will and I wished for Tara (studying geology) to help us understand what we were looking at. We chatted and enjoyed the wildlife, and waved cheerily at people who passed us multiple times going the other direction and clearly moving at a pace faster than ours.

This 1 1/4 mile trail wraps in a ring around the small island, with non-stop beach views.
We liked this old tree.
We clambered around on the beach, with its fabulous rocks.
Will in the distance. Wonderful rock formations in the foreground.

Suddenly we spotted one: a small tipi stack of sticks against the base of a tree.

Once we knew what to look for, we saw more. And more. Farther along the trail the little forest debris creations were everywhere! Some very simple, some elaborate. They were right beside the trail, but as we plunged deeper into the forest off the trail, we found more.

Fairy homes built against the bases of the trees.
Since we had visited America’s Stonehenge earlier in the day, I named this Stickhenge.
This one was so big that I fit into it! I’ve never been in a fairy house before.

Eventually we spotted a sign that explained what we were looking at, and the rules for participating. I experienced a bit of glee that something official as a State of Maine, Bureau of Parks sign acknowledged the faeries who visit the forest. I’m not religious, and find it hard to have faith in anything that can’t be scientifically explained, but I do believe in faeries. And while most of my life is practical and analytic, there is this one thing about me that doesn’t fit at all, and I’m usually too shy to mention it. But on Mackworth Island, clearly there are others who believe with me.

Officially sanctioned fairy homes.
Some fairy homes were made of simple construction.
As we hunted through the forest, we found more and more elaborate houses, often adorned with shells collected from the beach.
This one looks two stories high, with a stone patio.
While the sign cautions not to use living materials, it is likely these were collected from the ground and not picked.
This one rolls out the green carpet, between columns of pine cones.
This home has exceptional landscaping and an artistic flourish of oak leaves on top.

We had fun for nearly an hour as we explored the fairy homes. Possibly there were hundreds of them; it’s truly a sight to see. That humorless security guard should take a walk over here on his lunch break.

Leah Stetson, whose LinkedIn page says she did a senior college thesis project on island fairy houses, said in 2011 in a comment on another blog: “In Maine, there are over 60 islands with active “fairy house” villages tended by children and adults alike. Monhegan is most famously known for its Cathedral Forest (and the 50-year controversy on whether to ban fairy houses–still ongoing among island officials) but islands like Squirrel Island (Boothbay Harbor) and Bear Island (Buckminster Fuller’s island, where he built the famous geodome) in the Penobscot Bay, as well as several of the less-inhabited Cranberry Isles (e.g. Baker) have fairy houses.” Stetson may have been the author of an article in a no-longer-available post from The Compleat Wetlander, which stated fairy houses are “a 100+ year tradition in Maine, especially along the coast and on the islands, when many island communities had working farms. Traveling schoolteachers brought folk tales involving fairies that inspired islanders—children and adults alike—to build gnome homes to attract fairies in order to watch over the livestock and children during Maine winters. A fairy house traditionally included a tiny altar with a small offering, such as a coin, to pay the fairies to help the farmers…”

14 thoughts on “Fairy Houses on Mackworth Island

    1. I can’t imagine he had never heard of the fairy homes, so the obvious disconcertedness with our question was a surprise. He could not think of any appropriate response, and just told us politely and firmly to get out. It was really funny.

  1. Poor is the soul with no humor in it. At least you found your way to such a fun spot. I always wondered what real fairy houses looked like. Now I’m going to build one up on my hill. I’ve been saving twigs and sticks for it while doing some clearing. Looks like you had a very good time. One of these days. Maybe. 😉

    1. I love that idea Marlene! To build your own fairy house. Yes, we were glad we were tenacious and found it after all. I often learn so much more about the places I visit after I blog about them, because I do so much research in support of the post. Such was the case this time. I had assumed it was a one-off, but if my Internet searches are right, Leah Stetson explains that it’s a generations-old tradition across Maine, particularly on islands. How interesting!

  2. Oh my!! 😮 Simply mesmerising! That notice board and its last sentence! ❤ They truly understand them. I love your photos even if you wouldn't find anything, but then you did and so many! Much love for this fairy town!

    1. It was a unique and wonderful tourist stop. I loved the sign almost as much as the houses themselves. It’s spring, so I imagine many homes were leftover from last year’s construction and showed wear and tear. If I lived there, I think it would be fun to go from house to house doing rennovations.

  3. These are wonderful, and your story of the security guard make me think I should toss a phrase I started hearing after I moved to Britain: Oh, s/he’s away with the fairies.

    Self-explanatory, probably.

    1. Oh, do they really say that? It’s a wonderful phrase and I think it would be perfect in certain circumstances that allow someone to imagine the rest of the story. Thank you for your comment and I’m so pleased you enjoyed the fairy houses in Maine.

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