Loyalist Refuge

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When in 1783 it became clear that a band of American rebels had succeeded in their insurrection against King George, Robert Pagan and 443 of his neighbors in Castine, Maine, did the only thing loyal subjects of the Crown could do: they dismantled their houses and pubs, board by board and nail by nail, piled them onto schooners, and sailed for the northern Crown colonies. There, at the confluence of the St. Croix River and Passamaquoddy Bay, just a coin’s throw across the Maritime border of what is now Maine, the Penobscot Loyalists shook the dust of revolution from their heels and secured a piece of the Empire. Financed by the royal treasury and carefully laid out in advance by George III’s deputy surveyor general of Nova Scotia, St. Andrews would become a paragon of royal benevolence and Loyalist industry.

 

Two centuries later St. Andrews is still a paragon, a town of redolent English gardens, gleaming white churches, and classic houses abiding in the shade of hoary elms and chestnuts. Though born as a Loyalist Canaan and nurtured as a tumultuous mercantile hub in the age of sail, St. Andrews emerged from the nineteenth century not as a commercial prodigy but as a resort, a Maritime haunt for the famous, the near famous, and the indisputably rich from both sides of the border. The thread that binds all three eras, and the enduring appeal of this community on the cusp of the Old World and the New Republic, is a varied architecture with a distinctive vernacular tang, set in a region cut whole from the quarry of North America—one of the last areas on the Eastern seaboard still bearing some semblance to what John Cabot found in 1497.

 
 

The Penobscot Loyalists set ashore beside the site of what is now Market Wharf, which hooks like a great fish barb far into the bay from the heart of Water Street, the town’s main byway. Come by sea or come by land, Water Street is a surprise; few places in North America have better preserved themselves against the caustic flow of time. Across from the wharf your eye catches the 1881 Shiretown Inn, originally the Kennedy Hotel and one of the two oldest summer hotels in Canada. A young Franklin Delano Roosevelt stayed here on an overnight yachting jaunt from the family cottage on nearby Campobello Island. To your immediate left is the plain brick custom-house, which once employed the father of Oliver Goldsmith, namesake and grandnephew of the eighteenth-century AngloIrish poet. Young Goldsmith published the first book of poetry by a native Canadian, its title work a paean to his Loyalist birthplace, St. Andrews. He called it The Rising Village, an allusion to his uncle’s 1770 masterpiece, The Deserted Village. Now walk to Water Street and glance left. A block or so down is the Dunn-McQuoid house, St. Andrews’s first two-story building, disassembled in New York and reerected here in 1784. Its rafters still bear the crudely etched numbers used to reconstruct it. A block to the right of the wharf is but one of a number of exemplary Cape Cod cottages, this one built in 1808 by Fenwick Bell, a sea captain.

 
 

You don’t have to walk far. Nearly every building is distinguished by some curious bit of history, some period detail: a weathered gray tin or cedarshingle roof; a mix of gingerbread bargeboard. Geraniums bloom on white porches, blue lobelia trails from window boxes, and hand-carved signs invite you to sample the shopkeepers’ wares: fine imported and domestic woolens, Wedgwood sold at the company’s first dealership in North America, or Inuit wildlife sculpture coaxed from stone the color of leaden Arctic skies.

Now cross to King Street, which intersects Water at the mouth of the wharf. King is the spine of the residential district, intersecting first Queen Street, then, at the top of the hill, Prince of Wales. Two blocks right is Princess Royal. The Loyalists named these streets in honor of King George, Queen Charlotte, and their fifteen children. They ran out of streets, the joke went, before the royal couple ran out of offspring.

 

As you walk, what strikes you is the scale and dimension of the town, which conveys an implacable sense of proportion that is very much a part of the overall aesthetic of its age. Unlike the usual pioneer-town scheme—a central pasture or “common” with narrow streets sprawling outward—the king’s surveyor plotted St. Andrews into a graceful matrix of sixty perfectly square blocks, each composed of eight ample house lots of identical measure, 80 by 160 feet. The blocks were delineated by unusually broad streets. In the east and west wings of the town, he situated two “Public Reserves,” or parks, like counterbalances in a clock. A third he centered at the head of the wharf. These are no longer there. Twelve additional lots on the harbor below Water Street were assigned for commercial use.