History ~ Moosehead Lake Region, Maine

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A Historical Perspective of the Moosehead Lake Region

The Moosehead region has enjoyed a long and often colorful history. Often, when visitors come to the area, they are heard to talk about the pristine wilderness environment found here, suggesting perhaps that the area is just now being "discovered." But that is far from the truth because-there were people here long before the early explorers reached the area. In fact, it was Moosehead Lake's direct link with the Kennebec River and close proximity to the West Branch of the Penobscot River that made the area vital to the earliest inhabitants. Not much is known about the earliest inhabitants, Indians during the early Archaic Period about 10,000 years ago. They didn't keep written records, but stories were passed down from generation to generation, now lost to the sands of time. However, there are many artifacts from the period about 3,000 to 6,000 years ago, and they indicate these people traveled by water and hunted big game. These inhabitants became known as "Red Paint People" because of the red ochre found in the excavated graves of these early people. There were gravesites of Red Paint People near the Mt. Kineo Hotel on the Kineo Peninsula across from Rockwood, but the graves were virtually destroyed many years ago when tennis courts were constructed at the site. Artifacts from these graves were on display at the hotel for many years, and others were taken to Boston and the Peabody Museum.

The Red Paint People left the area or died out and it was not until about 1,000 years ago that other various tribes came to the region. It is generally believed that most of the Indians in Maine were Algonquins who migrated from Canada. In Maine, Indians are often known by geographic areas which more clearly defined tribes. The tribes which frequented the Moosehead region included the Cannebis (or Kennebecs), the Piscataquis, Penobscot, Saint Francis, and perhaps less frequently, the Micmac and Maliseet. Soon, Indians lived at various locations around Moosehead Lake, including Seboomook, Northeast Carry, Indian Hill in Greenville, Birch Point in Rockwood and at Kineo. In fact, early Indians were perhaps the first tourists to come to the region, traveling to Mt. Kineo for the excellent silicious hornstone, also known as flint. Much of Mt. Kineo is flint, and Indians were known to travel great distances to secure the stone which was essential for their arrowheads, spearheads, tomahawks and other weapons and implements. In fact, the stone is so different that scientists have been able to track Mt. Kineo flint across much of the eastern United States and Canada. Indians which came to the area for flint included the St. Francis, Norridgewocks, Abenakis, Delawars, Mohawks and Iroquois.

For the most part, Indian life was difficult but peaceful. Perhaps the most significant problems occurred when the Mohawks came to the region for flint. They were bitter enemies of the Abenakis, and it is believed that many a battle was fought in the woods surrounding Moosehead Lake.

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GREENVILLE

It wasn't until the late 1700's that the white man came to the Moosehead region. In 1764, a surveying party from Massachusetts visited the area. While the first white man to view Moosehead Lake is not known, it wasn't until 1824 that a settlement began at Greenville. Within decades, settlements throughout the woods began to spring up, some with no more than a handful of hardy people.

There is no question the Moosehead Lake region was much more difficult to reach in the early 1800's than today. The overland journey was long and difficult by stage or horse-drawn wagon. But as has happened in so many other areas, the migration began as people sought a new and better way of life. What was to become Greenville was first surveyed and lotted as Township 9, Range 10 North of the Waldo Patent (T9, R10 NWP). The township was a public grant by the Massachusetts Legislature in about 1812 (at that time, of course, Maine was a part of Massachusetts). Records show that the southern part, about 11,000 acres, was granted to Thornton Academy in Saco and the northern portion went to Saco Free Bridge. In 1824, Nathaniel Haskell of Westbrook purchased the southern 11,000 acres. He began an aggressive sales pitch to friends and neighbors in the Portland area, and soon had enticed several people to join him in the wilderness. Among these earliest settlers were Isaac Sawyer, Edmund Scammon, Oliver Young, William Cummings, Enoch Shaw, Ichabod Tufts and Charles Meservey. Records indicate that the first boy born in the new settlement was Alpheys D. Tufts, son of Ichabod Tufts, and the first girl was Bethiah Shaw, daughter of Enoch Shaw.

