Winthrop is a town in Kennebec County located about 10 miles west of Maine’s capital, Augusta. The town’s population of about 7,000 approximately doubles during the summer when part-year residents return to seasonal camps. The town’s tag line, “We play outside!” is fitting given the abundance of outdoor activities in the water and on land in Winthrop. For 25 years, the Kennebec Land Trust has worked hard to protect the shoreline and develop on-land trails. This year, the Trust is publishing a durable, compact hiking guide featuring 20 of its permanently conserved lands, which will be available in locations across central Maine.
Winthrop was part of the Kennebec Purchase granted by the Plymouth Council for New England. The town was settled in 1765 by Timothy Foster and initially was called Pondtown for its lakes and ponds. Today, the commercial downtown sits between Maranacook and Annabessacook Lake. Additionally, Cobbosseecontee Lake is nationally recognized as one of the top bass-fishing lakes in America due to its sizeable largemouth population. The Cobbossee Lighthouse, also known as Ladies Delight Lighthouse, is the only active inland waters lighthouse in Maine.
The town has gradually developed various industries since John Chandler built a sawmill and gristmill in the late 1700s. By 1886, the town had a sawmill that manufactured about 200,000 feet of lumber every year, two oilcloth factories, a sash and blind factory, and a foundry and machine shop. The town was once a stop on the Maine Central Railroad, which carried freight and tourists who helped develop Winthrop into the summer destination it remains today. Winthrop is home to many people who work with and in the Maine government since Augusta, the capital of Maine, is just down the road.
Winthrop also is home to a fantastic summer camp, the YMCA Camp of Maine, where we’ll be spending the night! If you’re a native, you may have had the opportunity to come here for summer camp as a youngster. But, if not, your time has come! The YMCA Camp of Maine, now a beloved summer camp for children from all over the world, is founded on the YMCA values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. As such, many of the campers assume leadership roles not only at camp, but ultimately in their schools and communities as well.
As in the other BikeMaine communities, the BikeMaine Village will be set up at the Y Camp of Maine, but riders also will have the option of sleeping in bunkhouses. A donation of $15/person for this privilege will benefit the ongoing development of programs and facilities at the camp.
During your camp stay, BikeMaine riders will have the opportunity to enjoy various waterfront activities, such as swimming, kayaking and canoeing. For the landlubbers in the group, the camp has open spaces for frisbee and softball games, and wooded areas for hiking and exploring. Pick your pleasure!
For those who prefer to “kick back and relax,” that’s okay, too. Snacks and a beer/wine garden will be available all afternoon. And, for those interested in a massage for those weary muscles, licensed massage therapists will be offering 30-minute sessions for $20.
After dinner, the beer/wine garden will re-open and the Gawler Family Band will sponsor a contra dance for our evening entertainment. Riders can gather around the campfire, tell tales of the day’s ride, and roast s’mores over the open fire. No doubt, you’ll all sleep well… and wake up with lots of energy for Day 3 of the 2014 BikeMaine Ride, which will take you to Gardiner, Maine.
Day 3: Winthrop to Gardiner
Don’t look at the map, since you’ll see that we start and end Day 3 day about 20 miles apart, as the crow flies. But if we took the crow’s route, we’d miss much of the beauty found in this region.
After leaving Winthrop, we ride through Readfield up to the Belgrade Lakes region. Today’s route is relatively flat, with no big climbs or variations in terrain, so we can cruise as we head north past Maranacook (mah-RAN-ah cook) Lake. All or most of the names of these bodies of water were given by the Native American inhabitants of Maine, in particular, the Abenaki (ab-NACK-ee). Lake Cobbosseecontee is believed to mean “lake of many sturgeon,” which is a native fish to the area. “Kennebec” means “long, quiet river” and “Sebago” means “big lake.”
