All Maine Matters

July 2006



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Profiles in Rural Maine: Millinocket, Maine
By Ken Anderson

This month, I’ll be departing from my usual convention and writing about a town that I know something about, although certainly not everything, since I’ve lived here in Millinocket only since 2001.
Millinocket grew up as a paper mill town; and in fact, the Great Northern didn’t locate in Millinocket; the town rose up around the mill.

The first white man to take up residence in the area was not a millworker, but a farmer. Thomas Fowler came to the region in 1829, initially settling on the west side of the West Branch of the Penobscot River, below Grand Falls at the head of Shad Pond, bringing with him his grown children, who cleared land nearby.
Fowler and his family lived there until the late 1830s, having two more children. Adeline Fowler became the first white child to be born in the territory.

Ranging outward from Bangor, people were starting to settle along the Penobscot River. A settlement first known as Five Islands became the town of Winn. The town of Mattawamkeag sprung up at the point where the Mattawamkeag River joined the Penobscot.

An active settlement grew up where the East and West Branches of the Penobscot joined to form the main river, and this became the town of Medway. A tote road was built connecting the area that is now Millinocket with the town of Medway, as lumber operations were moving up the river and into the Katahdin region.

Perhaps because access to Grand Falls was difficult, Fowler abandoned his home and moved upstream about two miles, clearing land for a new farm along the banks of Millinocket Stream, in the area that was later to become the mill yards of the Great Northern Paper Company. This was sometime in the late 1830s.
In 1882, he sold his farm to Charles Powers, a grandson, who lived there until 1899, when the Great Northern Paper Company purchased the farm.

Even today, descendants of the Fowler family, which include the Cliffords, Hales, Martins, McCauslins, Wileys, and others, remain in the Millinocket area.

Around 1860, Charles and Daniel Watson cleared land on what was to become known as the Rice Farm.

Much has been written about the formation of the Great Northern, yet it would be impossible to discuss the town of Millinocket without including the pulp and paper mill that built it.

Great Northern began with Charles Mullen, an engineering graduate of the University of Maine, who had participated in the building of a dam and groundwood pulp mill in Enfield. When the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad had completed a section of its track from Bangor to Houlton, crossing the West Branch near the rapids and falls between Quakish Lake and Shad Pond, Mullen recognized that this area was ideal as a power source for a large pulp and paper mill.

Initially, Mullen brought together a syndicate of Bangor investors, purchasing the necessary land, in Indian Township 3, then he bought them out and sold half of his interests to Garrett Schenck, who was then serving as vice president of an International Paper Company mill in Rumford.

In an effort to raise capital, they took on some partners, including Colonel Henry Haskell, a Rumford associate of Schenck’s, as well as Colonel Augustus Paine, a New York industrialist who had been born in Maine.

More money was needed in order to get the project off the ground, so Schenck resigned his position with IP and went to New York. Colonel Oliver Payne, a former treasurer of Standard Oil, was interested; as was his brother-in-law, William Whitney, who was once the Secretary of the Navy. Paynne and Whitney were already in business together, owning two sulphite mills, one in Wisconsinn and the other in Madison, Maine.

These two wealthy men agreed to back the project, on the condition that Schenck agreed to run the Madison plant as well, since it had been doing poorly.

On March 2, 1899, the new enterprise was named the Great Northern Paper Company. Mullen and Schenck sold their interest in the land to GNP in return for stock in the company, and Colonel Payne sold them the Madison mill for stock.

Great Northern bought all of the available land between the two waterways, about 1,800 acres, enough to contain the mill and the village that would spring up around it.

Harvey Ferguson served as the Great Northern’s first chief consulting engineer. George Stearns was employed as the Company’s land agent, and it soon acquired 252,060 acres of forest land.

Construction on the mill began on May 15, 1899, and the first newsprint came off of its machines on November 9, 1900. The whole plant was operational five months later.

