All Maine Matters

April 2006



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Profiles in Rural Maine: Pemaquid, Maine
by Ken Anderson

When I choose a town or a community to profile each month in All Maine Matters, I don’t necessarily know anything about the place beforehand. My goal is to achieve a fair balance of the state, geographically and otherwise, concentrating on the smaller places not so often represented elsewhere. In order to do so, I look for a place that has some history written about it, to use as a beginning point. Thus far, I’ve always chosen the place before reading the history, and each time I’ve been intrigued, finding myself thinking, “I wouldn’t mind living there.”

While I’ve never considered myself to be a coastal person, a few years in Long Beach, California comprising my entire experience in living on the coast, Pemaquid was no exception.

The only hard rule that I’ve established for these profiles is that my wife won’t allow me to go beyond two pages. Any other rule would have to be broken, as Maine communities are not easily fit into templates. After the first issue, in which we featured Benedicta and Oxbow Plantation, I had decided to restrict my profiles to only one town per issue. Choosing Waite for the February issue, I soon learned that the histories of Waite and Talmadge were so intrinsically linked that one could not be easily profiled without the other. While profiling Parkman for the March issue, I determined that I’d have to spend more time and get to know people better, a goal that I still embrace but which I was unable to achieve in Pemaquid.

If you’re looking for Pemaquid on a map, it’s a couple of peninsulas east of Boothbay Harbor, and south of Damariscotta and Newcastle. By sea, look for the Pemaquid Point Light, which is, of course, located on Pemaquid Point.
Initially, my intent was to profile the small place on the map named Pemaquid, located between Route 130 and Harbor Road. As I read the history of the Pemaquid Peninsula, however, I realized that it would be difficult enough separating the Pemaquid Peninsula from the rest of New England, as the entire area was called Pemaquid in earlier histories, until King Charles I agreed with Captain John Smith’s suggestion to rename the region “New England.” I determined to profile the whole of the Pemaquid Peninsula, but most specifically Pemaquid and Pemaquid Neck. Although Pemaquid is a part of the governmental structure of Bristol, to the north, people who live in Pemaquid consider themselves to be residents of Pemaquid, and their mail is addressed that way. The same is true of New Harbor, to the south; and Round Rock, to the northeast.

Pemaquid has a very long history. Indeed, some historians have theorized that it was the cradle of civilization, occupied long before the American Indians came to this continent. It’s hard to say, since we don’t often don’t consider history to have begun until the Europeans entered it. Nevertheless, it is clear the Pemaquid Peninsula was occupied long before the first English colony was established here.

Most people are aware of the Popham Colony, settled in 1607 by the Virginia Company which had also founded Jamestown, and which was a project of the Plymouth Company. Many are not aware that the Popham Patent creating the expedition, included two branches, one of at the mouth of the Kennebec River, which was then called the Sagadahoc River; the other at Pemaquid, more specifically in the area near Pemaquid Beach, where the reconstructed Fort William Henry and the old cemetery grounds can be seen today.

But if Pemaquid was among the first colonies established by the English, there were people living there long before. In fact, according to some historians, Pemaquid was an active and thriving community long before the accepted date of August 8, 1607, citing records of actual settlements there as early as 1000 A.D., and that people were living in the general area long before that.

The name “Pemaquid” is of Micmac origin, predating the Abnaki names. The “pem” or “pemi” means “extending” or “far out” while the “equid” means “situated,” the general translation being, “It is situated far out,” no doubt referring to its position on a peninsula. Pemaquid was well known by that name for more than five hundred years prior to the establishment of an English colony there.

Further compounding the history of Pemaquid, it is significant to note that in those early days, the name applied to the whole region between Newfoundland and Virginia, and continued to be used during the time that the settlement was known as “Jamestown.”

In his history, entitled, “The Story of Ancient Pemaquid,” Harold W. Castner suggests that the Pemaquid Peninsula was settled during the Rude Stone Age, the earliest of four eras, and uses the example of the Oyster Shell Heaps on the Damariscotta River to estimate that humans were in this vicinity several thousands of years B.C. and must have walked the grounds of the Pemaquid. There are three distinct layers of shells, with layers of mold between them, representing periods of abandonment, and the author calculates that the heap had been abandoned for five centuries between the first and the second layer of shells, and for another three centuries between the second and most recent layer. The second layer was placed there by the “Red Paint Indians,” the author concludes, while the third layer was deposited by the “American Indians,” civilizations that were in no way related to one another. He does not hazard a guess as to the identity of the originators of the shell heap, but the five hundred years of abandonment between the first and second deposits suggests that they were not one and the same.