The Belgrade Lakes do not take their name from the Abenaki. The land surrounding the lakes was originally owned by the Plymouth Company and was called Washington Plantation. It was first settled in 1774 by Philip Snow from New Hampshire. On February 3, 1796, it was incorporated as Belgrade, named after Belgrade, Serbia. According to the National Geographic Atlas of the World, Revised Sixth Edition, dated 1992, there are only five Belgrades in the entire world. The others are located in Minnesota, Montana and Nebraska. Oddly, all of the American Belgrades are in northern states.
The Belgrade Lakes are a connected chain of lakes of which the largest is Great Pond. Outlets of the ponds provided water power for mills. In Belgrade in 1859, there was a shovel factory and a spool factory, as well as several sawmills and gristmills. By 1886, there were also factories that made rakes, shingles, scythes and boxes. With the arrival of the railroad, Belgrade developed into a tourist resort of fishing, boating and lakeside cottages. The Belgrade Hotel, designed by notable Portland architect, John Calvin Stevens, was built at Belgrade Lakes. The hotel was an example of the grand hotels built at the time, served by passenger trains that brought visitors to the region from the metropolitan areas of the East Coast. Like many of these grand hotels, Belgrade Hotel was destroyed by fire, in this case in October, 1956, two weeks after closing for the season. The town was also an annual summertime destination for the writers E.B. White and Ernest Thompson. The latter’s visits to Great Pond inspired his 1979 play,“On Golden Pond,” which was made into the Academy Award-winning 1981 movie of the same title.
Our route takes us through the town of Belgrade, where we have a rest stop at the Belgrade Central Elementary School (don’t forget to bring a postcard from your hometown to adhere to a map for the students). We then head north along the western shore of nine-mile long Messalonskee Lake. We ride around the top of the lake and come down the eastern shore to the New England Music Camp where we have lunch. The New England Music Camp (NEMC) is a summer camp for music students ages 11 to 18, located on 200 acres in Sidney. It was founded in 1937. The camp has facilities for about 200 campers as well as faculty and staff. The NPR radio program, “From the Top,” which features the music of extraordinarily talented young people, was taped here earlier in the summer, and that program is scheduled for broadcast on September 8 at 8 p.m.
After lunch, we head due east for a bit before reaching the Kennebec River in Vasssalboro. Although the Abenaki may have thought of the Kennebec as being long and quiet, for close to two centuries the river has been and remains a focal point of Maine’s economy. From its headwaters in far northern Maine to the Kennebec’s outlet to the sea in Bath (coming up later in BikeMaine), the river dominates commercial and agricultural activity in central Maine. In 1832, the city of Augusta became Maine’s state capital and by 1840, thriving river traffic saw a fleet of schooners traveling weekly between Augusta and Boston.
Lumber became a popular industry after the Revolutionary War. One of the methods of moving cut lumber was to float logs down the Kennebec, resulting in the development of the extremely labor-intensive river driving industry. From 1834 to the last river drive in 1976, lumber was floated down the Kennebec to mills in Southern Maine such as those in Madison, Skowhegan and Augusta. The drives began in the spring at “ice-out” (when a person can traverse an entire body of water even if there is still ice in some areas), however laborers began preparing for the upcoming drive much before that, working in snow and ice.
The Kennebec was first dammed in the 1830s. By the middle of the decade, there were four dams between Skowhegan and Waterville. River towns situated near major falls, like Skowhegan, Waterville, Augusta and Gardiner, harnessed waterpower to run factories, sawmills and textile mills.
Between river towns, the banks of the Kennebec are dotted with farms. Along this section of the Kennebec, agriculture has a long history. Archaeological excavation at Dresden reveals early Native American settlements. The Kennebec Indians were the first to farm the land along the river, growing corn and beans. Farming remains an important part of life in the valley today.
Our last fourteen miles of the day, from Vassalboro to Gardiner, are close to the banks of the Kennebec River. South of Vassalboro lies Augusta, Maine’s capital. The State House, designed by Charles Bullfinch, was opened in 1832. The Governor’s residence, the Blaine House, is a block or two away from the capital. Although Augusta usually is busy with the activity of state government, the Legislature is not in session during our ride and there is an election for the governor’s office this fall, so the city may be a little quieter than usual.