Great Northern’s founding father, Charles Mullen, resigned at the end of 1900, and was replaced by a Fred Gilbert, a Bangor native who took on the important task of procuring wood for the mill.
Since water power was crucial for the operation of the mill, temporary dams were built to supply power until permanent dams could be constructed, providing ponds for log storage, a constant flow to the penstocks for grinding wood and producing electricity.
Soon a legal and legislative battle ensued over control of the Penobscot River, which had until then been under the auspices of the Penobscot Log Driving Company. As the river was important to Great Northern, not only for the transport of logs but for the generation of power, Gilbert felt that GNP needed to control the river, a fight that he was to win, albeit after a couple of troubling years that included several lawsuits against GNP, even from its founder, Charles Mullen, who was by then no longer with the company.

The first mill Superintendent was John Decker, who came to Millinocket from Rumford Falls. He was succeeded by George Witham and, in turn, Ingleton Schenck and Joseph Nevins. Frank Bowler was recruited as a draftsman for the Great Northern; and in 1911, he became the company’s Chief Engineer.

Italian workers were imported to do much of the construction work, using a padrone system, in which contractors supplied the laborers from Europe for a price from which they turned a profit. At first, Marco Lavonia was the top padrone working for GNP in Millinocket, but Ferdinando Peluso later became better known in that position, prospering in this setting, operating a store on the east side of Millinocket, becoming a bank manager, and officer in the Chamber of Commerce.

Peluso built a large rectangular home facing the stream where the foot bridge crosses to the mill site. It was a two-story house with a half attic in the center of and below the eaves of the roof. The house faced a square where a small store was built on the north side. Heating pipes from the store to the house basement served as a passageway, and a wine press was set up where grapes in large barrels could be quickly rolled out of sight.

Palmer DiNardo built a second store, and Little Italy became a settlement, a neighborhood distinct from the remainder of Millinocket. By the mid 1930s, the Company relocated the small houses down river and two new streets were opened. The land was leased to those who wanted to live there, then sold to those who wanted to own their own homes.

Among the early Italian families were those carrying surnames such as Angotti, Brigalli, Caruso, Civiello, DiCentes, DiNardo, Gagliardi, Manzo, Mosca, Pasquine, Peluso, and others.

Little Italy grew to become a distinct neighborhood, separated from the rest of Millinocket by language and culture. Even today, there are those, not of Italian ancestry, who can remember when they dared not trespass into Little Italy.

Gradually, the barriers were broken down, as children grew up speaking English rather than Italian. As is the case everywhere, there was both good and bad in that.

But the Italians weren’t the only people brought in to build the Great Northern. Laborers imported from Europe included Poles, Finns, Lithuanians, and Hungarians. They moved rocks and earth, building the dams and constructing the foundations of the mill buildings themselves.

Peter Plourde came to Millinocket, with his family, in 1899. They put up two tents on a hill near the Fowler Farm, and went to work helping to build the new town, beginning with their own home.
French Canadians came from along Maine’s northern border with Canada, and from the St. John Valley, to work in the woods, as well as the mill. Some of the early families carried surnames that included Albert, Beaulieu, Bilodeau, Michaud, Theriault, Cyr, Pelletier, Ouellete.

People came from all over the country, and world, becoming the carpenters, railroad men, shopkeepers, and millworkers who were to form the new settlement.

Among the early tradespeople, many whose businesses had first been established in Bangor, were those who carried names from the Far East, such as Hikel, Jamo, Maguris, and Maragus.
Families whose names were of English lineage included Baker, Boynton, Caffrey, Doyle, Galvin, Hunt, McPheters, and McInnis. Scandinavians, most of whom came from the Kennebec River Valley, included the Andersons, Carlstroms, Johnsons, Larsons, and others.

From Scotland, John Crawford came to Millinocket to take a job in the new mill. After a year, he had put aside enough money to be able to send for his family.

Newcomers needed somewhere to live. Some built behind the mill, where there was higher ground, in an area that was to be called “Shack Hill,” where they lived until the GNP needed the land for expansion of the mill itself. Others settled along the tote road, in an area now known as Old Medway Road.