The grants were organized on August 20, 1831 under the name Haskell Plantation. In 1835, it was voted to have the plantation incorporated, and strangely, it was decided to call the settlement "Cuba." At a meeting a short time later, the name was changed to New Saco, but by the time the petition went to the legislature, the name had been changed to Greenville. At the time of incorporation, the town was in Somerset County, but when Piscataquis County was organized in 1838, it was included in that county where it remains today. Perhaps surprisingly, the first settlement was not nestled along the shores of Moosehead Lake where the Village is today located. Rather, the original settlers moved to an area near Wilson Pond where there was fast water to operate a mill and good farming land. In the summer of 1824, Nathaniel Haskell and Oliver Young cut 10 acres of trees and John Smith, Mr. Haskell's son in-law, cut six acres on an adjoining lot. The following year, part of a road was cut to Moosehead Lake.

In 1827, Haskell brought Deborah Walden, his widowed daughter with three children to live with him. A sister of Mrs. Walden's spent the summer with her but left in the fall, and for more than a year afterward she never saw another woman. It has been said that Mrs. Walden would later jokingly tell people that she was "the handsomest woman in town." Stories also were told about Mrs. Walden, undoubtedly a woman of uncommon determination and inner strength, Iying awake in bed at night listening to wolves howling, and her deals with local Indians. Although the Indians were friendly, she most likely would be frightened with small children in the house. Deborah Walden later married Oliver Young and they had several children to join her earlier three. Deborah Walden Young lived to be 87 and died in 1880. She is buried in the Greenville Cemetery.

During the early 1830s, many new structures were built, and expansion was in the winds. A number of small farms were carved out of the wilderness and other mills were constructed. At the time the town was incorporated in 1836, the present Village site was being settled. A road had been cut through from the early settlement to East Cove at the foot of the lake. Henry Gower arrived to clear a piece of land overlooking Moosehead Lake where he built a two-story hotel which he called the Seboomook House. The hotel flourished, mainly because of land speculators, lumbermen and others who were coming to the area. Mr. Gower later opened the first store in town (1845) which his brother Charles continued to run for many years. By most accounts, in 1846 the Village consisted of a hotel, a store, two houses, two blacksmith shops and a schoolhouse.

In 1846, a small steamboat was built and was used for towing rafted logs on Moosehead Lake. This was the beginning of the steamboat era which continued for well over 100 years. Even today, the restored steamship Katahdin operates on Moosehead Lake, but now transporting tourists rather than towing logs. With business flourishing and travel becoming easier (by the standards of those days), more people came to the Moosehead region. In 1846, the Eveleth House was constructed, becoming the second hotel in town.

The first religious gathering in town was in a small log cabin on a now abandoned road between the Blair estate atop Blair Hill and the Blair Annex buildings. James Withee was the first "settled minister," and he was both a farmer and preacher. The congregation needed a regular meeting site (meetings were being held in various houses) and in 1858 the people united in constructing a meeting house. Called the Greenville Union Meeting House, it was dedicated on December 1, 1859. In 1868, James Cameron, a Presbyterian layman, awakened an interest which culminated in the organizing of a Union Church (now the Union Evangelical Church, United Church of Christ). In the early days, Methodist circuit riders traveled between Howland and Moosehead Lake, preaching in Greenville only on occasion. Methodist meetings were started by Elijah Young and a small church was started.

Although the Civil War had little direct impact this far north, there were 47 men from the area who served, and that was a considerable number considering the population at the time. By 1869, the Bangor and Piscataquis Railroad (later the Bangor and Aroostook) was inching its way to Greenville. By 1871 it reached Guilford, Abbot in 1875 and Blanchard in 1877. Here it was delayed for seven years and some residents of Greenville wondered if it would ever reach Moosehead Lake. In July 1884 the problems had been resolved and the train reached Greenville Junction. By 1888, the Canadian Pacific Railroad also reached Greenville, and thus the remote town in the wilderness was served by two railroads.

By the turn of the century, the "modern age" arrived in Greenville. Many new buildings were constructed, residences and businesses. That expansion continues today, despite numerous periods of boom and bust, Returning to the Methodist heritage of the area, in 1898 the Rev. George Martin, identified as an assistant to Rev. Davison, began to hold regular church services in the Greenville Junction schoolhouse every Sunday afternoon. A regular Sunday School was established. The following year, 1899, Rev. Martin began devoting all of his time to the Junction, and the People's United Methodist Church came into being. The church was dedicated on December 9, 1900. The church building was repaired, remodeled and rededicated in 1921. Ronald W, Walden, now a minister in Bangor, served the People's church during the 1970s. He is a direct descendant of the first white woman settler, Mrs. Deborah Walden.

