How the 'cottage girls' brought literary heavyweights to Grand Manan

·3 min read

Few people know the story of how some of New England's literary stars came to spend their summers on Grand Manan, but thanks to a caring editor, that tale of Grand Manan's literary past is returning.

The Cottage Girls and Whale Cove Cottages tells the story of a community of cottages that housed some impressive names in first half of the 20th century.

The book was originally published in the 1990s, written by Robert Spiller.

Long out of print, it's now getting a second life, thanks to editor Jocelyne Thompson, who has wanted to see the book back in print ever since the first run sold out more than two decades ago.

"I wanted to do that for many, many years," said Thompson.

"Finally, last summer … I tracked down Robert Spiller and I proposed that we put out a new edition. And he was really keen on that idea."

The book was republished as part of UNB Libraries' New Brunswickana Project and published by Fredericton–based Rabbittown Press.

Who were the cottage girls?

The cottage girls were originally three women from New England who travelled to Grand Manan for their summer holidays starting in the early 1900s.

The friends worked as librarians and educators and were unmarried when they first began travelling to the island.

"They loved the ocean and they loved nature," said Thompson.

"I guess they were looking for a vacation spot. I don't think they were very well-to-do. So they would have been looking for affordable accommodations. I expect that the more developed New England resorts on the East Coast might have been a little too expensive for them."

The deeds to the cottages were sold and handed down to various people. More cottages were built as the years went on, before the property was inherited by an island family who have run the resort ever since. The women's library is still there.

But in those earlier years, several prominent people in the New England literary world stayed in the cottages.

The list includes Pulitzer Prize-winning author Willa Cather, author and children's librarian Alice Jordan and Ethelwyn Manning, the chief librarian of New York's Frick Art Reference Library, who was instrumental in saving works of art from Nazi theft during the Second World War.

The girls' legacy

Thompson said she discovered the cottages and the story of the cottage girls when she and her husband moved to Fredericton in 1989 and vacationed in Grand Manan.

"We were immediately enchanted with this very, very rustic cottage," said Thompson.

"A huge fireplace, original art on the walls and books all over the place, and each of the cottages had their own little libraries and the main house has the remnants of the cottage girls' original library. And of course, being a librarian myself, I was enchanted to walk into a rental cottage with a library."

The cottage girls' legacy lives on through the resort, which still operates.

Thompson said she hopes the book will renew interest in the site and draw more visitors to it.