As you approach Boothbay Harbor, the site of your well-deserved day of rest, you will be riding towards the place that was a particular favorite of Rachel Carson. The conservationist and marine biologist felt a strong connection with coastal Maine and spent countless hours studying the biodiversity of its marine habitats, as well as enjoying leisure time in a summer cottage she built on the coast in 1953. The Rachel Carson Salt Pond Preserve that lies outside of Boothbay Harbor protects the site where Carson conducted much of her research for her book Edge of the Sea, published in 1955. The preserve serves as a memorial of the invaluable contributions that Carson made to the scientific community, and offers visitors the opportunity to explore extensive woodlands, rocky shoreline, and the overgrown hay fields left behind by the Danforth farm that once occupied the property. In addition to her scientific accomplishments, Carson was instrumental to the formation of the Maine chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
Boothbay Harbor is a popular summer visitor destination. Though BikeMaine visits on the quiet side of Labor Day, there is still plenty to do. But before we talk about the myriad activities going on during BikeMaine’s visit, a little bit of history:
In 1666, Englishmen established an early seasonal fishing camp in the Boothbay Harbor area. Henry Curtis purchased the land from the sachem Mowhotiwormet (also known as Chief Robinhood) “for a hogshead of rum and some pumpkins.” The European settlement was attacked and burned during King Philip’s War, resettled shortly afterwards, then destroyed again in 1689 during King William’s War. It was then abandoned for 40 years. The settlement was named Boothbay in 1842 and grew to be a busy fishing center. When storms came, Boothbay Harbor could shelter as many as 500 vessels. By the early 1880s, the town was home to a fishery, a fish oil company, an ice company, a fertilizer manufacturer, a lobster canning factory and two marine railways. Boothbay has always had a robust boatbuilding industry. In the mid-20th century, minesweepers were built for the U.S. Navy in WWII. Also known for its physical beauty, Boothbay was used as a movie set for the 1956 film, “Carousel.”
Boothbay Harbor is pleased to host BikeMaine this September and hopes that you will take advantage of all that the community has to offer. You can visit the town’s website for more information on this bustling, maritime New England village.
Day 6: Boothbay to Bath
After four days of serious riding, yesterday was a well-earned break. Now, let’s take to our wheels again – there’s more to see on BikeMaine as we pedal toward our final host community, Bath.
Maine is distinguished by its many peninsulas, which jut out into the ocean and produce additional coastline. There are many ways to measure coastline (only ocean, including freshwater, etc.) but satellite imaging has calculated that Maine’s Coastline is 3,500 miles without the islands and 5,500 miles with the islands included. While the lakes and ponds of the initial part of our route were fresh water, many of the glimpses of water today are parts of the ocean that come in and out of the peninsula’s land mass. It certainly makes for visually interesting riding! You may also notice the ocean water also has a way of moderating land.temperatures, since the ocean retains some heat in winter and retains some cold in the summer.
Today’s ride takes a scenic route out of town and then up Route 27 into Edgecomb where we hang a left onto Mill Road. Edgecomb was originally settled in 1744 by Samuel Trask and others. After living undisturbed upon their lands for ten years under a possessory claim, the settler’s title to the land was challenged by three men from Boston who made claim to the land based on a questionable Indian deed. The new claimants surveyed several lots next the Sheepscot and numbered them. The Indian deed was found to have no definite boundaries, no possession had been taken under it, yet the new claimants were adamant about their ownership. A Boston lawyer heard about the title contest and undertook the pro bono defense of the original settlers, and the three claimants abandoned their claim. In honor of the lawyer’s generosity, the plantation took the name of Freetown, which it retained until it was incorporated as a town in 1774 as Edgecomb. The name was given by the General Court in honor of Lord Edgecomb, who, at this point in time, was a supporter of the American Colonies.
Our route then heads north up on Cross Point Rd. along the Sheepscot River. Westport Island is on our left. If you can see it in the distance, the island’s size and orientation may fool you into thinking it is the mainland, though it is in fact an island separated from the mainland by two coastal salt-water rivers, the Sheepscot River and the Back River. The island is connected to the mainland by a bridge that was built in 1972 over a slim gap called Cowsegan Narrows in the Back River. Although completely surrounded by water, Westport Island is bordered across tidal water by the towns of Wiscasset, Edgecomb, Southport and Georgetown.
