The history of human enjoyment at Devil's Head goes back long before our written record. This section provides some background on the prehistory of the site, its usage by the Passamaquoddy peoples, its European history, its history as a part of early Calais, and the modern revitalization of the area.
Long ago - specifically between 95,000 and 20,000 years ago - this area of Maine was buried underneath a gigantic sheet of ice known as the Laurentide Ice Sheet. The giant sheet of ice pressed the land down beneath its great weight. No large living life forms were able to survive underneath it or on it.
When the great ice sheet finally retreated, it gouged out the Great Lakes with its weight, scraped the soils and the boulders from the land and pulled them back into still-existing formations, and dragged itself along the face of the ragged cliffs and rugged coasts that we see today. Sea waters rose dramatically even as the land rebounded due to the melting of the ice sheet. In some places, sea waters rose as much as 300 feet (National Geographic).
The receding ice sheet revealed land that could be used for human habitation, and evidence abounds that Native peoples made their way into Maine over 11,000 years ago. These peoples would have likely utilized an area like Devil's Head for its convenient coastal access and richly stocked beach.
The Laurentide Ice Sheet. Photo from Gambassa.
In their oral history, the Passamaquoddy refer to these earlier peoples as Caansoos or Konsoos people (plural of Konsoosuk). According to their legends, the Paleoindians went into the underworld to live underground long ago. Traditions over time change to match the environment and the seasonal wildlife/sea life for survival of the people.
In the era of the Passamaquoddy
The Passamaquoddy tribe began utilizing the land at Devil's Head. The tribe found the land here to offer an abundance of natural resources to harvest. Its location along the banks of the St. Croix River made it an excellent camping location during the tribe's frequent trips down the river - a tradition that continues to this day. Devil's Head is a good place for waiting until the powerful tide is turning in the desired direction of travel.
The Passamaquoddy developed a system of establishing seasonal habitations around the St. Croix Valley. The area known as Sipayik (meaning "along the edge"), or Pleasant Point, was one of the traditional summering grounds of the tribe. It provided excellent access to the ocean for the tribe, whose very name translates to "people who are the pollock-spearers". In the winter time, the tribe would retreat inland along the St. Croix River to many sites like Indian Township, or Motahkomikuk, bringing with them the resources they had harvested in the summer months. The inland sites offered new hunting locations for big game like caribou, moose, and deer.
Modern archaeologists at Devil's Head have confirmed findings of "middens" (remains of shell fragments), tools, and the base of a wigwam, all dating to the period of recent Passamaquoddy habitation. Please note that the Friends of Devil's Head consider the lands to be of significant historical value and all unauthorized digging is strictly forbidden.
A group of Passamaquoddy pass Devil's Head. Photo by Donald Soctomah.
In the 1600s, the last pecked petroglyphs of the Passamaquoddy were created in Machiasport - petroglyphs that showed the coming of the European boats and the symbol of the cross that they carried with them. Later, with the arrival of metal-grooved tools, petrogylphs appeared in various locations. At Devil's Head, the European history of the site is closely linked with St. Croix Island, which the head overlooks.
In 1604, a group of Frenchmen, guided in part by by Samuel de Champlain and led by Pierre Dugua de Mons, established a settlement colony on St. Croix Island. The island was chosen for the location of the colony due to its access to the abundance of the ocean and the defensiveness of its position. The French knew that the natural island would afford them protection from natives and from potential English invasions. Approximately 120 men comprised the settlement, which began in June.
By October, the Frenchmen began to suspect that the paradise of Acadie that they were hoping for was not located on St. Croix Island. A mini ice age was in effect at the time, and the winter snows arrived early. The men were determined to see the winter out, but illness soon began to befall them. Unable to cross the dangerously ice-laden river to obtain fresh meat, and having cut down all of the trees on the island, dozens of men perished in the brutal season. Later autopsies revealed that scurvy had stricken them. The lives of the remaining men were effectively saved in the spring by a group of Passamaquoddy that crossed the river, bringing venison and Native medicine to the unfortunate men.
The east side of St. Croix Island, where a French settlement was created in 1604. Devil's Head can be seen in the background. Photo from the St. Croix Historical Society.
The French settlement on St. Croix Island did not last more than the first season. The French left as soon as they were able to, transporting the buildings of the settlement to a southern site in the Bay of Fundy, named Port-Royal. It would become the first permanent settlement of New France. To learn more about the story of St. Croix Island, all visitors are encouraged to stop by the St. Croix Island Historic Site, operated by the National Park Service.
During their short time on St. Croix Island, the settlers briefly explored the surrounding areas while they were able to. One such area was Devil's Head, which may have been used as a harvesting site for wood and a hunting site for fresh meat.
It is believed that the Frenchmen that spent a few seasons on St. Croix Island are the source of the name Devil's Head. One of the colonists was named Sieur D'Orville, and some say that the Anglicization of his last name contributed to the otherwise ominous-sounding Devil's Head.
French graves on St. Croix Island. Photo from the St. Croix Historical Society.
Devil's Head as part of early Calais
In 1889, Calais was a veritable boom town. The copious amounts of lumber available from the St. Croix Valley had transformed the quiet area into a steadily growing port. Sources of granite were being identified and subsequently shipped out all over the world.
In that year, a resort hotel was built at Devil's Head to cater to the wealthy individuals of Calais, Eastport, Boston, and beyond. Steamships such as the Henry Eaton and the Rose Standish traveled up and down the river, bringing passengers to Demont's full-featured luxury hotel. The hotel was named after the leader of the French expedition to St. Croix Island. Guests enjoyed fine dining and luxurious accommodations along with beach-combing and fishing if they desired it. In the 1920s, the hotel burned down and was never rebuilt. Cottages and camps continued to be used along the shore, but many were abandoned by the 1940s.
Steamship Henry Eaton leaves the dock at Demont's Hotel. Photo from the St. Croix Historical Society.
Devil's Head in the modern era
By 2002, the land around Devil's Head was divided in five undeveloped plots, each owned by individual owners. Charles "Brand" Livingstone, aware of the unique nature of the head and it's connection with Passamaquoddy Bay, toured the grounds to assess its potential. He found many encouraging signs of wildlife habitation, and was inspired to make a presentation to the St. Croix International Waterway Commission to assist with purchasing the grounds for a public park. The commission agreed to assist Livingstone, and he and a group of like-minded individuals began to raise the $400,000 necessary to purchase the proposed parklands and build the main trail, along with public amenities.
Once the parklands were successfully purchased and developed, Devil's Head and its 315 acres were donated to the City of Calais. The city maintained the park but was unable to develop it further due to a lack of resources. Volunteers continued to try to keep awareness of the park building. In 2006, the site was named a National Historic Site on the National Register.
In 2015, Livingstone established the Friends of Devil's Head to rehabilitate the park and promote public usage and awareness.
Brand Livingstone examines the steps leading to the beach in 2015. Livingstone organized the Friends of Devil's Head in 2015 to rehabilitate the park for public usage. Photo by Lura Jackson, published in the Quoddy Tides.