Historical Qualities

Historical quality encompasses legacies of the past that are distinctly associated with physical elements of the landscape, whether natural or manmade, that are of such historic significance that they educate the viewer and stir an appreciation for the past. The historic elements reflect the actions of people and may include buildings, settlement patterns, and other examples of human activity. Historic features can be inventoried, mapped, and interpreted. They possess integrity of location, design, setting, material, workmanship, feeling, and association. (FHWA Interim Policy, May 18, 1995)

Description, Significance, Condition, Trend
Maine Indians have traveled through and lived in the Katahdin area for several millennia, perhaps since the last glacier receded as much as 12,000 years ago. Indians established travel routes using birchbark canoes to traverse river “highways.” Indian place names originally describing natural features (lakes, waterfalls) or navigational challenges are retained as a vestige of these earlier times and ways. (Above the Gravel Bar, David Cook, 2007)

During colonial period, wars with British drove Penobscots to upriver towns, e.g., Old Town, Mattawamkeag, and Penobscot islands. (Twelve Thousand Years/American Indians in Maine, Bourque, 2001). In eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Indian guides were hired to assist Euro-American explorers and surveyors. (James Francis in Foreword to Above the Gravel Bar). By mid-nineteenth century, increase of lumber activity on upper Penobscot River provided employment, attracting Indians to towns south of the Katahdin area. (Bourque, 2001)

Lumbering in earliest years (from 1770) was largely a small scale affair undertaken by families and limited partnerships. Pine was the species of choice, but by mid-nineteenth century, pine yielded to spruce as the dominant species. After 1820, larger scale operations were formed particularly focused on river driving. Late century decline in harvest for lumber and other solid wood products was offset by harvest for pulp for paper making in the last decade. Great Northern Paper was established in 1900 with building of large mill and a “magic city” in Millinocket. Italians, Poles, Finns, and Hungarians were employed. Work on the East Millinocket mill began in 1906.

Farms in the region were established primarily to support lumbering operations. Better soils in southern Aroostook allowed development of a more diverse agricultural economy in that area (Sherman, Stacyville).

Henry David Thoreau made three major excursions through the region in the mid-nineteenth century, assisted by Wabanaki guides, chronicling his journey in essays published collectively in 1864 as The Maine Woods. Industrialization throughout the northeastern U.S. in this period and railroad promotion of travel for pleasure stimulated interest in the region as a destination among urban dwellers. Sporting camps were established.

Land Ownership and Conservation. While Wabanaki people did not claim ownership of specific parcels of land individually, as a group they held land in common for use by all. Euro-Americans were anxious to secure formal ownership initially to gain and protect timber rights, and this they did accomplish through a somewhat convoluted set of exchanges and laws, with “rights” emanating originally from the King of England. Land speculation in the nineteenth century resulted in a quickly changing ownership map, stabilized in the early twentieth century by Great Northern Paper land purchases undertaken to secure a fiber supply for Millinocket mills.

Conservation interests, and notably one man, Percival Baxter, beginning in 1930 purchased land surrounding Katahdin itself in an effort to preserve that area’s natural systems in a wild state, and to that end creating Baxter State Park. More recent conservation activity (past fifteen years), often taking the form of conservation “easements” where specific rights are purchased as opposed to the land itself, have resulted in protection of a number of critical natural areas and securing public access and prohibiting further development across vast expanses.

National Park Proposal. One large landowner in the area has proposed donating land to the National Park Service to be designated and managed as a National Park. The proposal has met with significant resistance among residents, but also has its supporters. This Scenic Byways plan takes no position with respect to the advisability or viability of a National Park.

Katahdin area “legacies of the past” (per the FHWA definition) include:

  •  River system (“river highways”), including associated Indian names.
  •  Later alterations to waterways that allowed log drives and powered mills (e.g., dams and crib works).
  •  Land ownership patterns.
  •  Mills and other industrial structures (Ambejejus Boom House).
  •  Towns and villages established to support lumbering, paper making.
  •  Agricultural landscape of southern Aroostook.
  •  Sites associated with Thoreau’s journeys.
  •  Sporting camps
  •  Baxter State Park

Scholarship regarding early settlement is limited to statewide studies of development of the lumber industry and smaller scale local histories.

Infrastructure for presentation of historical information is limited to a small number of museums, though existing institutions (e.g., Patten Lumberman’s Museum, Ambejejus Boom House) do an excellent job with a particular focus on lumbering.

Relevant Projects/Initiatives

  •  Millinocket Historical Society has a substantial collection of documents and artifacts and has purchased a building in downtown Millinocket for future development of public exhibits and presentations.
  •  Thoreau-Wabanaki Trail

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