Even the date of its first English settlement is in question, and there appears to be a high probability that the settlement predates the official date of its settlement. Its navigable waters and commercial advantages were well known in England as early as 1605. Even before the arrival of the Pilgrims, ships sheltered at Pemaquid to ride out North Atlantic storms. Shoremen had cleared the forest back from the sea, split the felt timber, and shaved it into staves for barrels, and Indians gathered here to barter with the English.

Of the New England coast, Captain John Smith wrote, “And here there are no hard landlords to rack us with high rents... If he have nothing but his hands, he may set up his trade, and by industry quickly grow rich... and fishing before your doors, may every night sleep quietly ashore, with good cheer and what fires you will, or, when you please, with your wives and family.” -- 1616

Speaking of the Maine coast, he was not so optimistic. “All this coast to Pennobscot, as far as I could see eastward of it, is nothing but such high craggy, cliffy rocks and stony isles, that I wondered such great trees could grow on such hard foundations. It is a country [rather] to affright than delight one; and how to describe a more plain spectacle of desolation or more barren, I know not.”

Several times, British merchants planned to establish permanent settlements at Pemaquid, hoping to save the expense of sending ships and men back and forth across the Atlantic when the fish ran in spring and early summer. In 1625, was given the first deed of land made and acknowledged in New England, perhaps in America, conveying a large tract of land to one John Brown of New Harbor, at Pemaquid. This deed was signed by Samoset (the same who welcomed the Pilgrims at Plymouth) and Unongoit, both Native American sagamores.

By 1630, there were 84 English families living on the Pemaquid Peninsula, most living within sight of a stockaded blockhouse commanding the harbor, for protection from pirates and renegades, more than for protection from the French or Indians, whom the Pemaquid settlers traded with.

The Pemaquid fishing station lay in a tidal river near the peninsula’s tip, the anchorage protected at its entrance by a high rock, perfect for a fort. The peninsula also pushes far out into the Gulf of Maine, requiring vessels along the shore to come under the guns of any forces quartered there.

The first fort was built in 1630, but it proved to be little protection. In 1632, Dixie Bull, a privateer who had been sent with 15 men to avenge an attack by the French, gave up his mission and instead turned pirate. They put in at Pemaquid, walked into the garrison house, beat up the defenders, pillaged the farms and escaped.

This fort was called Fort George. What remained of it was destroyed in 1676 when, emboldened by King Philip’s turning the Wampanoags against the lower New England colonies, the Abnakis and other Maine Indians attacked the English settlements along the coast in force. The English inhabitants of Pemaquid fled, and three hundred of them gathered on Damariscove Island, from where they watched the fire and the smoke of their homes being torched. For about a century, Maine became a battleground for the English, who were trying to regain the territory in the face of constant raids by Indians supplied and encouraged by the French in Canada.

A new fort was built on the same location in 1677. Called Fort Charles, it served primarily as protection for the small settlement, now called Jamestown, which consisted of about a dozen stone houses built to form a street facing the fort. Life was shaky at that time. Each day, the roll of drums “at sun and sun” signaled the start and end of a day’s trading with the Indians, which was carried out only in the street or within the houses, all under protection of the fort’s cannons. At night the traders barricaded themselves in the houses, and everyone was cleared off the point of land around the fort. Fishermen were required to live on land convenient to the fort or on one of the nearby islands.

The agrarian population had no defenders. When room for more fish flakes were needed, the local authorities, representing the interests of the patent holder and merchants, razed warehouses, saltworks, or farms. The people of Pemaquid had no title to their land. In 1682, they wrote to the governor of New York, who then had title to Pemaquid, complaining and asking for redress. Their pleas were ignored.
In 1689, Penobscot Indians captured and destroyed Jamestown, including the fort. By 1690, only four settlements in Maine still had English inhabitants. Peace returned briefly between the six Indian wars, and the northern New England towns were periodically repopulated, each time with new assurances of protection by the English authorities.