Once you are across from the north end of Westport Island, you will take a quick side trip along Eddy Road onto Davis Island and to Fort Edgecomb State Park for our Morning Rest Stop. Fort Edgecomb is a two story octagonal blockhouse that was built in 1809 as part of the country’s second system of fortifications, guarding the then-important port of Wiscasset. The fort was important not only for the defense of Wiscasset, but also to prevent ships from breaking the embargo that Thomas Jefferson signed into law in 1807. While originally designed to penalize European nations that were interfering with U.S. shipping, the Embargo Act backfired and had a devasting impact on New England sea merchants. It is said that the only time Fort Edgecomb’s cannons were fired was in salute at James Madison’s inauguration (or, less tactfully, to celebrate his lifting of Jefferson’s Embargo).
During the War of 1812, this post saw considerable activity holding British prisoners of war, many of them brought to Wiscasset harbor by American privateersmen. In 1814, Fort Edgecomb became an important base in defending against a possible British attack on mid-coast Maine. It remained manned until 1818, and was re
activated during the Civil War.
We’ll ride through South Newcastle and around the Sherman Marsh to U.S. Route 1, which we cross. In the 1930s, a dam was constructed to carry the old Route 1 across the tidal Marsh River in Newcastle. The dam caused upstream salt marshes to be replaced by a freshwater body that became known as Sherman Lake. Although the state decommissioned the dam in the mid-1960s, when the new Route 1 was elevated over the dam site, the structure and the lake remained in place. In October 2005, heavy rains caused the dam to collapse, releasing the fresh water that formed Sherman Lake and allowing tidal waters back into the former site of the manmade lake. On January 31, 2006, the Maine Department of Transportation announced that it would not replace the dam. Instead, the drained area will be allowed to return to salt marsh, as it was prior to construction of the dam in the 1930s.
We’ll ride further north on Sheepscot Rd. and Cross Rd., which will take us through lovely Sheepscot Village, with its beautifully preserved buildings along the King’s Highway, and its reversing falls north of the bridge across the Sheepscot River.
At about mile 33 of the day’s ride, we’ll come to the Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railway Museum. A little bit of history about the railway: Maine’s Wiscasset, Waterville, and Farmington (WW&F) Railway was a two-foot “narrow” gauge common carrier railroad. The line ran from Wiscasset in the south, to Albion and Winslow in the north, but never reaching Waterville or Farmington. The railway operated from 1894 until 1933, and The Great Depression brought an end to the railway’s use in 1937.
The WW&F Railway Museum was founded in 1989 to rebuild and preserve the original railroad. So far, the museum has restored 2.5 miles of railroad and rebuilt several original railroad cars, and currently is restoring a steam locomotive. BikeMaine has arranged for riders and rider guests to take a tour of the museum and a “ride back in time” on the train, so plan accordingly.
We’ll head northwest through Wiscasset. From Orchard Hill Rd., we will turn right onto Rt. 127 only briefly, and then turn left onto Rt. 197. We turn left onto River Rd. and head South – to our lunch stop at Goranson Farm in Dresden! As we ride south on River Rd., we’ll pass the Steve Powell Wildlife Management Area on our right. The Area includes Swan Island, Little Swan Island and several hundred acres of tidal flats. The Area is about 1,755 acres in size, and is located in the middle of Merrymeeting Bay, between the towns of Richmond and Dresden. Swan Island, known for its abundant and often quite visible wildlife – especially nesting bald eagles, white-tailed deer and wild turkey – is actually an abandoned 18th and 19th century town then called Perkins Township. It was used by Native American tribes, early explorers and settlers, and was reportedly visited by American historical figures such as Aaron Burr and Benedict Arnold.
Now it’s time to refuel with a delicious farm to table lunch at Goranson Farm in Dresden, put on by the BathFarmers’ Market.
From the farm, we will turn right onto Middle Rd./ME-127S. We will continue riding south along the water – the best kind of riding! We’ll ride along Goose Cove until we reach Bath, the City of Ships. We’ll continue on the bridge over the Kennebec River, and hop off the first right exit into Downtown Bath! Time to relax on our LAST night of BikeMaine in a town of historical and current economic importance to Maine.
Welcome to the City of Bath, or rather the “City of Ships,” in Sagadahoc County (Maine’s smallest county)!
From its working waterfront, to its cultural offerings, to its urban downtown, the City of Bath, finds its soul and identity in shipbuilding. The city is also incredibly bike-friendly; Bath has been designated as a bronze level bike friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists.
