One of my wife’s nieces lives here in Scarborough. On her house, she has a sign which reads, “On This Site in 1897 Nothing Happened.” I know her home was built in the 1980s, as was most of her neighborhood, which is nestled between Pleasant Hill and Higgins Beach. When I first saw the sign, I thought, “well, maybe nothing happened on her property, but I’ll bet something happened in the area.”
Sure enough, on August 11, 1897, there was great excitement in Scarborough. During the day before, it was wicked foggy. One observer said it looked as if “the space between earth and sky was filled with gray-white cotton.”[i] During the night it just got worse. About two o’clock in the morning, there were loud crashes and curdling noises coming from the water. I’ll bet, they were loud enough you probably could hear them through the thick fog two miles away at my niece’s property. When the fog cleared in the morning, it was clear that a ship had run aground.
Howard W. Middleton appeared very low in the water while she was aground Photo: Scarborough Historical Society
The Howard W. Middleton, a three-masted schooner had run aground on a ledge near Higgins Beach. It contained 894 tons of Pennsylvania coal headed for Portland. All the crew members made it safely to shore. Tug boats from Portland tried to get it off the rocks to no avail.[ii] Most of the cargo was saved, although it is said that some of the locals salvaged enough coal for themselves to last them through three winters.
Remnants of Howard W. Middleton shipwreck
Photo by Rich Bard (CC BY-ND 2.0)
The following month a storm drove the wreck further inland onto Higgins Beach where some of the remains can be seen 119 years later during low tides.
It may be that nothing happened at my wife’s niece’s property in 1897, but certainly there was a lot of excitement in her neighborhood that year surrounding the sinking of the Howard W. Middleton.