In Augusta, our route moves onto the recently completed “Kennebec River Rail Trail.” The beautiful 8-mile, mostly off-road and paved path meanders through the Capital Region of Maine, moving back onto the roads briefly, as we pass through Hallowell, a town popular with tourists for its culture and architecture. “A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard based on her diary, 1785–1812, ” published in the early 1990s by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, won a Pulitzer Prize and many other awards for recounting the diary of a late 18th century midwife in Hallowell. Today, Hallowell is the home of a world-class GIS software company (Blue Marble Geographics) whose customers in the mining, land survey, oil, gas and other industries span the world.
If you want to take a break from riding, there are many antique and other fun shops for you to visit in this town of about 2,400 – without even veering off route. There’s some historical architecture for you to notice right along Water Street. The Row House, Inc. was incorporated in July 1969 by a small group of citizens who were determined to preserve Hallowell’s rich history as told through its buildings. The first building they purchased was the Gage Block, which had been built in 1846 by Isaac Gage to house Cotton Mill personnel. They applied for federal restoration funds under the National Preservation Act of 1966 and received the first grant awarded in the country under that appropriation.
Row House went on in 1971 to purchase and preserve the Cross Roads building, on the corner of Water and Academy Streets. You can check out the Cross Roads building as you ride down Water Street. You can also notice the Gagne house (which the organization purchased, repaired and sold) at the south end of Water Street. The Row House has also published books, including its latest project, “Dwellings: the unique homes of Hallowell” which celebrates the architectural diversity of dwellings in the small town.
After riding down Water St. in Hallowell, we’ll get back on The Kennebec River Rail Trail until it ends at Gardiner Landing, a gem on the Kennebec River where you will camp for the evening.
Welcome to Gardiner!
History and architecture buffs will relish the near-perfectly intact downtown block. Stepping onto historic Water Street is like stepping back into a black and white 1800’s photograph. Gardiner is a historic mill town that has benefited from its proximity to the state capital and access to southern markets via the Interstate system. In another day and time, Gardiner was well known for its ice production. Ice was harvested on the Kennebec beginning in the early 1800s and continuing through the 1920s. Kennebec ice was distributed widely along the eastern seaboard and even shipped to the West Indies. The ice had a high quality since it was clean and harvested a long way from the salty ocean water. During the ice-harvesting heyday (1870-1890), the industry employed 25,000 men, many of whom were involved in agricultural pursuits during ice off-season in the summer.
Gardiner is named after Dr. Silvester Gardiner, a prominent Boston physician who founded the town as Gardinerstown Plantation in 1754. Dr. Gardiner had made a fortune as a drug merchant with one apothecary shop in Massachusetts and two in Connecticut. Dr. Gardiner helped develop several industries in Gardiner, but loyal to the Crown, he fled Boston in 1776 when the British army evacuated. However, his settlement lived on without him was incorporated in 1803 as the town of Gardiner.
Those of you doing the loop ride will pass, and can ride onto the grounds of, the Gardiner family’s remarkable mansion. The Oakland’s Mansion was built in 1836 on the banks of the Kennebec River. The Gardiner family still owns the property to this day.
Gardiner is in the midst of its 21st century re-birth; visitors will get a great glimpse of a city in the middle of its transformation. The Gardiner community has planned a series of activities that will allow you to be an active participant in this re-birth.
In the afternoon, take a tour of Wicked Whoopies, a 1.5-mile jaunt from the BikeMaine Village. The Whoopie Pie is a classic Maine treat and will be served as part of our evening meal. For those wanting to walk, a local historian will lead groups along the Edwin Arlington Robinson Tilbury Town walking tour, which highlights the history of Gardiner through the lens of the Pulitzer Prize winning poet from Gardiner. Robinson’s famous works reflect the people and places of Gardiner in the late 19th and early 20th century. His poem “Ballad of a Ship” was published in literary journal The Harvard Advocate when he was a student there. The poem begins:
“Down by the flash of the restless water
The dim White Ship like a white bird lay;
Laughing at life and the world they sought her,
And out she swung to the silvering bay.”