The Great Northern itself encouraged and even assisted with building much of the town, in order to provide housing for its rapidly expanding workforce. In July of 1899, GNP placed an advertisement in the Bangor Whig and Currier, asking for responsible parties to erect one hundred tenement houses, business blocks, and a suitable hotel and boarding house.

Once GNP began producing paper, the steady traffic between the railroad station and the mill, a distance of about a mile, brought about the construction of boarding houses. The early boarding houses were similar to those seen in any mill town, from three to five stories in height, except that they were not placed in rows of identical design, as was the custom.

Construction on the Great Northern Hotel began in 1900. The elegant 52-room structure was completed the following year, and leased to J.P. Randall, its first proprietor.

The mill operated in eight-hour shifts. Since everyone would be walking to work, the locations of the first homes were in part determined by convenience. More areas opened up west of Katahdin Avenue near the mill, and just across the tracks.
Between November 1, 1899, and December 31, 1927, GNP’s president, Garret Schenck, signed over deeds to hundreds of lots owned by the company in Millinocket and East Millinocket.

Most of the houses in Millinocket were built by private parties; but in 1901, GNP contracted with Charles J. Rush to build 22 houses of four different styles, at costs ranging from $1120 to $1850.
More commonly, the Company would lay the foundations for new residences, leaving the houses themselves to be built by the emp-loyees who were to reside in them. These houses remained the property of GNP until the occupant was prepared to purchase it. In some cases, the Company would deed the land to the resident once he had completed $700 in improvements to the property.

Fowler’s farmhouse was turned into a boarding house for a time, run by the Moore family; and later, the first Millinocket post office.
Dick Levasseur erected a boardinghouse for his crew, and a man named McCluskey built a boardinghouse and dance hall on Shack Hill.

The town’s first store occupied a temporary building in the mill yards, just behind the stable, and was operated by James F. Kimball and Company. As the town grew, other stores were built to serve the town, including the Boots and Shoes Store, operated by the Gonya brothers; and William Heebner opened a drug store, both of which were located near where the mill was later to erect its office building.

Prior to 1901, there was no town administration, but the Great Northern saw to the organization of the settlement that it had largely built, as it was to continue to do even after the town was incorporated.

Security was provided by Fred Gates, a deputy sheriff employed by the Great Northern; and the Company saw to it that houses were built according to a plan. In fact, most of the early residences followed the same basic floor plan, although dormers, bays, and porches were added for variety and convenience.

Just before the turn of the century, there were only a farm house, a barn, and some outbuildings, on a few acres of cleared land. There were two occupants of the Fowler Farm, Charles and Eugenia Powers. Ed Adams, the section foreman for the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad, lived near Millinocket Stream, with his two cousins, Fred and Quincy; and another section hand was living nearby. A camp known as Hunter’s Home, operated by Almon Reed, was the only other habitation. Yet, on March 16, 1901, Millinocket became Maine’s 467th town; and by 1903, it boasted a population of 3,000. In a very short time, it had become one of the state’s wealthiest towns, heralded in the press as the “Magic City.”

The first town meeting was held on April 18, 1901
Katahdin Avenue was Millinocket’s first street, which soon branched off to form a business district to the east, called Penobscot Avenue, more commonly referred to as “main street.” Then Central Avenue was built, intersecting both Katahdin and Penobscot, and forming a triangle that became the center of town. Next came Pine, Poplar, and Spruce Streets, cross streets within this triangle.

There was once a small cemetery where Memorial Park now is, containing three graves, that of a man and two children. The man’s name was Ossinger. When the municipal cemetery was built in Little Italy, the graves were removed, and the plot was landscaped with walks and flower beds, to serve as a town park. Later, a brook coming up from Ferguson Pond was dammed to form a wading pool, which served as a skating rink in the winter, and which some people in town still remember. Still later, the pond and brook were filled in, and a bandstand was placed there.
The only way into Millinocket was by railroad, except for the water route along the West

Branch, or the old Sourdnahunk tote road, so the town asked the county to lay out a road connecting Millinocket with Medway and Mattawamkeag. A bridge was erected over Millinocket Stream, extending Central Street along a familiar trail to Medway, becoming known as Medway Road.

