In 1930, as the effects of the Depression began to be felt, Penobscots Leo and Florence Shay of Indian Island at Old Town set up a tent on a vacant lot at Lincolnville Beach with their three young sons. With jobs getting scarcer there was one thing the family could do to earn money and that was make baskets. Growing in the marsh behind the row of shops at the Beach, barely a hundred yards from their camp, they found a large stand of sweetgrass, the aromatic plant used in Penobscot baskets. The Shays had found their summer home, perfectly located on the side of busy coastal Route One and with a key basket ingredient nearby. Leo and the sons harvested and prepared the ash splints that formed the body of the baskets, while the sweetgrass they harvested was braided by tribeswomen back at Indian Island. Florence used it as decorative accents as she wove each basket. For most of the next thirty years the Shays returned every year to set up their Indian Camp basket tent.
In the photo Florence is working on a basket in the entrance to their sales tent; the family lived in the rear tent. In the 1960s their grandson, Bob Anderson, bought the business and continued to operate the popular Indian basket tent for another thirty years, finally moving the business a mile north to Ducktrap. The Lincolnville Post Office occupies the site today.
Florence Nicolar Shay was an outspoken advocate for Penobscot tribal rights, testifying on tribal issues before the state legislature and in 1942 publishing her History of the Penobscot Tribe of Indians. She was the subject of a 2006 book, Florence Nicolar Shay: Penobscot Basketmaker and Tribal Advocate.
Contributed by: Diane O’Brien, Lincolnville Historical Society