Old sardine factory gets makeover

Posted Aug. 07, 2009, at 9:18 p.m.

LUBEC, Maine — When Victor and Judy Trafford first laid eyes on an empty sardine factory on Johnson’s Bay in Lubec, they looked beyond 100 years of wear, crumbling concrete and peeling paint and saw its possibilities.

The last full-time working sardine factory — operating until 2002 — is now a balance of the old and new, a gentle blending of a working waterfront and upscale living and dining atmosphere.

With its own working pier, the main floor of the 36,000-square-foot warehouse is a boon to fishermen. Lobstermen bring in their catches, bait is supplied for their traps, wrinklers carry in their sacks full of periwinkles, and by the end of the year, The Wharf should be accepting clams and scallops.

Water from the bay is pumped through refrigeration units into a series of concrete pools where lobsters can be held all winter. “It is one of the largest indoor lobster pounds in Maine,” Victor Trafford said Friday.

“We serve at least 200 fishermen from The Wharf,” Trafford said. Nearly 27 boats a day tie up and deliver their harvests.

Caleb Brown of Lubec was dropping off bags of periwinkles that he began harvesting at 5 a.m. “It is definitely a positive thing to have The Wharf here,” he said. “It’s good for the town, good for the wrinklers, good for those working on the ocean.”

To ensure the site will remain a part of Maine’s working waterfront for the next century, Trafford recently sold all development rights to Land For Maine’s Future. “Nothing can ever be done here that will impede the fishermen’s ability to have this working waterfront.”

The $341,500 that the Traffords were paid by LMF will go toward continued development of the factory, including establishing a receiving room, refrigeration units to store periwinkles and other seafood, and for riprap to shore up where the ocean meets the land. The upgrades will allow The Wharf to process crabmeat onsite, while transporting all of the seafood directly to markets in southern New England.

The renovated complex also will make it possible for fishermen to unload safely during winter months. “In the past, they had to take their catches from their boat, load it into a skiff and take it to a beach,” Trafford said. “This was quite dangerous.”

When the Traffords first purchased the defunct sardine factory in 2002, they began renovating the second floor into apartments and overnight accommodations. They now have three apartments and six suites — all with stunning ocean views.

Renovations thus far have cost more than $700,000, Trafford said Friday.

“The roof of this building was collapsing,” he said. “Without the new construction on the second floor, this entire structure would have collapsed into the sea.”

Another large section of The Wharf’s second story is being converted into six suites and a lobster pot-style restaurant. Large windows will give visitors a clear view of Johnson’s Bay, Dudley Island, Pope’s Folly and Canada.

Trafford said guests can enjoy the changes in the sea, the area’s natural beauty and the charm of the town of Lubec. It also contains a large area where artists, musicians or families can gather, or corporate or educational conferences may be held.

The Wharf has become a retreat center, where bicycles and kayaks can be rented and visitors can step out on their room balconies and watch lobstermen unload their harvests. They also can walk into The Wharf’s office and purchase a lobster or two for dinner.

Because Lubec holds two vibrant summer art and music programs — Summer Keys and Summer Brushes — Trafford said people from all over the world are drawn to the town, allowing him to capitalize on that traffic.

Trafford said it is a perfect blend of the working and the relaxing, and his plans include completing the additional six units and the restaurant, launching a water taxi from Lubec to Eastport, and selling lots along the ocean for green-built cottages.

“Our dream was to be able to watch the tides, fall asleep to the sounds of the sea and wake up where a fresh catch from the sea arrives right at our door,” Trafford said. “Now we get to share that with guests.”

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