Malaga Island listed on National Register of Historic Places
Release date: November 21, 2023
The 42-acre island off the New Meadow’s River in Casco Bay was home to a mixed-race community forcibly evicted by the state over 100 years ago
(Phippsburg, ME – November 21, 2023) – Malaga Island in Phippsburg, Maine, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The designation became official on September 19, 2023, after a three-year effort.
A 42-acre island near Cundy’s Harbor in Phippsburg, Malaga Island was once home to a mixed-race fishing community that was forcibly removed by the state of Maine in 1912. Until relatively recently, the story of Malaga had been largely untold, and the injustices unacknowledged.
“Malaga Island is sacred to the descendants of those who were evicted over 100 years ago,” said Marnie Voter, a relative of a Malaga Island descendant now living in Windham, who has actively supported the National Register of Historic Places nomination process.
“That the Maine Historic Preservation Commission saw fit to submit an application to the National Park Service for Malaga Island to be named to the National Historic Register accomplishes several things,” notes Voter. “Maine acknowledges what happened there, the naming means that what happened there is of national historic interest, and to the living descendants it serves as an acknowledgment that their families were innocent pawns swept up in the politics of the Eugenics movement of the day. I have watched the story of what happened on Malaga unfold over 50 years. That I am alive to see this day come is a tremendous blessing,” said Voter.
Malaga Island Now a Public Preserve
In 2001, statewide land conservation organization Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) acquired Malaga Island and has since managed it as a preserve open to the public. Following the acquisition, the Trust engaged in a multi-year discovery process with various partners, including descendants of the islanders, Maine State Archivist Katherine McBrien, University of Southern Maine professors Dr. Robert Sanford and Dr. Nathan Hamilton, the Maine State Museum, and others, to understand the island’s story and to help share this chapter of Maine history. In September 2010, Malaga Island became part of the Maine Freedom Trail and Maine Gov. John Baldacci visited the island for the first public apology to Malaga descendants.
Today, this important Maine historical site is open to visitors, though only accessible by boat. The locations of homes razed by the state in 1912 are marked with numbered posts, and visitors can find a self-guided tour of the island on MCHT’s website. The Trust coordinates occasional tours to the island open to the public.
What does the National Register of Historic Places mean for Malaga?
The National Register of Historic Places is a program of the National Park Service designed to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources. Maine is currently home to several locations that are listed on the Register, including Fort Gorges, Evergreen Cemetery, Shaker Village, The Harriett Beecher Stowe House, and many others. After a three-year effort, Malaga’s National Historic Places designation has spurred a deep sense of relief for many involved.
“Not only is this archaeologically and historically significant, it’s also culturally significant and contributes to long overdue social justice,” said Rob Sanford, Registered Professional Archaeologist and Professor Emeritus of Environmental Science & Policy, University of Southern Maine. “This helps ensure Malaga and its people will not be forgotten,” he added.
Voter and other Malaga Island descendants expressed support for the island’s placement on the List of Historic Places, which is largely what drove MCHT Southern Maine Conservation Easement Steward Caitlin Gerber, to spearhead the effort. “It’s important to note the descendants’ involvement in this achievement,” says Gerber. “Their overall support of the nomination, attendance at the nomination presentation, and input on various drafts has been instrumental to this process.”
Statements of Support for National Register of Historic Places Designation
- “I am absolutely thrilled to learn that Malaga Island has been added to the National Register of Historic Places, a significant designation for this historic place that is so very important to our understanding of Maine and American history. Through the strong advocacy of both Maine Coast Heritage Trust and descendants of the Malaga Island community, our collective understanding of this important history and need for its preservation has greatly increased with this action.” — Kate McBrien, Maine State Archivist
- “It feels symbolic that just over 20 years ago the story was hidden away and wasn’t spoken of. This gives the generational trauma that the descendants experience legitimacy on a big scale and highlights the story, showing it will never again be forgotten or brushed under the rug.” — Caitlin Gerber, Southern Maine Conservation Easement Steward for MCHT.
To learn more, view maps, video, and photographs, and to plan a visit to Malaga Island, visit: https://www.mcht.org/preserve/malaga-island/