Island Child: Growing Up on Peaks Island

  Little boys on Centennial Beach, circa 1979
        (Courtesy of Peaks Island Children’s Workshop)         

It’s a cliche to describe Maine island childhoods as “magical,” but for many who grew up on Peaks Island, it’s also the truth.

Children run free on the island, and always have. Summer days are filled with visits to a favorite beach, bike rides through forest trails, dock jumping, and fishing and crabbing off the Down Front floats.  Dances, sailing, and other social events at TEIA were and are eagerly anticipated. Lemonade stands help kids raise money to spend at the ice cream store. Halloween is incredible here. Winter means sledding down the Sledding Hill, and skating and pick-up hockey on the Ice Pond. Boy and Girl Scout meetings, church activities, and athletics and theater performances at the school round out the year. Island teenagers are like teenagers everywhere, and parties at Battery Steele, Trott-Littlejohn Park, or Picnic Point aggravate some folks, but that’s par for the course.

Cover of the Peaks Island Times, December 1978

When they’re not running free, island kids are cared for and educated at the Peaks Island Children’s Workshop (PICW) and the Peaks Island Elementary School (PIES). These institutions are crucial to sustaining a year-round community. PICW, then called the Peaks Island Child Development Center, was established in 1972.  It celebrated its 50th anniversary last year and has cared for hundreds of island children over the years.

One of the first classes at the nascent Peaks Island Child
Development Center, circa 1972 (Courtesy of Peaks Island Children’s Workshop)


“First Kindergarten Class Peaks Island,” 1948

The first formal public school building on Peaks Island was built in 1832, and another in 1850. In the 1820s, classes were offered wherever there was space, including, rumor has it, in a tavern! The current building, the “Brick School” as it’s affectionately known, was built in 1869, making it one of the oldest school buildings in Portland.  Renovated and expanded multiple times over the decades, PIES marked its 150th anniversary in 2019 with a big community-wide celebration.

“Some of the girls at Peaks Island School,” 1925

It can’t all be magical, though. Growing up on an island has its challenges. By sixth grade most kids are ready to transition to middle schools in town but commuting to school by ferry and then by school bus can make for long days. Participating in after-school activities gets complicated, and it can be nerve-racking for parents to manage children when they’re separated from them by three miles of water!  Sometimes there isn’t enough to keep older kids engaged, and some make their own fun (^see parties above^).

Third Annual Halloween Candy Throw Down at the Fifth Maine Museum, 2022

Despite the challenges, people cherish their island childhoods, especially as they grow older and gain more perspective. It’s a unique way to grow up.