Houses had already been built along the stream, forming a basis for State and Congress Streets. This neighborhood became known as the Flat.

Just east of the bridge, where the town’s first dump was located, Medway Road curved south and downstream behind Little Italy and the town cemetery. It didn’t run straight east to Medway, as it does now, because it was cut off by high sand banks that served as a place of adventure to the town’s children.

Houses and businesses soon cropped up along this road, now known as Old Medway Road, becoming largely a French area. Charles Tapley built a public dwelling there, which included a Chinese laundry and dance hall. After leaving Shack Hill, Mr. Barbien purchased this building, which is now known as the Hotel Terrace.
Where Forest Avenue now curves into Hillcrest Avenue, in the new development, was a neighborhood known as Skunk Hollow. Fairly early in the town’s history, settlers built their homes along a small brook that fed into Millinocket Stream. This area was later burned over, and became a place for blueberries, checkerberries, and wildflowers.

People now drive through what was Skunk Hollow to get to the Hillcrest Golf Course.

Skunk Hollow included the area now taken up by Stearns High School. A man named Arthur Russell had a farm where Skunk Hollow bordered the river, at the current site of the municipal pool. The football and baseball fields were once planted with Russell’s potatoes. Another farmer, by the name of Sutherland, raised pigs in Skunk Hollow.

Another street near the mill, running parallel and to the east of Penobscot Avenue, was Aroostook Avenue, which at first, was only one block long, extending from Cherry Street north to Birch Street. At first, this area was settled primarily by Greeks, but soon the Poles predominated. This part of town became known as a trouble spot, called Tin Can Alley.

Maine was known for its prohibition sentiments, and the Great Northern discouraged the use of alcohol, so Millinocket was for a long time a dry town. Still, Little Italy employed underground wine tunnels as a means of hiding contraband from authorities, and Tin Can Alley residents used a pipe into which all good liquor was poured, in the event of a raid, to be collected in a basement hideaway.

In time, Aroostook Avenue was extended the almost the full length of Penobscot Avenue, angling slightly west to intersect Penobscot, which itself angles gently to the east, just before Bowdoin Street.

The first religious services in Millinocket were conducted outdoors by the Reverend C.E. Young. The first church was the Union Chapel, which was first located on the corner of Cherry Street and Penobscot Avenue, but later moved to Spring Street and Aroostook Avenue, to become the Armory and, more recently, I-Care Ministries. This building was used for interdenominational church services, and served as the town’s first school for many years.

In late 1899, the Catholic Church was built. The Episcopal Church was constructed in 1902; and the following year, the Baptists built a church on Penobscot Avenue and Spring Street, with Rev. Young as its pastor. In the summer of 1903, the Congregational Church was erected at its present location, calling the Rev. W.J. McNeil as pastor.

The sudden population explosion in 1900 was not without its problems, however. Newly added streets weren’t provided with sewage systems until the 1920s, the outside privies were the rule; and with houses built on small lots, this became more of a problem than they would have been in a more rural setting. Plus, people raised pigs and chickens, to supplement their incomes and diets, adding to the natural odors of a mill town.

The constant arrival and intermingling of people from all over the world also brought disease. Many infants died of such childhood diseases as mumps, measles, or whooping cough in the early 1900s. By 1902, cases of diptheria were appearing, particularly in Shack Hill. Then, by 1903, the town had to deal with epidemics of typhoid and smallpox.

In 1912, the Great Northern built an isolation facility at what was then the edge of town. It was a long rectangular structure that sheltered ten isolation beds. Today, about half of the structure remains, as a residence on Water Street, but it blends in well with the neighborhood, bearing little resemblance to its original role. In 1917, another Pest House was built on the Medway Road. This was a two-story structure, with five small camps built around it. Groups of people were required to live there awaiting the incubation period of the disease before they were permitted to return to their homes.