Pemaquid emerged as a fortified location, with a series of larger forts being built on the rock overlooking the harbor. Another fort was built at Pemaquid in 1692, this one called Fort William Henry. Still, in 1692, the fort was attacked by French, aided by Indians; the town was plundered, and the fort dismantled. By 1701, 15 families had returned, but they left soon after the third Indian war began in 1703.

In 1729, the fort was rebuilt. Named Fort Frederic, it remained until it was dismantled at the time of the American Revolution. As settlers returned to Maine, they worked the fishing grounds less often, and turned to cutting wood to warm the houses of timber-depleted New England. Pemaquid faded into relative obscurity as a little fishing hamlet. The fort was decommissioned at the end of the French and Indian War, and stood deserted by the time of the American Revolution, and the community had moved to New Harbor, on the other side of the peninsula. Knowing that they didn’t have the arms to man the fortress, and fearing that the English might try to use it as a base, they voted to dismantle the stone walls, block by block, leaving only the cellar holes.

While people have lived there throughout the remainder of history, the Pemaquid Peninsula was never again to become an important place, as history judges places. But it is a beautiful place.

In 1908, the state of Maine reconstructed the tower and wall base of Fort William Henry, using many of the original stones; and in 1970, the state acquired the remainder of the original village property.

In 1914, when J. Henry Cartland published his book, “Twenty Years at Pemaquid,” he notes that many of those who once claimed Pemaquid as their home were obliged to seek employment elsewhere. Cartland bemoans the fact that Pemaquid had become a vacation area for people from away, who were buying up all the land for summer cottages and resorts, and mentions that there were artist’s colonies.
Such is the case throughout much of Maine today, due in part to the natural beauty of the area, but made necessary through many years of liberal politics and environmental extremism.

I mentioned earlier that I had determined that I would make a point of spending more time in an area, getting to know the people there before writing a profile, but that I had found it difficult to do so in Pemaquid, there were reasons for that.
For the most part, there do not appear to be any common areas on the Pemaquid Peninsula. Route 130 leads through Pemaquid, New Harbor, and to Pemaquid Point, ending at the lighthouse; while Route 32 leads north from New Harbor through Round Rock. These are both fairly narrow roads with no shoulders for parking. I was there near the end of March, and the tourist season begins in April, so most of the businesses were closed, as were a high percentage of the houses, many of which are summer rentals or part-time residences. Houses are secluded on private wooded roads some distance off of the public travel routes.

Yes, I can hear some of you thinking that if the state, or one of the environmental organizations, had taken more of the land on the Pemaquid Peninsula, there would be greater access there. Not true. Both the state and various environmental organizations do own land there, and they were closed as well. The Pemaquid Watershed Association owns 200 acres in four parcels, and holds a conservation easement on another 283 acres. A nature camp, and another nature center, are open for only a month or two in the summer. The state owns, of course, the lighthouse and the area of Colonial Pemaquid, including restaurants and museums, all of which were also closed. In its favor, while the buildings were closed for business, I was at least able to tour the grounds of the properties owned by the state, and to photograph them, which I did.

I’m not complaining about the private roads, either. At least I have the opportunity to purchase the properties at the end of the private roads, while no amount of money will give me access to the land taken by the environmental organizations. As a tourist, I may have been a little put off by it, but it’s ideal for the people who live there. Although nearly every twelfth house had a “for sale” sign, people do live there, and I can’t imagine that they don’t enjoy it.

I noticed also that, while there were so many beautiful houses for sale, there was nevertheless a whole lot of new construction going on, none of it commercial, so far as I could see.

I spent a couple of days in the area, doing some shopping for the trip back at C.E. Reilly & Son, and had breakfast at the Cupboard Cafe. Being the off-season, I couldn’t find anything even remotely affordable to rent on the Pemaquid Peninsula, however, so I spent the night in Augusta and returned the following morning. Other than myself, it seemed that everyone knew one another at the cafe, and conversation flowed freely from one table to the next. There were joggers, and people walking leisurely along the roads and trails.

The Pemaquid Peninsula was fascinating in its economic diversity.

Driving into Pemaquid Harbor, I was afraid that I might be arrested for operating a vehicle more than one year old, and not a classic. I saw no one outside, met only one car, and the driver looked at me suspiciously. It’s probably a nice neighborhood if you can afford it, but I’ll never be able to afford it. I left, driving north again, then east to Pemaquid. Riverview Market, on Harrington Road, was quaint, and much like general stores throughout rural Maine. I bought something, then took a photo of the building from the outside. I got some odd looks, perhaps because tourist season doesn’t start for at least another couple of weeks.

