Lubec’s Brining Shed Collapses, Sails to Campobello Island

The McCurdy Smokehouse brining shed was lodged on the shoreline of Fox Farm on Campobello Island as of Sunday, Jan. 7. (Photo courtesy of Heather Tenan)

By Sarah Craighead 

Dedmon

 

One of Lubec’s most prominent landmarks has fallen into the sea, and then set sail upon it.

The brining shed, part of the McCurdy Smokehouse complex on Water Street, collapsed during the blizzard of Thursday, Jan. 4. 

By Friday, Jan. 5 the shed had floated a short distance on the tide and became lodged in some pilings owned by the Boston Aquarium. Residents aware that the high tide could dislodge the structure parked along the shore at 1 p.m. Though occasional creaks and groans could be heard, the shed did not move on that tide.

Lubec Selectboard Chair Carol Dennison was there to observe the structure, along with several other selectboard members. She said that although Lubec’s harbor master has some authority over anything that becomes a navigational hazard, the structure was entirely owned by Lubec Landmarks. “We’re involved only in the safety of the boats,” said Dennison.

By midday on Saturday, Jan. 6, the shed broke free and made its way out into the channel. Heather Tenan of Lubec said that coast guard aircraft were flying overhead to track its progress. On the morning of Sunday, Jan. 7 the shed could be spotted in its new landing place on Fox Farm on Campobello Island.

Videos and photographs of the shed have circulated widely on Facebook. The shed even appears to have its own Facebook page called “Brining Shed” which recently updated its job status to “retired & travelling the world by sea” and its romantic status to “separated.”  

Late on Sunday, Jan. 7, Brining Shed updated its status. “Day 2 in Campobello and I’ve hardly met anyone. Hoping to make new friends while I’m here!”

When viewed from Water Street, the brining shed was the building farthest from shore. Lubec Landmarks acquired the property in 1995 and operates it as an educational museum about the herring fishing industry, a vital part of the Lubec economy throughout much of its history. When it closed its doors in 1991, the McCurdy Smokehouse complex was the last commercial smokehouse operating in the United States. 

The collapse was not entirely unexpected. The brining shed was the focus of an extensive fundraising effort since late 2016. Lubec Landmarks hoped to relocate the old structure to a nearby shoreline, restore it, and replace it within the complex to be used as part of the living history museum.

Lubec Landmarks President Rachel Rubeor said that the coast guard was immediately notified of the collapse, and that she had spent all weekend monitoring the progress of the shed and evaluating what could be done to minimize the risk to boats navigating the Lubec Channel.

When the smokehouse complex was operational, the brining shed was the first place the herring were processed when they came off of the boats. The fish were sent by sluice into a large vat of salt brine. 

In Nov. 2016, John McCurdy recalled how a change in the government’s regulation of smoking processes led to the closure of his family business. McCurdy inherited the business from his father and ran it for 24 years.

“Several people died down in New York from botulism from eating smoked fish from the Great Lakes which are freshwater fish. They have nothing to do with Atlantic herring but, like all government, they made a blanket ruling, this time against smoking fish. It was going to cost me about a quarter million to update, so I just had to close the door, that’s all,” said McCurdy, “But that was 25 years ago, so I’ve sort of relaxed quite a lot. To start I was a little angry about it.”

The estimated cost of saving the shed was $200,000. Lubec Landmarks was recently awarded a $15,000 grant by the Maine Communities Foundation (MCF), to be used toward restoring the shed. Rubeor said a builder had already stepped forward with a generous offer to work on its restoration, and she is hopeful the MCF funds may yet be used toward salvaging and recreating the brining shed as part of the museum complex.

McCurdy said he had seen pictures and videos of the shed’s travels on Facebook, and enjoyed watching the shed make its way below the International Bridge to Campobello Island. “Never touched a thing,” he said, “and it went out there lengthwise.”