All Maine Matters

August 2006



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All Maine Matters

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Vol. 1, No. 8      August 2006 FREE

Profiles in Rural Maine: Wallagrass & Soldier Pond, Maine
By Ken Anderson

When my wife and I first decided to move to Maine, we drove throughout much of central and northern Maine, including the St. John Valley. One of the most beautiful, idyllic settlements I've ever come across was Soldier Pond. Looking down from Soldier Pond Road, across the Fish River, with the white steeple of the Catholic Church to the left of the bridge, a small store to the right, a post office, some houses, and the wide spot in the river known as Soldier Pond, that was my choice in a place to settle.

One of the down sides to being married is that you don't always get to make your own choices about such things however, so we ended up in Millinocket, much to the distress of the ruling classes here. But I've visited Soldier Pond often in the past six years, taking photographs and making the acquaintance of some of the folks who do live there, and who have been there for many years, most notably Rita Stadig, the author of eleven books on local history, with even more in the works. I spent an afternoon with her a few years ago, and was pleased to find that she remembered me when I dropped in on her again a few days ago.

Most of what I know about the history of Wallagrass and Soldier Pond was derived from conversations with Rita Stadig, and from her books. I only hope that I don't screw it up too badly.

I am spared two pages in each issue of All Maine Matters, for the purpose of introducing you to another Maine community. My profile of Millinocket in the July issue exceeded this number of pages, so I've promised never to do that again.

While Soldier Pond has always had its own identity and, until a few years ago, its own postal address, it's always been a part of Wallagrass, deriving its name from the soldiers who were stationed there during the Aroostook War.

Before that, of course, there were the Malecites and the Micmacs, who settled the area before the French, the Acadians, and the English came. The Acadians and the French were not the same people, as many think. The Acadians were descendants of the Norsemen who invaded the part of France known as Normandy, settling there many centuries before coming to the American continent. There, over the generations, they learned the French language and developed their own identity and culture.

Because they were distinct from the French Canadians, the Acadians did not enjoy the protection of the French, resulting in their being persecuted and repeatedly driven out of their homes and their lands by the English. Expelled from their homes in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, many settled along the eastern coast of the United States, and a large segment of their population found they way to Louisiana where they became known as the Cajuns. Others crossed the St. John River, settling in what was to become the Maine part of the St. John Valley, where they enjoyed good relationships with the Indians.

Prior to the Aroostook War, nearly a hundred percent of the people living in the Fort Kent area, which included Wallagrass, were Acadians. After the Aroostook War, there were roads leading to the area - the St. John Valley Road and Route 11 to Ashland - which brought others to the region.

In preparation for the defense of land claimed by the State of Maine, forts were built at Fort Kent, Fort Fairfield, and Soldier Pond. The only one still remaining is the blockhouse, constructed in 1839, that still stands in Fort Kent. The previous year, two blockhouses and a barracks were built at Soldier Pond, known then as Little Lake. Fearing its capture by the British, the blockhouse was burned by the three American soldiers who were stationed there at the time. The railroad has since been built over the site. A wooden sign and an American flag mark the spot where two American soldiers, perhaps the only casualties of the Aroostook War, were said to have been buried after drowning in the Fish River.

I need to move on, but if you are interested in the Aroostook War, Rita Stadig has written a short book, based on her own research, which deals mostly with the role played by the Soldier Pond region; and a much longer and more comprehensive book has been written by Geraldine Tidd Scott, entitled "Ties of Common Blood: A History of Maine's Northeast Boundary Dispute with Great Britain."

The Aroostook War was settled by the Ashburton Treaty in 1840. The Madawaska Territory was broken off from the lands on the Canadian side of the border belonging to England, separating two groups of people on both sides of the St. John River. This included the American towns of Fort Kent, Wallagrass, Eagle Lake, Van Buren, Grand Isle, Madawaska, Hamlin, and Saint Francis. Frenchville, Saint Agatha, Presque Isle, and Caribou were also considered part of the American portion of the St. John Valley.

Township 17 was known as Wallagrass Plantation, which was at one time divided up between only three or four families. In the early 1900s, additional grants were sold, depriving some of these families of their land.

Up until the time of the Aroostook War, there were no schools in Wallagrass Plantation, although families had lived there for years. Between the years of 1820 and 1850, the state legislature began paying attention to the education of children in the rural areas, yet because much of the St. John Valley remained in dispute until after the Aroostook War, the state's northernmost areas were not well served by the educational system.

Still, Wallagrass had elementary schools as early as 1820, although many of them met in the homes of the teachers, who were not routinely paid for their work with the children.

In all, Wallagrass built five schools: the St. George School; St. Euzebe, near Wallagrass Stream; St. Anthony, located at the Belanger Settlement; St. Elizabeth, at Sly Brook; and the Wilson School, on the Strip Road.

In 1873, the schools were turned over to local control, and Wallagrass developed a system of education; but since the law dictated that only forty cents per inhabitant could be spent on education, those in the rural areas did not benefit as much as those in the more highly populated regions. Under local control, only the towns had the authority to raise money for the schools. There were no free high schools until 1875.

An almost entirely Catholic community, divorce was rare. People married early, and were self sufficient at a very young age. The primary occupations were farming, logging, and trapping. People grew, hunted, or fished for most of what they needed as food.

