Kenny Chesney once sang of an unnamed “Island Boy” who “left Maine cause he needed a change, and he was desperate to rearrange priorities.” While that Island Boy from Maine ended up on a tropical island in the Caribbean, there would have been no need for him to leave if he had lived here at the State U. Because at UMaine we are all Island Boys and Island Girls.
That’s right, unbeknownst to some of us, we live on an island. Dust off the old Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, turn to Maps 23 and 33, and you’ll see our island. Marsh Island.
Or better yet, check out the U.S. Geographical Survey’s topo map for the Old Town Quadrangle. There you will find Marsh Island in all its glory.
The name may not have the same cachet as the many legendary Maine islands that roll off the tongue. Monhegan, Vinalhaven, Islesboro, Mount Desert, Great Diamond, Deer Isle, Isle au Haut…the list goes on and on. Those other islands are featured in the glossy pages of Down East Magazine, while here on Marsh Island we are resigned to the pages of the Orono Weekly Times. Those islands house millionaires from away, whereas Marsh Island houses destitute students from here—and away. But in Orono, we like to think that all island dwellers are created equal.
It all started with ol’ Johnny Marsh, sometimes referred to as the Vasco da Gama of Maine. Marsh took a liking to the land and decided to establish himself here, much to the chagrin of the already-established Penobscot tribe, who were understandably angry when the State of Massachusetts granted the island to Marsh. Legend has it that Marsh paid the Indians off with “30 bushels of good corn.” Marsh’s ownership was brief, but to this day Marsh Island bears his name. (I like to think Marsh would have had himself a good chuckle at that one. Likely over a stein filled with some type of corn whiskey. Johnny was all about the corn).
The University of Maine is the only Land Grant University in the nation located on an island. That sounds like a Jeopardy question: “I’ll take alma maters of Marden’s employees-turned-governor for 400, Alex.” Who would have thunk? Little old us, sandwiched between the Penobscot and the Stillwater. If you blink going over one of the bridges, you’ll miss it. Once you pass the Riverside House of Pizza it’s not like you’re crossing the Penobscot Narrows Bridge. You’re zipping across a short 150-yard span and bracing yourself for frat row. That’s just a fact.
Outsiders can make all the Gilligan’s Island and Survivor jokes they want. The truth is that they’re jealous once they discover how unique we truly are. We don’t like to make a huge show of it. Sure, we ARE the ONLY Land Grant University in the nation located on an island. But we read our Stephen King novels one page at a time, just like everyone else. Like all island residents, we occasionally need to venture off the island for numerous essentials: shopping, family, UMFK’s Fiddlers Jamboree, Tinder hookups etc. But we always find our way back home to our beloved little island.
So Kenny, next time you sing of an island boy, try singing of an island where a boy is not surrounded by a grove full of oranges, but rather by a Grove full of cops. An island where Bob Marley is known for comedy, cursing, and smoking pot rather than singing, jamming, and smoking pot. An island where Wilson is a Center, not a volleyball. An island where Bananas is friend not food.
If you ever find yourself leaving the original Pat’s, take a stroll down Bridge St., breathe in the heady aromas of the Penobscot, and cross over into our own little island paradise. Welcome to Marsh Island.