FRENCHBORO (AP) – A plan to attract more outsiders to the very small and remote island of Frenchboro is paying off.

After 15 years of effort, Frenchboro’s long-term growth plan is finally attaining results, and more young families with children are choosing to move to the island.

There are now 11 children on the island, nine under the age of 7.

That’s a big brood, considering the town’s entire year-round population in the 2000 census was 38. Last year, there were only three students in the island’s one-room schoolhouse.

The school’s survival, islanders say, is crucial for the town’s survival as a viable, year-round community.

Frenchboro is one of Maine’s last working offshore communities. Almost everyone on the island works in the fishing industry, or is married to a fisherman.

People first settled the island in the 1820s to harvesting timber and fish. The town was a busy fishing port until the early 1900s. But as fishing and logging declined, lobstering emerged in the 20th century as the community’s sole economic staple.

The town’s population peaked in 1900, when U.S. census takers counted 166 people. Then it went into a 100-year nose dive.

By the 1980s, the population had dwindled to 50 people, more than half over the age of 60.

To tempt families, Frenchboro leaders developed a homestead plan. The David Rockefeller family donated about 50 acres of a spruce forest, and the town obtained a federal grant. Seven houses were planned, including one for a schoolteacher. The plan called for families to rent the three-bedroom houses for as little as $350 a month for three years. Afterward, they could buy them at below-market prices.

More than 3,000 people mailed in applications, and a town committee selected six families and construction of the houses began.

The new families arrived in December 1988. Most came from out of state and had worked as fishermen at least part time.

But none of the six families lasted long enough to buy, some citing the lack of opportunities for their children and the difficulties of the lobster business.

In all, more than 20 families moved into the houses and eventually left, but six stayed.

But the new families need more than lobster profits and subsidized housing to keep them on the island, said island resident Tim Wiggins, who grew up in Portland.

Wiggins and his wife were the first to buy one of the new houses and their son, Elijah, who was born in 1999, marked the start of the baby boom.

Wiggins said a family friendly environment is important to retaining new residents. That’s why the planned preschool is so important, he said.

If the island neglects families’ needs, he said, “my kids are out of here,” he said.

“It is a great thing that we know there is a future for our children and for us here,” said April Wiggins, an island native and mother of two children, ages 3 and 4.


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