Health officials later determined that the spread of disease was due in part to the town pumping river water into the town’s water system, a problem which was summarily corrected.

When it came to sports, baseball was Millinocket’s game. A recreational area was built where I-Care Ministries is now, featuring a baseball diamond, a grandstand, and a large pavilion, extending all the way to Water Street.

The Millinocket Tigers of 1909 earned some fame, being the first team to represent the whole town, playing against neighboring towns. Members of the team were Dick Breen, Ed Donley, Ralph Good, Billy Jones, Jesse Lemeur, Joe Monahan, Harry More, Hammy Ordway, Ralph Pond, and Pete Willey. Dr. Cody sponsored the team, and Billy Jones became its manager. Jones was also the star of the Tigers, and went on to play in the majors for the Boston Braves in 1911 and 1912.

By 1910, Millinocket had a population of 5,000, ten miles of streets, a water system, and one of the best sewage systems in the state. It had a bank, a fire station, and four churches. There were 700 students attending two school buildings, plus another that was rented for that purpose.

By then, there were 408 dwellings in town, 26 businesses, a steam laundry, and two opera houses. Apart from the mill itself, there was also a foundry, a sawmill, and two blacksmith shops.
The Great Northern Paper Company itself owned, within the town, the Great Northern Hotel, 17 residences, and several business and residential lots.

The Unions were a part of the Millinocket workplace from the beginning. The first people recruited to work at the new mill were mostly union men. The International Machine Tenders Union was representing GNP workers as early as 1901, and the first local union was formed the following year, #27 of the International Brotherhood of Paper Makers. Other unions were formed shortly afterward, including Local Union #69 of the International Brotherhood of Firemen, Oilers, and Helpers; and in 1906,
Local Union #12 of the International Brotherhood of Pulp, Sulphite, and Papermill Workers.

The 1920s brought rapid growth in Millinocket. The addition of two more paper machines greatly increased the workforce, which in turn increased the population of the town.

The town was growing to the west so fast that the Elm Street railroad crossing could no longer meet the demands, so another was built at Spruce Street, extending the town further. Maine and Highland Avenues were extended to Bowdoin Street.
The Millinocket Oddfellows built a two-story brick building, which included a basement, and housed a lodge room, assembly room, dining and kitchen facilities.

A new, wider bridge replaced the original Central Street bridge over Millinocket Stream, as many Millinocket residents were by then driving their own cars.

In the fall of 1921, the Millinocket High School burned to the ground. To complete the school year, students were crammed into the Armory building, which was partioned into four rooms, an arrangement that served the town’s high school students for the following school year, as well. The town voted to raise $30,000 by assessment, and to take out a bond for an additional $150,000. Additional money included a gift of $50,000 from the Great Northern.

The new school, the George W. Stearns High School, opened in the fall of 1923, with 743 students. In 1926, the town voted to equip this new school with a gymnasium, at a cost of another $50,000. This building is now in private hands, serving as an apartment building for assisted living residents.

Millinocket’s first surgical hospital was built in 1920, after Dr. Bryant sought to bring the medical experience he had acquired during the World War I to benefit the civilian population of Millinocket. Housed within his private residence, it was equipped with eight beds and an operating room. Before then, serious accident victims were sent to Old Town by baggage car.

The 1930s, of course, brought the Great Depression. However, the people of Millinocket suffered far less than those in other parts of the country. Being essentially a one industry town, people knew one another and helped on another out. As jobs became scarce due to shutdowns, workers with seniority would voluntarily give up their right to work so that others could have part-time employment. The spirit of cooperation that existed in Millinocket kept the percentage of seriously unemployed down, as compared to other parts of Maine.