As always, let’s travel back in time briefly before we set up our tents…
Bath has been explored by Abenaki Indians, French and British. The Abenaki Indians used the word “Sagadahoc,” which means “mouth of big river,” to refer to the area around Bath. This name was a reference to the Kennebec River, which Samuel de Champlain (who founded Quebec City and has been called “The Father of New France”) explored in 1605. Most of Bath was settled by travelers from Bath, England. In 1607, British established the short-lived Popham Colony downstream. The settlement failed due to harsh weather and lack of leadership, but the colonists built the New World’s first ocean-going vessel, the Virginia of Sagadahoc, which many of them used to return to England. The next settlement at Sagadahoc was circa 1660, when land titles were purchased from a local Indian chief. Bath was incorporated as part of Georgetown in 1753, and set off and incorporated as a town in 1781. Bath was incorporated as a city in 1847 and designated Sagadahoc County seat in 1854.
Several industries developed in the city, including lumber, iron and brass, with trade in ice and coal. But Bath is renowned for shipbuilding, which began here in 1743 when Jonathan Philbrook and his sons built two vessels. Since then, roughly 5,000 vessels have been launched in the area, which at one time had more than 200 shipbuilding firms. Bath became the nation’s fifth largest seaport by the mid-19th century, producing clipper ships that sailed to ports around the world.
Bath Iron Works, started in 1884, is the most famous shipbuilder in Bath. BIW is a large U.S. Defense contractor owned by General Dynamics that makes ships for military application. With more than 5,400 workers, BIW is one of Maine’s largest private employers. The slogan “Bath-built is best-built” was coined here and is repeated often.
The destroyer currently in port, The Zumwalt, was commissioned in April and is the largest destroyer ever built for the U.S. Navy, with a displacement of 15,000 tons. Despite its size, the Zumwalt can hit speeds of up to 30 knots. It also can operate in shallower waters and has more precise weapons than older destroyers. Price tag: $3.3 billion. Two more of these vessels are in various stages of construction at BIW.
Bath is a sister city to Shariki (now Tsugaru) in Japan, where the locally-built full rigged ship Cheseborough was wrecked in 1889. Bath is also known for its Federal, Greek Revival, and Italianate architecture, including the 1858 Custom House and Post Office, which was designed by Ammi B. Young. And for you movie buffs, Bath has some history to offer, too: scenes from the movies “Message in a Bottle” (1999) and “The Man Without a Face” (1993) were filmed in Bath.
In the present day, Bath charms with its picturesque downtown along the Kennebec River.
The ambience is nineteenth century with brick sidewalks, historic architecture, and simulated gas street lamps that hark back to the era of the tall ships… while the amenities are strictly 21stcentury in downtown’s vibrant shops, cafes and galleries. Be sure to take some time to stroll the streets of Bath’s award-winning downtown, complete with a view of the famous No. 11 crane at BIW, the state’s largest employer.
Just a mile or so downriver is the Maine Maritime Museum on the site of the one-time Percy and Small Shipyards, ranked one of the 10 Best maritime museums in the world. Explore the museum’s extensive grounds and exhibits, or take a boat tour of Kennebec River lighthouses.
Bath will be running run a shuttle from the BikeMaine Village to the downtown area, where you can pick up a free trolley to the Maine Maritime Museum.
During the evening, there will be a pork barbecue in the historic Freight Shed on the waterfront. A beer garden on site will feature a local microbrew, and Bath’s own Pat Colwell and the Soul Sensations will make it a dance party by performing their signature mix of Motown, Memphis and the Blues.
Enjoy the evening in Bath, a true shipbuilding town of the past, present and future!
Day 7: Bath to Westbrook
Saving the best for last? It’s hard to say, but our last day of BikeMaine is full of fascinating biking that will take us into some of the more interesting nooks and crannies of coastal southern Maine.
Waking up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (hey, you’re in great shape!), you’ll jump on your trusty two-wheeled steed in Bath and begin by heading west to Brunswick, in Cumberland County. There’s a bikeway along the river so we’ll avoid the traffic of Route 1, the central route up the coast.
Brunswick is home to Bowdoin College, a private liberal arts college founded in 1974 with an enrollment of around 1,850 students. The Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum also is located in Brunswick, on Maine Street.
