The history of Vinalhaven has been shaped by its location on New England's earliest highway, the sea. The first known visitors to discover the rich abundance of shell and fin fish in the islands' waters were the Red Paint people who came here 3800 to 5000 years ago. Evidence of their visits has been discovered by archaeological digs on both the North and South Islands. Shell middens, stone tools and skeletal animal remains also indicate that the Abenaki and other Indians came later.
European explorers are known to have visited these waters in the 1500s and in 1603, the English Captain Martin Pring is said to have sighted the islands and named them The Fox Islands. Permanent settlement by English colonists did not take place until after cessation of the French and Indian Wars in 1763. According to a petition to King George III, dated 1772, Thaddeus Carver arrived from Marshfield, MA in 1762 and by 1775 he was operating a saw mill on 700 acres purchased from Francis Cogswell on the southern shore of the South Island in the area which later became known as Carver's Harbor.
After the Revolutionary War the population of the islands grew rapidly. In 1785 seventy-five settlers petitioned the General Court of Massachusetts "to relinquish any claims that this Commonwealth may have to said Islands, to all inhabitants and their Heirs and Assigns forever..." The attorney representing the islanders at the Court was a Bostonian John Vinal, Esq. and the islands were named for him (though not by the request of the inhabitants. It is also not known if he ever stepped foot on the island.) Among the first settlers were the families of Arey, Carver, Calderwood, Coombs, Dyer, Ginn, Green, Hopkins, Lane, Leadbetter, Norton, Philbrook, Pierce, Roberts, Smith, and Vinal. By 1800 the population was 860 on both islands. In 1846 the North Island was "set off" to become North Haven. The population of the South Island, Vinalhaven, reached its peak of 2855 in 1880.
The early occupations were fishing, farming, logging, boat building and, for women, the knitting of fish nets and thousands of horse nets sold to protect horses from flies. By 1826 the quality of Vinalhaven's granite was discovered and the island's 100 year period as one of Maine's largest quarrying centers began. Men arrived from other states, from the British Isles and from Scandinavia to work. Hundreds of men quarried, cut, polished, carved and shaped many tons of granite. Stone left the island on sloops, schooners and barges for ports as far away as Pensacola and New Orleans.
The first large Federal contracts were for granite blocks to reinforce the gun platforms at Forts along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts prior to the Civil War. Granite was shipped for:
the base of the Brooklyn Bridge
the U.S. Customs House and Post Offices in New York, St. Louis, Kansas City, Buffalo, etc.
the Railroad Station and the Board of Trade in Chicago
the Washington Monument and Federal Offices Buildings in the Capital
formed the foundation stone and the eight huge polished columns for the nave of The Cathedral of Saint John The Divine in NYC
Pennsylvania Railroad Station and the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia
other private mansions, monuments, bridges, and dams
thousands of tons of paving blocks for the streets of Portland, Boston, New York, Newark, Philadelphia and other cities
With the introduction of structural steel and concrete as building materials the largest granite company closed in 1919. The paving block industry continued until the late 1930s.
The sea also has been of great importance to Vinalhaven's economy as the island has always been a major supplier of seafood to markets in Portland, Boston and New York; first as salted and dried fish, then canned lobster, canned fish, fish glue, cut and packed fresh fin fish, canned herring, fresh lobsters, scallops, shrimp and sea urchins. During the 1800s and into the mid-1900s the island had a large fleet of fishing vessels, some bringing home catches of 10,000 lbs. or more.
Vinalhaven or Vinal Haven?
Originally one word in 1789. The U.S. Postal Service changed the Post Office's name from South Vinalhaven to Carver's Harbor (1850), to Vinal Haven on October 29, 1879 and back to Vinalhaven on March 15, 1925.