F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that there are no second acts in American lives. Perhaps second acts don't occur in our individual lives - although to look at certain politicians, that seems to the contrary. Among Maine's islands, however, there have been many second, and third, and perhaps fourth acts as communities on those islands evolve and evolve again. Hurricane Island is emblematic of that evolution. The 150-acre island southwest of Vinalhaven has experienced several incarnations, the latest of which is the most intriguing to me.

Hurricane Island was once known throughout the country for its granite. General Davis Tillson of Rockland and two partners purchased the island in 1870 and promptly set about quarrying its deposits of fine colored granite. Tillson had developed lime quarries in Rockland and, with that experience and contacts in Washington, D.C., gained through the Civil War, quickly built himself a lucrative business called the Hurricane Island Granite Company. He hired quarry workers and stonecutters from Europe, bringing over many from Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Scotland and Italy. The workers cut and shaped the granite that then was sent by ship to be used in major cities for such buildings as the Metropolitan Bank Building in New York, the New York Custom House, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

The polyglot island's year-round population eventually reached approximately 1,000. There was a school with 60 students, a Catholic church with a reed organ, and two amateur music bands on Hurricane Island. Tillson managed the community rigidly. Its residents were not allowed to have liquor. Anyone registered to vote was required to vote Republican. The workers rented houses from Tillson's company and their pay went directly into accounts at the company store.

In 1889, Hurricane Island Granite merged with Booth Brothers. The new company was called (not surprisingly) Booth Brothers & Hurricane Island Granite Company and it operated quarries in Tenants Harbor, Seal Harbor, Hurricane Island, Vinalhaven, and a quarry in Connecticut.

Eventually construction companies moved from granite as a building material to concrete, which was cheaper to ship and to use. Hurricane Island's last order, of huge granite blocks destined to be used in a Massachusetts breakwater, sank off Rockland in November 1914. Two weeks later the island's foreman dropped dead of typhoid. Company officials came out to the island and announced the immediate closing of the quarry and the town. Families who had lived there for nearly 50 years grabbed what they could and headed out on the boat. The town's records were sent to Vinalhaven and Hurricane Island became part of that town. Eventually William Gaston bought the island in 1936 when it was in bank receivership. He deeded the island to his son, Dr. James Gaston, who owns it today.

The island entered its second act when Peter Willauer came on the scene. Willauer, a great-grand nephew of Winslow Homer, left a career on Wall Street to settle his family in Maine. At that time, Outward Bound was a new organization in America. Josh Miner, a protégé of German educator Kurt Hahn, had started the first Outward Bound program in Colorado in 1961. Willauer, an avid sailor, set up an Outward Bound school on Hurricane Island, to focus on sailing as a means of building leadership skills. For more than 40 years, thousands of students ran the one-mile trail around the island first thing in the morning, followed by a jolting dip in chilly Penobscot Bay. They dangled from a web of ropes set high in the trees, inched up the face of the granite quarries, and prepared and ate very good food. The core of the Hurricane Island experience came when the students set off in the school's distinctive open pulling boats to sail for several weeks along the coast. Then they camped alone for three days, foraging for food along the shore. For many students, taking part in Hurricane Island Outward Bound was a formative moment in their lives.
And then that chapter came to an end. The larger Outward Bound company reorganized itself in 2005. Hurricane Island and three other schools were combined together to be Outward Bound Wilderness. The base of the sailing operation was moved from the island to a site in Spruce Head. Hurricane Island again was empty.

Then Ben Willauer, nephew of Peter, turned up. Ben and a board of trustees formed the Hurricane Island Foundation in 2008. They signed a 40-year lease with James Gaston to use the island as the Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership. The center's goal is to use the island to offer hands-on, project-based educational experiences to young people from Maine and elsewhere.

Now, five years later, Barney Hallowell is making the vision of a new life for Hurricane Island a reality. Hallowell came on board as executive director of the center this past February. He had retired the year before after serving as principal of the North Haven School for the past 21 years. Not coincidentally, Hallowell had spent several years working as an instructor on Hurricane Island in the early 1970s.

He and the board of trustees are slowly making a community on the island, a community dedicated, as Hallowell said at a meeting on the island earlier this month, "to living together as a year-round, self-sustaining community with science and education at its heart." With help from a generous anonymous donor, the buildings on the island are being restored, the dining hall and kitchen revamped, and new sources of energy developed. At the moment, power on Hurricane Island comes primarily from solar panels, as well as a Lyman-Morse ZeroBase power cube. A photovoltaic-to-pump system draws island water through a filter and 120 feet up a hill for storage in water tanks. Running water is not used for bathrooms. Instead there are futuristic composting toilets, which are to the average outhouse what Dom Perignon is to Budweiser. "The goal is to have a resilient year-round community here with an infrastructure that supports year-round living," said Hallowell.

And so the third act begins.