For those wanting to get out on the water, Clark Marine will be offering boat trips on the serene and peaceful tidal Kennebec River. The Kennebec was once fouled by effluent from the industrial past, but has now been restored to a thriving ecosystem for many species, including Gardiner’s mascot, the Atlantic sturgeon. Others may enjoy shopping boutique retailers or stocking up on necessary supplies – there is a supermarket and a Renys department store within walking distance of the Village. (Renys’ slogan is “A Maine Adventure” since the business was founded in Damariscotta in 1949 by Robert H. Reny and is still family owned and operated with 16 locations in Maine.) A community service organization in Gardiner will be offering a wash/dry/fold service, with pick-up and delivery right from the BikeMaine Village. Tours will be available in Johnson Hall, Maine’s oldest operating Opera House, slated for historic rehabilitation and a return to its full 400-seat capacity in the next five years.
The evening meal will feature a “Taste of Gardiner.” Local restaurants will serve items from their menus that contain locally sourced products, which have been carefully selected by the Gardiner Food Co-op, a community-owned local foods grocery slated to open later this year. Riders will be encouraged to quench their post-ride thirsts by visiting one or more of the local pubs.
After a busy or lazy afternoon and delicious meal, gather for evening announcements and the side-splitting comedy show “The Early Evening Show,” a spoof of a late-night talk show with special guests, music, skits, and zaniness by Johnson Hall’s own Mike Miclon. We hope you enjoy your stay in historic Gardiner, and look forward to your speedy return!
Day 4: Gardiner to Boothbay Harbor
Today offers a great inland ride before we head south to the Atlantic Coast. We start on the west bank of the Kennebec River in Gardiner, cross to the east bank and head inland. As we ride inland today, we’ll see some of the agricultural land of Maine. The state does not have particularly fertile ground, but that has not deterred people from trying. It’s hard country with a short growing season, but generations of families have made their livelihood through agriculture for centuries in this part of the state.
One of the first towns we’ll ride through is Pittston. Located in Kennebec County, Pittston was incorporated in 1779. This is home to one of the original settlements in Maine: the Reuben Colburn House. Built in 1765 by Reuben Colburn, this house in Pittston still stands as testimony to the people who first settled the Kennebec River region of Maine and helped others do the same. Reuben Colburn provided transport, provisions, and critical intelligence to Benedict Arnold’s expeditionary army when it marched through Maine during the American invasion of British-held Canada in 1775-1776. A force of 1,100 soldiers led by Colonel Benedict Arnold began what is now called “Arnold’s March” or the “Arnold Expedition” here on Colburn’s property. George Washington contracted with Colburn to have 200 boats delivered to Arnold, who lodged in Colburn’s house. Colburn assembled a team of craftsmen to build these boats in just two weeks despite a lack of nails and seasoned lumber. Despite his efforts at helping the colonies win independence from Great Britain and financing the Arnold Expedition, Colburn was never repaid. His descendants remained in the house for more than a century. The home was added to the National Register of Historic Places on July 28, 2004. The Reuben Colburn House will be open for you to visit on the morning of Sept. 10.
In Dresden, we ride north on Blinn Hill Road. Dresden was settled in 1752 and incorporated in 1794 and is most westerly town in Lincoln County. The town is comprised of two villages: Dresden Mills and West Dresden. At 440 feet above sea level, Blinn’s Hill offers a beautiful view of the White Mountains, more than 100 miles away. Also located in Dresden is the Dresden Bog Reservoir, which is not far from the natural foot of Blinn’s Hill. We’ll come close to the Reservoir as we ride along Blinn Hill Rd.
Next we head north to Whitefield and Jefferson. Whitefield, like many other Maine towns, suffered greatly in the Civil War. In 1860, town records show that there were fewer than 1,000 residents in Whitefield. Of those residents, 117 men enlisted in the Union forces of the Civil War (33 nine-month men, 19 one-year men, 65 three-year men). During the War, the town voted that each man enlisted in the service of the Union should receive $100.00 (nearly $3,000 in 2014 dollars) from the town. Route 126, which Bike Maine crosses today, is also known as the Grand Army Road.