Some of the early Wallagrass settlers were Romain Michaud, who settled, as a squatter, at the north end of the Wallagrass Stream Bridge in 1830. His land followed the stream as far as the Fish River. His children included Domase, Albert, Paul, Marjorie, Joseph, Fred, Marguerite, Julie, Marie, Adele, and Zeb.

Romain had lots on both sides of the Fish River, some of which were sold his eldest son, Albert. His youngest son, Zeb, came to own land along the Wallagrass Stream, south of the bridge. Romain also sold a portion of his land to Philomen Michaud, who settled on the west side of the road near Wallagrass Stream.

Massachusetts grants in Wallagrass Plantation were deeded to settlers, in lots of ten acres each, who would agree to cut timber to build fences, clear a certain amount of land, build a home, and pay $22 to the state. If they failed to make payments or to fulfill the other provisions of the grant, they would lose all rights to the land, which would be granted to someone else.

Other early settlers included Henry West, who purchased 1,714 acres of land from the State of Maine for $428, with the stipulation that he cut only enough timber as was necessary for building and improving the land until such time as it was paid off.

Domase Michaud was a squatter who came to own land on the northeast side of the Fish River, and on the eastern side of Soldier Pond. This land later changed hands within the family several times, various portions being owned by T.T. Michaud, John Michaud, Henry Michaud, and Vincent Michaud.

Eighty acres of Michaud land on the eastern side of Soldier Pond were sold to Steve Pelletier in 1914. On that land he built his home and store.

In 1902, lots were surveyed in Wallagrass Plantation, owned by Joseph Belonga, Eli Berube, August Caron, James Clark, Joe Cote, Elise Dupre, Frank Fournier, Margroire Gagnon, Marguerette Gagnon, Peter Gagnon, George Labbe, Peter Labbe, Charles Labe, Cypreine Labe, Docite Labe, Maxime Labe, Napolean Labe, Romuld Labe, J.A. Laliberte, Jas Madore, Cyrile Martin, Denis Michaud, John Michaud, William Michaud, Catherine Moro, George Page, Jeremiah Perowe, Romule Persoult, Marcil Pinette, Andrew Saucier, Horace Saucier, Jerry Saucier, Joe Saucier, Ropheal Saucier, Napolean Shaw, Angus Thereault, and Vincent Theriault.

Aroostook County has long been known for its potatoes, and Soldier Pond was no exception to this rule. In 1914, a group of Soldier Pond farmers met at the Soldier Pond School House for the purpose of forming the Soldier Pond Farmers Union, its purpose being to buy and sell shares, and to handle product. Its board of directors included Louis Perrowe, Napolean Labbie, Thomas Z. Michaud, Theophel Freeman, Theophile Labonte, and Ulysses Theriault, Louis Perrowe being its president, and Napolean Labbie treasurer.

In 1914, Soldier Pond had a mill, known as the Daigle Mill, and at least a couple of potato houses along the railroad tracks. One of the potato houses was demolished only a couple of years ago, while the other remains. I don't know if it's still in use.

Today, Soldier Pond remains as a place that could have come out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Since I first put up my photos of Soldier Pond in 2000, I've heard from several people who had grown up there, but none of whom were still living there. Everyone said that it was the perfect place to be as a child, but many said that there wasn't much to do as a teenager, and they all agreed that there were no ways of earning a living there as an adult.

Most, if not all, of those who wrote me said that they'd love to be able to move back to Soldier Pond, but they don't know what they would do there. Gone are the days when you can earn a living in the woods and oddly enough, since people haven't quit eating potatoes, even the farmers are struggling.

It's a familiar story. It's the story of rural America.

Soldier Pond remains, I am sure, a wonderful place to raise a family. A raft sits in the water at Soldier Pond, and there were children who would probably be in trouble if their parents saw them jumping off the bridge into the water, happily enjoying a warm summer afternoon.

Wallagrass itself, and Wallagrass Station, the part of it along Route 11, is busy with traffic passing rapidly through carrying people on their way to somewhere else. With no shoulders, there are few places to pull over and stop. And with few businesses, I doubt that very many people even want to.

But if you turn off anywhere to the east of Route 11, you'll find houses crowded along the Fish River; perhaps a few too many, but I suspect that several of them are left empty once summer is over.

On the west side of Route 11, you'll find houses built on high ground overlooking the lake, but not much else. The houses are pleasant and, while some are too close to the road for my liking, most of them sit up high on the ledge abutting the road. There are some farms yet, and I could see some cattle grazing on a distant field. Otherwise, everything to the west of Route 11 is timberland.

I drove off onto Carter Brook Tote Road, west of Route 11 and Wallagrass proper, for about a dozen miles, well after it turned into Wallagrass Road, and was able to get some nice photos of the woods, the mountains, the streams, and a long, narrow, winding road.

Unfortunately, I had car trouble and was unable to do any more exploring. But I'll be back. I'll always come back to Soldier Pond.

Recommended Reading:

* Twelve Thousand Years: American Indians in Maine, by Bruce J. Bourque. Published 2001.
* The St. John Valley Story: Wallagrass 1830 to 1920, by Rita Stadig. Published 1989.
* The Communities of Western Aroostook County, by Jackie Greaves & Christie Cochran. Published 1995.
* Ties of Common Blood: A History of Maine's Northeast Boundary Dispute with Great Britain 1783-1842. Published 1992.
* Aroostook War: Our Maine Heritage Volume V, by Rita Stadig. Published 1994.

Ken is, among other things, the editor of the online news outlet Magic City Morning Star, on the web at

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