Driving back to Bristol Road (which is the cool way to say 130), I drove south to New Harbor, but I didn’t stop right away. First, I went to the Colonial Pemaquid site, took a few pictures of the reconstructed fort, the graveyard, and the holes in the ground that I couldn’t figure out until I looked them up later. I noticed that there was a museum and a restaurant, but that neither of them had been opened since last summer.

That done, I stopped at the C.E. Reilly & Sons store in New Harbor. After leaving some papers off at the store, I felt obligated to buy something, which makes our distribution so much more expensive than my wife would like, and then hung out downtown for awhile, hoping to find someone who knew more about the place than I did. Being shy, I gave up after a half hour or so, and decided that it was time for breakfast.
Some of the restaurants on the Pemaquid Peninsula are probably only open during tourist season, so they were closed.

In fact, quite a few of the businesses that were openly tourist-based were displaying “for sale” signs, indicating to me that a two-month tourist season probably doesn’t go far toward sustaining someone for a twelve-month year any longer. The Cupboard Cafe was open, and I had breakfast there, but since they’re not paying me for advertising and I’ve already talked about them once, I won’t go any further with that except to say that the food was both good and affordable.

From there, I drove south to Pemaquid Point, and took some photographs of the lighthouse and the water, although I’m not much into that sort of thing. It might have been different if the place were open, but still it was good for a few pictures.

I spent the rest of the afternoon driving around some of the little roads that I thought I might get stuck on, such as Sproul Hill Road, Old County Road, and the Rock Schoolhouse Road, although that last one was an accident since I thought I was driving in the other direction, and was in Bremen before I finally caved in and looked at a map. On one of those roads, I believe it was the Old County Road, I came across the Crooked Farm Preserve, which is what you get, I suppose, when they don’t let you have a real farm there anymore.

Getting back to the point that I introduced a few paragraphs ago, one thing that I noticed was that, while it would probably cost me more to rent a small cottage here for a month than I paid for my whole house in Millinocket, not everyone seemed to be rich. There were plenty of regular people there, such as contractors, people cutting wood, and even someone picking up cans and bottles along the road, although I couldn’t decide if she was an economically disadvantaged person or an environmentalist. There were also kids playing basketball in their front yard, and the local elementary school was celebrating diversity week.

Houses, at least those that I could see without risking arrest, ranged from simple cottages, some of which rent for $1400 a week, to spatial palaces, and everything in between. There were even a few house trailers, although I can say that there were not very many.

In late afternoon, I headed back to Augusta, returning to the Pemaquid Peninsula early the next morning, taking Route 32 through Round Pond, stopping at King Ro Market, buying some obligatory stuff that I didn’t need but wanted anyhow, and left some newspapers. Briefly, I wondered about the name of the store, but figured they must be Danish and left it at that.

Driving around, I came across something that made me turn around, go back, and even stop. There was a factory on the Pemaquid Peninsula, and not a tiny one either.

Housed in a good-sized building on Lower Round Pond Road, Master’s Machine Company employs about one hundred people, according to the young lady at the reception desk. The company manufactures precision-machined products, and has experienced healthy growth over the fifty years that it has been in operation. From its beginnings in a small schoolhouse building in 1957, George Masters, Sr. began with only three employees, one of whom was his first son and current company president, Richard Masters. In 1964, the company moved into its current facilities, where it has become a major employer in the larger Damariscotta region, utilizing precision screw machines and computer operated equipment, and competing in a global market.

Living in Millinocket, where there seems to be no place for industry or manufacturing in what has become a poorly-functioning tourist economy, it’s encouraging to see that, even in a place that has been a tourist haven for more than a century, room can be made for manufacturing, at least so long as there is a will.

Next, the library. The Bristol Public Library had a wealth of historical information on the area, as well as a bank of computers, so I spent a few hours going through them, taking notes, and creating a rough outline of what was to become this article.

Leaving there, I retraced some of the steps that I had made the previous day, taking photos from different angles and in a different light. I found that I had missed Dee’s Variety somehow, in all my travels the day before, so I stopped there, bought something and left some newspapers.

Driving along some of the back roads, as I always do, I stopped in a few places and daydreamed about what it might be like to live there.

But I never came up with an answer.


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