From Grand Army Road, we will turn onto Town House Rd., where there will be a rest stop at the Sheepscot General Store. The store’s slogan is “more than store” and that truly does seem to be the case. The store is situated on a working farm in Whitefield. In addition to groceries, sandwiches, soups and baked goods, the owners offer community events including yoga classes and pizza nights. Sheepscot General also has a Community Supported Agriculture system that connects shareholders and farmers and allows people to invest toward a share of a year’s harvest and in turn receive farm produce credit that can be spent at the store.
The route takes us across the Damariscotta (dam-riss-SKOT-ta) River before we head east in Lincoln County toward Salt Bay, one of the state’s most productive shellfish, alewife, striped bass and smelt fisheries. Though it is traditionally referred to as a river, the Damariscotta is considered by ecologists to be an estuary. The watershed includes at least 25 upland community types, including maritime spruce-fir forests and salt marsh habitats. Additionally, twenty percent of “species of significance” listed in the Gulf of Maine ecosystem are known to inhabit the Damariscotta River estuary. Unusual species like the horseshoe crab and red-bearded sponge were isolated in this area after the last ice age and are important remnants of past ecosystems.
After crossing the river, we’ll continue on Head Tide Road through a small town named Alna. The name was chosen from the Latin word “alnus” for alder since there were many beautiful alder trees growing on the banks of the Sheepscot River, which forms the town’s northwest and southeast borders. The town is just east of the Kennebec River and has a population of about 700. Despite its small size, Alna has significant historical landmarks. The Head Tide Historic District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is a small village on both sides of the Sheepscot that has been described as a “small, picturesque river community with many excellent examples of well-preserved 19th century buildings.” These include the birthplace of poet Edwin Arlington Robinson and the Old Alna Meetinghouse (built in 1789).
We next pass through Damariscotta Mills, a village located in the towns of Nobleboro and Newcastle, and settled in 1729. Here you can check out the location of Maine’s oldest fish ladder. A fish ladder has a series of pools built like steps that allow fish to bypass a dam or waterfall. The towns of Nobleboro and Newcastle built the ladder in 1807 at the state’s request after mills had blocked the alewives’ passage to the Damariscotta Lake for almost a century. After two centuries of use, the fish ladder was rebuilt in 2007, which has been beneficial to the Damariscotta River alewife industry. Alewives are an important part of the food chain and contribute to the health of the marine environments where they spawn. Local lobstermen also use alewives as fresh bait in the spring. Newcastle and Nobleboro have harvested alewives since 1700s. They continue to do so, carefully balancing conservation and economic goals. You can learn more about the fish ladder and its importance to the region in this video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAJMKWEDbgE
After leaving Damariscotta, we cross U.S. Route 1 in Newcastle. One notable landmark in Newcastle is Frances Perkins’ family’s 57-acre homestead on the Damariscotta River, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Frances Perkins was the first woman to serve in a U.S. Cabinet, an important advisor to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and a lifelong advocate for social justice and economic security. She helped develop groundbreaking New Deal programs, including the 40-hour work week, Social Security and the minimum wage. The Frances Perkins Center (which was incorporated in 2009) is headquartered in Damariscotta,and seeks to acquire and preserve the family homestead in Newcastle. We’ll stop for a lunch break on the water at the Second Congregational Church in Newcastle. After resting and refueling, we’ll head down a peninsula on the west bank of the Damariscotta River to Boothbay Harbor. Along the way, we’ll pass the Dodge Point Public Reserve: 500 acres and 8,000 feet of frontage on the tidal waters of the Damariscotta River. This site attracts families year-round for its natural beauty and human history (including an old mill site and brickyard, cellar holes and rock walls).
Now you can breathe and even taste the ocean air. You’ve made it to our destination tonight: Boothbay Harbor, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.