Cultural quality is evidence and expressions of the customs or traditions of a distinct group of people. Cultural features including, but not limited to, crafts, music, dance, rituals, festivals, speech, food, special events, vernacular architecture, etc., are currently practiced. The cultural qualities of the corridor could highlight one or more significant communities and/or ethnic traditions. (FHWA Interim Policy, May 18, 1995)
Description, Significance, Condition, Trends
Cultural qualities of the Byway derive from both the natural landscape and human settlement and economy.
As mentioned, Wabanaki place names abound and give the area an authentic cultural identity. Other aspects of Wabanaki (specifically Penobscot) heritage include languages, legends and tales, traditional crafts and ways (e.g., herbal medicines, tracking techniques, etc.). The Penobscot Nation retains a strong presence in and connection to the area.
Immigrant workers who arrived in Millinocket in the early twentieth century to make paper brought their own cultural practices, some of which are still evident in physical representations (churches, cemeteries) and community celebrations.
Other cultural qualities derive from the evolution of timber harvesting with a particular focus on lumber camps and river drives. These historical activities produced a rich legacy of stories and songs as well as a sense of landscape scale and place-identity that is inherently cultural. Beyond practical knowledge, the people of this area hold a deep connection with remote parts of the north woods, such as Chesuncook and Allagash, whether or not they themselves have ever actually been there—though many have been.
Hunting and fishing, initially pursued as a means of subsistence but eventually undertaken for more recreational purposes, have their own lore and traditional practice. Sporting camps, whose architecture may have originally been derived from camps built to support the timber harvest, represent a key architectural resource in the region. Local community events celebrate the region’s traditional recreation heritage.
Though “cultural” perhaps in a different sense than that offered by the FHWA definition above, we note that an important cultural quality related to the natural landscape is the extraordinary number of artists, particularly painters, who have been attracted to Katahdin (the mountain) as a subject. Exhibits of their works over several years suggest a level of cultural interest in this dramatic landscape at least equal to interest in New Hampshire’s White Mountains or the more distant Adirondacks, where “schools” of painters have been widely celebrated.
The Katahdin area, not unlike many other rural parts of Maine and more generally throughout the United States, is undergoing a period of extreme economic and social stress, and such a period threatens the cultural fabric of an area whatever the components of its local culture may be. That said, a number of existing or proposed initiatives focus on cultural conservation.
The Wooden Canoe and End of the Trail Festivals, annual events in the area, place a focus on several of the cultural qualities mentioned above. Local organizations mentioned in the Historical Qualities section above also interpret and celebrate relevant local culture. The Patten Lumbermen’s Museum, for example, offers a rich presentation on life in the lumber camps and continues to pass along the stories of that era.
Of particular note are plans currently underway to develop a cultural tourism project focused on Wabanaki culture. Plans include support for local crafts people, interpretive programs and facilities to convey Wabanaki knowledge and perspectives.