04/20/1987 at 01:00 AM EDT
The people of Frenchboro, Maine love the island that is their home. They love it so much, in fact, that they're giving part of it away.
The piney 2,500-acre island off the coast, about 10 miles south of Bar Harbor, reached its peak of population in 1910, when there were 197 year-round residents. Now there are only 51 full-time inhabitants, mostly lobstermen and their families. The survivors, worried that Frenchboro might become a ghost town, have used private donations and government grants to set up 10 homesteads they have offered free to potential settlers.
The Frenchboro Development Corporation stressed from the outset that theirs is no island paradise—there isn't even a grocery store—and the mainland ferry from Bass Harbor arrives only twice a week. Still 325 inquiries arrived, from as far away as Alaska and Yugoslavia. From 49 eventual applicants, the islanders chose 12 families as finalists. They have been invited to visit Frenchboro in May to determine who will get the 1.5-acre lots.
One criterion for evaluating applicants was their ability to support themselves, so the finalists include a glass sculptor, a boat builder, an architect and a credit manager (who can presumably conduct his business on a computer). Each applicant also wrote an essay, telling why he or she wanted to live in Frenchboro. Many wanted to escape crime in their communities. A 15-year-old boy wrote that his family wanted to move because his younger sister was afraid to play outside. A woman—a 6-foot teacher from New York State—asked for photos of the island's bachelors. "Some of the letters want to make you cry," says committee member Tina Lunt, a descendant of one of the community's founding families. "Some are funny. We'll be saving them forever."