The federal government also helped by forming the Civilian Conservation Corps, initiated by President Roosevelt to take unemployed people off the streets during the depression. Several hundred volunteers with the CCC were housed near where the Airport Cabins now are, and another camp was established at Baxter Park. The road leading from Bates Street already led as far as Millinocket Lake, but the CCC extended it to Baxter Park, and provided much of the labor in building the airport, which was completed by 1939.

Some early Millinocket pilots were Merle Fogg, who was not from Millinocket but used the ballpark as an airfield more than a decade before the airport was completed. The first hometown flier was Pat Violette, who flew his own Curtis Robin from 1937 until he joined the army. John Luke, Paul Michaud, Binkie LePage, and Bob Steeves learned to fly at the Rockland Flying School, and flew in Millinocket for a time. Soon the Millinocket Aero Club was formed, its nine members including Angus Bears, Gene Betterly, Chet Crawford, Charlie Eustis, Bob Laverty, Bob Mott, Nook Noyes, Charles Turner, and John Walsh.

The Katahdin Avenue Schoool was built in 1931 on the site of the original Millinocket High School. It contained eight classrooms, with a capacity of 320 students. Originally a one-story brick building, additional classrooms and office spaces were added in the 1960s. The building was demolished in 2003.

The Bangor and Aroostook Railroad made improvements to its Millinocket facilities in 1938, raising the railroad yard eleven to thirteen feet, extending it north as far as the Iron Bridge. The railroad station itself was moved across the tracks and turned around, and built an underpass crossing Bates Street, so that the road to the station no longer went to the end of Katahdin Street.
This opened up new areas for housing along Bates Street. The short streets on the Highland Avenue plateau dipped to cross Katahdin Avenue, which was the original lifeline. Colby Street, which had opened very early for the building of the Catholic Church, now crossed Katahdin Avenue and rose to join the new School Street. With a sharp turn off Katahdin, this street moves northward behind the Congregational Church until it becomes a dead end where a sand bank drops to the flat area below.

The late 1930s and the 1940s brought, not only the firestorm in Europe known as World War II, which took the lives of many Millinocket soldiers, but it also was a time of several fires in and around Millinocket.

The Millinocket Theater, operated by Frank LePage, Jr., was destroyed by an explosion, hot enough to scorch the face of Hikel’s store across the street, and destroying the theater building. A fire prompted a remodeling of the Opera House, removing its third floor.

Outside of town, hot and dry weather during the spring of 1941 brought several forest fires, burning many acres of forestland, and destroying about sixty camps.

Frank Speed, the owner of an insurance company in Millinocket, published a letter addressed to camp owners which read, in part:
Do not be discouraged after your many years of hard toil. Be determined. Build immediately. Ferns will grow this summer to obliterate most of the blackness. The beautiful lakes and Old Katahdin are still with us. These views cannot be taken away.
People responded. They rebuilt. And the ferns, the blueberries, and other young plants did grow to hide the scars from the fire. Poplar and birch gradually grew to fill the gaps, until they could be taken over once again by the evergreens.

The war in Europe took its toll on Millinocket, as more than 600 Millinocket men and women were serving in the armed forces by 1943. Over the course of the war, more than a thousand soldiers were sent from Millinocket.

At the end of the war, returning war veterans were in need of housing and, at the same time, the mill was hiring, bringing newcomers to town. A national aid program was making it possible for veterans to finance their homes, but there were not enough available.

The old Oxford School was deeded to the Veteran’s of Foreign Wars, as its use as a school had been discontinued in 1943.
Central Street was expanded eastward from the Medway Road to the town line, and an area opened up that soon became known as the New Development, as it still is. As the town grew in that direction, Jerry Pond became the area’s recreational area.

The Great Northern itself built five houses in the New Development, at a cost of $8,500 each, and offered to rent them at $45 a month. But most of the homes erected in the New Development were built through funds raised by homeowners. As the amount of money available through financing was less than the amount that it would take to have new homes built, most people did their own work.

In 1947, GNP made 51 lots in the new development available to anyone who wanted to buy, without regard to employment in the mill, and released seven others around town. The company built 57 cellars, to get people started on their homes.

