BEALS ISLAND — A bright yellow lobsterboat motors under the bridge that links Beals Island to mainland Jonesport. On a sunny spring day, primary hues are everywhere—a tangerine hull on blocks near a lemon-colored house; multi-striped lobster buoys in rounded heaps resembling flowering bushes.

Once a year in July, the bridge is jammed with hundreds of spectators munching on lobster rolls and watching dozens of lobsterboats racing for “fastest” honors on Moosabec Reach.

But today, a few pickups and a school bus are all that’s in sight. The bus carries students up narrow lanes to the Beals Heritage Center, where Beals Historical Society president Carol Davis is ready to share local history with the children, most of whose families go back generations here.

The center opened in 2011, thanks to grants and donations that recognize the island’s importance as an early settlement and, with Jonesport, a busy seaport. Previously, collections lived in an old town building unfriendly to archival needs. Today, the climate-controlled building features exhibits on the region’s rich shipbuilding industry, fisheries, local sports legacies, and a fellow called “Tall Barney” who became a popular figure of American folklore.

Tall Barney was a descendent of the island’s first permanent settler, Mainwaring Beal, in 1774. A fisherman born in 1835, Tall Barney stood 6-feet, 6-inches tall and “possessed enormous strength,” according to society records. He and his wife Phebe had 12 children, living in what is now called Barney’s Cove.

“The story is he was so tall that, when he’d go to bed, his feet would stick out the window,” Davis tells the children, some descended from the legendary figure, and all craning heads up to see the face of a life-size cutout of the man.

Tall Barney fished the Grand Banks. His fishing log for 1858 is part of the Smithsonian collection, in recognition of his folkloric status. His feats are included elsewhere, such as Buying the Wind: Regional Folklore in the United States by Richard Dorson. There, an acquaintance describes him as “a regular giant” with “great, big, broad shoulders.” Sitting, his long arms dangled to the floor, he could “drum a little tune on the floor with his fingers.”

One of Barney’s sons said he lugged great weights, hauling 200-pound barrels straight out of his vessel’s hatchway, without tackle. He picked up 150-pound barrels of water and drank out of the bottom hole. Once, a horse took a nip at him. Barney accidentally killed it with just a slap.

“Mere five feet folk were puny lot/And six feet people somewhat squat/For Barney Beal was six feet plus/With seven inches fabulous,” reads a ballad in Tall Barney and His People, compiled by island native Velton Peabody and available at the center. “He knew no fear and slight restraint/When others frothed or made complaint/But settled every quarrel quick/With energetic kick or lick.”

A seven-foot monument to Barney towers over other gravestones in the nearby cemetery. Oral tradition says he died in 1899 at 63 of “heart strain” from lifting heavy loads.

The center’s other collections are just as important, of course. Aiming to preserve and expand its boatbuilding and fishing gear holdings, the center is now raising funds to build a cold-storage facility (Donations would be welcome; visit for more information).

The design of the Beals Island lobsterboat is a recognized type in Maine’s lobster fleet. Currently, the center has 1902 Maurice Dow boat and 1939 Harold Gower boats.

The goal, said Davis, is to preserve, for residents and visitors alike, memories for the future. And now there’s space for the future —such as today’s schoolchildren—to view these artifacts.

“It is important to the future of the Heritage Center to involve the children as much as possible,” Davis said. “They need to learn now why keeping the history of Beals is important to future generations. Hopefully, someday, they will become Beals Historical Society preservationists.”