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SHIRLEY

The Town of Shirley had its beginnings prior to 1834, when it was incorporated. Visitors often ask where Shirley got its name. Actually, it was named by J. Kelly, a member of the Maine Legislature who named it after his home town. The name selected by a number of inhabitants who had petitioned the legislature for incorporation was "Somerset," but that was turned down by legislators, perhaps because of other places with similar names, such as Somerset County. Shirley township was originally a part of the so-called "Million Acres" of the Bingham Kennebec Purchase. A very large tract of land reaching to the Kennebec River was purchased in 1791 by William Bingham and Henry Knox. Over the years, the land was subdivided and townships were carved out by hardy settlers. Today, Shirley is one of 43 named townships created from the "Million Acres." The headwaters of the Piscataquis River are found in Shirley, and an excellent flowage from Shirley Pond, in the heart of the Village, saw light industry in the form of mills at the site in years past.

The first settlement came about 1825 when Joseph Mitchell, Eben and David Marble settled on a lot on the east side of what was to become Shirley. Land where the township was ultimately created was purchased by a Mr. Shaw and Jabez True in 1829. By 1832, according to local historians Mary Nye and Goldie Phillips, a colony of people from Poland arrived, brought by Mr. True. A post office was established under the name of "True's Mills" in 1830, and the name was changed to Shirley in 1834. At the time of incorporation, there were 25 voters. In 1848, the western half of Wilson township was annexed to Shirley. The township of Wilson had been created in 1838 and was previously known as Savages's Mill.

The Shirley Methodist Church (now United Methodist) was completed and dedicated in 1906 and is still active. During the time of construction, men turned out with horses, plows, shovels and axes to assist in excavation of the foundation and cutting logs, which were hauled to a mill and sawed into lumber. Prior to the turn of the century, Rev. Charles Davison, pastor of the Union Church in Greenville conducted services from spring to fall in Shirley. After the new church was built, the Shirley Grange and Willing Workers Society purchased an organ and Mrs. Mary Mitchell served as organist for 33 years.

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ROCKWOOD AND MOUNT KINEO

Rockwood and Mt. Kineo, located just across the narrows of Moosehead Lake from each other, are tied by history and perhaps at one time in preglacial days, were linked by geography as well. The earliest history of what is now the Moosehead region was recorded in this region as Indians came to Mt. Kineo for flint. Not only Mt. Kineo, but what later became Rockwood shared in this Indian history and lore. A portion of the area later known as Rockwood was originally Birch Point, a popular site for Indian camps and so-called because of the many beautiful birch trees. This area is located just off the main Greenville-Jackman Road, down a hill and nestled on the shore of Moosehead Lake. The Rockwood Post Office, a store and a few houses as well as an impressive new state boat launching site are located where Indians once camped.

In the very early 1900s, the railroad reached Rockwood, but it was another couple decades before a road was constructed between Greenville and Rockwood. Rockwood was believed settled before the Civil War, and among those first clearing land in the area were families from the Maritime Provinces, mainly from Nova Scotia. The first bridge across the Moose River was a floating span built in the late 1800's at the mouth of the river. Another bridge was constructed farther up-river around 1914. This was the same year the road to Pittston Farm was completed. The present bridge was built later, and is now the only bridge on the Moose River between Rockwood and a logging road near Long Pond, not far from Jackman.

The Somerset Railroad (precursor of the Maine Central Railroad) constructed a line to Kineo Station at Birch Point. The name Rockwood was believed to have come from Hiram Rockwood Page, who decided around 1909 that the railroad's Kineo Station needed a post office. Hence, he named the post office after himself. There were two stores and two churches as well as a number of houses in the early 1900s. The Rockwood Community Church, affectionately known as the Log Chapel, was built in the 1940s. Now maintained and operated on a seasonal basis by the Union Evangelical Church (United Church of Christ), the church has a colorful history, and was featured in a Christmas issue of The Saturday Evening Post in 1954. The Catholic Church constructed a mission near the present Moose River bridge in the early days of the century. At first, a priest from Jackman would walk to Rockwood -- about 30 miles through the untamed wilderness -- to conduct services at the mission once or twice a year. As transportation improved, and especially after the road to Greenville was completed, priests came to the mission from the Holy Family Catholic Church in Greenville -- a tradition that continues to this day.