In most cases, local contractors were employed only to do the more difficult parts of the construction, such as plumbing, heating, and electrical installations. At times, the company lent its larger purchasing power to local merchants. The company cleared the ground, excavated, and filled. The GNP drafting department helped with blueprints. Those who went into the forest and cut their own logs could use the company’s horses and trucks at a special rate.

The Faith Baptist Church and the Church of the Nazarene were built to serve those in the New Development.

Another new residential area was opened up west of the Medway Road, extending from Central Street to East Avenue, High, and South Streets. Granite Street now connected the Medway Road with the Cherry Street Bridge, and Eastland Avenue and Maple Street were built on the high ground. The Great Northern built the first three houses on Eastland Avenue, identical in design but spaced so as to avoid repetition, and continued its policy of pouring concrete foundations for new homebuilders.

On the Flat, new houses were built along State Street north as far as the Athletic Field Bridge. A new street, called Water Street, was built along a footpath that followed the stream east of State Street. No longer isolated, the old Pest House became an attractive residence.

Bowdoin Street was extended further west in 1948, as far as the railroad siding, and side streets were built eastward of the Medway Road, forming Garden and Wassau Streets.
Following the death of Dr. Bryant in 1938, his property was purchased by Dr. Lloyd Morey, who opened the Morey Osteopathic Hospital there that same year. Doctors Ernest Young and Martin Grumley had formed the Millinocket General Hospital, set up in the Curran house on Maine Avenue, which functioned until the Millinocket Community Hospital opened in 1955.

Within the mill, the unions had been talking about combining their efforts to promote a larger hospital that would be managed by the community. In 1948, the fundraising began. The union’s pledge one week’s pay per employee, and GNP responded by putting up an initial grant of $150,000, later adding another $203,500 to the citizens’ pledges, for a total of $800,000. Additional funds came from the federal government and from the Ford Foundation.

The northern end of Somerset Street, near the new road to Brownsville, was chosen for a location, and construction began in 1954. The Millinocket Commmunity Hospital was opened for public viewing on March 12, 1955.

The 1950s saw additional growth in the town, almost to the extent of its capacity. I say this because, while most townships in Maine are about 200,000 acres in size, Millinocket was restricted to 7,500 until 1989, when 4,000 acres was annexed to the town, still leaving the town far short of the amount of land available to other towns in the state.

But in the 1950s, there was still some room for growth. The full length of Aroostook Avenue was built up in house lots, north from the Aroostook Avenue School north to Second Street, where the old ball park had been.

In 1953, more lots were opened up for housing along Aroostook Avenue, on the other side of Central Street south to Birch Avenue, at the foot of Tin Can Alley. Lots were also made available on Congress Street, from the bend in Millinocket Stream to Cherry Street.

The Elks building was built in 1953, the club moving from its much smaller building on Penobscot Avenue, which it sold to the Bangor Hydro-Electric Company.

Additional plots of land were opened up in the New Development, extending it almost to Jerry Pond. Houses were being built along the streets leading to the golf course, along Forest Avenue and Orchard Street. The more recent houses being built in the New Development were different in design and color, as can be seen today.

Construction continued, not only in these new areas, but in other parts of town as well. Frank Rush had owned a large amount of land surrounding his farm and sawmill, and when James Kelley took over the farm, he turned much of the land surrounding it into the Kelley Trailer Park, which exists yet today.

Originally the Iron Bridge Road had been part of the old tote road along Millinocket Stream. By 1954, people were wanting to build there, resulting in a street of about forty very small houses. This area became known as the Pines.

Ash and River Streets were constructed near the spot on Central Street where the town dummp used to be, offering more house lots to hungry homebuyers.

The Granite Street School opened in the fall of 1955 as a ten-room elementary school. More classrooms and a library were later added.

The Millinocket Junior High School was built in 1963, at its current location just beyond the State Street Bridge. It was later added to, and now includes Stearns High School, after the building on Katahdin and Central was closed.

Not much new has been built since the 1970s, when the St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church built its new building, and for a couple of reasons, as far as I can determine.

Today, the population of Millinocket has declined for a peak of nearly eight thousand people in 1970, most of whom were gainfully employed, to fewer than five thousand today, many of whom are receiving public assistance or struggling desperately to get by.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to discuss the decline of the “magic city” without talking about the pulp and paper mill that built it, but that is a subject that wouldn’t fit onto the number of pages that I have available to me, and would likely be contradicted by every other person who read it.

For one thing, the fate of the town has always been inextricably linked to the pulp and paper mill that built it, so that when the mill wasn’t hiring, there were no reasons for new people to come to Millinocket. When the mill way laying off, there were no alternatives for furloughed employees, other than to move.

There was nothing else here, and Millinocket is too far from everywhere else for people to commute.

Of all the reasons for the demise of the Great Northern that I have heard or imagined, the one that seems the most likely is that its demise was assured on that day in 1970 when it merged with Nekoosa-Edwards and ceased to be the Great Northern Paper Company.

Some of the other things (the Indian land claim, the spruce budworm, the Big A Dam, and others) probably played their parts in quickening the mill’s demise), but things were never the same after GNP quit being GNP, and became Great Northern Nekoosa.
Someone tried to tell me the other day that the labor unions were the cause of Great Northern’s demise, as some of the unions refused to agree to concessions. I believe that is shortsighted, as by the time a company has to come to the unions for concessions, it’s already on its way down. No, the Great Northern had always contended with labor unions, and done so successfully.

Further illustrating the strong relationship between the town and the mill, census figures will demonstrate that Millinocket’s population peaked in 1970, and has been in a steady decline ever since, worsening everytime the ownership of the mill changes hands.

It was during the 1970s that new high school graduates could no longer be assured of finding employment in the mill, and there were few employment alternatives that didn’t involve moving out of town or commuting long distances.

The only other industry in town has been the Millinocket Foundry and Machine Company, a small industry that has been around almost since the beginning, or at least as early as 1906, but it employs only about thirty people, at most.

As mentioned earlier, the town is severely restricted in size, and there is no available land that is not owned by the paper company - a company which, having changed hands several times since its Great Northern days, is reluctant to sell land to anyone likely to employ people at a decent wage, and they seldom sell land at all.

Throughout most of the history of Millinocket, a child could graduate from Stearns High School one day and report for work in the mill the next, where he could be assured of lucrative employment for the all of his working life, but he couldn’t buy an acre of land within driving distance of his hometown.

If he were intelligent, hardworking, and thrifty, he might be able save enough money to start his own business, but couldn’t find land in Millinocket on which to locate his business.

The town is now suffering from its lack of diversity in employment opportunities. When the mills closed in 2002, and remained closed for more than a year, its workforce was forced to seek employment elsewhere, in a state that has itself suffered great economic devastation from too many years of mismanagement.

Although the mills in Millinocket and East Millinocket have since reopened under new ownership, they now employ only a few hundred people, most of whom do not feel confident in the future.
And there is nothing else. Large amounts of money, appropriated from local, state, federal, and private funding sources, intended for economic development, have instead been used up on eco-tourism schemes that have served to benefit only a few, and mostly those who were closely associated with the agencies set up to administrate these funds, who are themselves working in cocert with outside environmental interests.

Seemingly resistant to industry, manufacturing, and entrepreneurship, and handicapped by the fact that the new owners of the lands that once belonged to the Great Northern Paper Company refuse to make land available to those who desire to locate their businesses here, the town is instead trying to attract wealthy second home buyers from Massachusetts.
If at times it may appear that Millinocket is at war with itself, this is because there are those who realize that the path that the town has chosen is one that excludes them, and they don’t want to leave.

An unfortunate fact is that while Millinocket is a wonderful place to live, it is not an easy place to earn a living.

Much has been written about the Great Northern Paper Company and Millinocket, Maine. Books and other texts that I have referenced and found useful are listed below:

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

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