Farming was never a popular lifestyle in Rockwood, due in part to the generally poor soil and considerable ledge outcroppings. It was hardscrabble farming at best, so many of the men turned to working in the woods and others took to providing guide service for "sports" at Mt. Kineo and other sporting camps such as Maynard's-in-Maine.

Located on a peninsula (not an island as many believe!), Mt. Kineo is about a half mile across Moosehead Lake from Rockwood. Most visitors get their first view of Mt. Kineo from the Greenville-Jackman Road as it tops a gentle slope near the Rockwood School. It's an impressive sight with an almost sheer cliff which rises over 700 feet from the lake's surface. To the Indians, Mt. Kineo resembled the back of a huge animal rising from the lake. There is an Indian legend which says the mountain is really the petrified remains of a monster moose sent to earth by the Great Spirit to punish them for their sins.

The first building on the Kineo peninsula was a tavern constructed in 1844 by William and Henry Hildreth of Greenville. On July 4, 1846, the first steamboat, the Amphitrite, made its maiden voyage on Moosehead Lake, and stopped at Kineo. It wasn't long until the first Kineo House, a large hotel, was built. The hotel and 1,200 acres were sold in 1856 and became a hunting and fishing lodge. The original hotel burned and in 1870 another was constructed. So great was the demand for hotel rooms that in 1875 the Annex was added along with the so called "winter cottage." This hotel also burned, in 1882, and was reconstructed almost before the ashes cooled. A grand opening was held on July 29, 1884, with the Rev. Charles Davison, pastor of the Union Church in Greenville as the dedication speaker. With continued growth, the Mt. Kineo House by 1911 could accommodate over 500 guests and was considered one of the finest facilities in the country. But by the 1930s; America's love affair with the automobile was well under way and the end was in sight for the Mt. Kineo facility. The Maine Central Railroad eliminated its Kineo branch in 1933, and the hotel was sold in 1938. During the demolition, the huge wooden structure caught fire and burned to the ground. In 1940, the Samoset Corporation bought Mt. Kineo, and that began a series of sales and grand plans which never materialized. Today, a few cottages remain on the peninsula, but the proud days of old are long gone, never to be seen again.

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THE LUMBERING HERITAGE

It is often said that Maine has the largest percentage of wooded area of any of the 50 states. Some 17 million of the state's 19 million acres are timberland, and that's over 90 percent. There's no question the economic development of Maine in general and the Moosehead region in particular had a lot to do with the woods industry. Even today, the woods industry is a major industrial asset to the Moosehead region. The cutting of timber in Maine began as early as 1631 on the Saco and Piscataqua rivers in southern Maine. In the Moosehead region, a number of sawmills sprang up over the years, some of them remaining for generations. In those early days, lumbering for a sawmill was usually a family affair with the operator cutting his own logs. After the beginning of the 19th Century, cutting and transporting lots to sawmills became a separate activity. Transportation was a big problem, but woodsmen learned to take advantage of the harsh, long Maine winter. Large loads of logs could be moved over the ice and in the spring, when the ice melted, the logs were ready to move down the river or lake. The Lombard steam log hauler, invented by Alvin O. Lombard of Waterville, first came to the Moosehead region in the very early 1900s and transformed timber transportation. With a crawler tread and an engine somewhat resembling a tractor, it would revolutionize the timber industry. Now much larger loads of logs could be transported, and while not really comfortable to operate, it was a big improvement over animals and much less costly.

When one thinks of lumbering in the Moosehead region, more often than not the thoughts are of the so-called "West Branch region," a vast area north of Moosehead Lake in the watershed of the West Branch of the Penobscot River. Woodsmen were at work in this region as early as 1828, long before there was a Great Northern Paper Company. As woods operations spread, steamers were constructed on lakes such as Moosehead, Chesuncook and Eagle. Roads were constructed into the wilderness, and by the middle of the 1900s, what was once wilderness was no more. And it was then that tourism began in earnest, with the folks mentioned at the outset of this paper traveling to the Moosehead region and commenting about being in a true wilderness.

Prepared by Everett L. Parker,
This information is paraphrased from his books Moosehead Reflections and Beyond Moosehead.

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