For over 50 years, this building was home to Joshua L. Chamberlain, a college professor who volunteered during the American Civil War to join the Union and rose in rank to brigadier general. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his leadership of the 20th Maine at the Battle of Gettysburg, where he initiated a bayonet charge in defense of Little Round Top. For his gallantry, he was given the honor of commanding the Union troops at the surrender ceremony for the infantry of Robert E. Lee’s Army at the Appomattox Court House. After the war, General Chamberlain returned to Maine and was elected governor four times; he later returned to his alma mater, Bowdoin College, where he served on the faculty and was named president of the college. He later practiced law in New York City and served as the Surveyor of the Port of Portland. He died in 1914 at the age of 85 from a lingering wartime wound received during battle in 1864, which left him in need of a catheter and forced him to undergo 6 operations. He was the last Civil War veteran to die as a result of wounds from the war.
Until a couple of years ago, Brunswick was also home to the Brunswick Naval Air Station, which formally closed in 2011. The air base was first commissioned on April 15, 1943, to train Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm pilots to fly squadrons of the Chance Vought F4U Corsair, the Grumman TBF Avenger and F6F Hellcat for the British Naval Command during World War II. The station was partially built on land that was donated by the town of Brunswick. The facility is now a municipal airport and growing manufacturing center.
The BikeMaine route passes along one edge of the former air base, down Route 123 heading toward Harpswell, another peninsula jutting into the coastal waters of Casco Bay, and then takes a quick right to head toward one of the most idyllic stretches of the route, through the Pennellville Historic District along Maquoit Bay.
Pennellville Historic District, known to locals as “Pennellville,” is a residential district in Brunswick. This area of Brunswick was settled by the Pennell family, who built over 90 ships in the Pennell Brothers Shipyard over 114 years (1760-1874). They became one of the wealthiest and most famous shipbuilding families in the country. Today, there are still several historic ship captains’ mansions in the district.
From about mile 13 to mile 22, the route hugs the coast and we’ll see quiet farms and residential settings along the inland border of Casco Bay. The first residents of this area, as far as we know, were a tribe of the Abenakis, known as the Anasagunticooks. They frequented Maquoit Bay and Mere Point. Although they were initially friendly to European settlers, that didn’t last long. The settlers encroached upon their land and the indigenous people exhibited their animosity by frequently attacking isolated settlements and ambushing individuals or small groups.
A plague broke out among the Native Americans around 1615 and severely reduced their population. According to one authority, on November 24, 1726, only five Indians in the tribe over sixteen years of age remained.
Today, the serenity of Maquoit Bay masks its turbulent past. If the tide is low, you may see clammers out in the flats digging for little neck clams. Let’s move on and head in a southerly direction on Flying Point Road, toward Freeport, the birthplace of L.L. Bean, the well-known sporting goods and clothing store and one of BikeMaine’s founding sponsors. The center of Freeport is pretty busy, even on the quiet side of Labor Day, so we won’t go by the flagship store. However, we will take a rest stop at the L.L. Bean Paddling Center with its brand new building that opened in June on Maquoit Bay.
The route then takes us down to the shores of Casco Bay to the mouth of the Harraseeket (harrah-SEE-kit) River. We head due north for a mile or so, where the route meets up with Route 1. This is actually a less traveled section of the road, since I-295 parallels it here. Further off to the left are tidal marshes that fill and empty depending on the moon. Very quickly we turn right off Route 1, pass over the Interstate and head into Yarmouth via Old County Road and East Main Street.
Yarmouth is a lovely Maine town where sea captains used to live. Many of the big, stately homes along Main Street have cupolas or little porches at the top of the house. These are commonly called “widows’ walks.” Sea captains lived in these houses with their families. The captains would ship out and their wives would be left behind with the family. In the evening, if the captain was due in port, the wife would go up to the widow’s walk and peer out to sea, looking for the ship of her husband. It may seem odd now with trees dominating the landscape, but back then, there were no trees and the sight lines to the harbor were clear.
Though we won’t ride through the center of Yarmouth, we’ll see plenty of old homes and get a sense for the rural quality of this suburban town. Yarmouth has traces of human occupation in the area dating to about 2,000 B.C. It is believed that during the years prior to the arrival of the Europeans, many Native American cultures existed in the area. The Royal River, which passes through the town, was settled by Europeans in the 1600s. People built several mills on the river and started manufacturing businesses. Today Yarmouth is primarily residential and serves as a bedroom community for Portland.
We ride out of Yarmouth on Route 88 through Cumberland Foreside, with its beautiful waterfront homes. We eventually head west on King’s Highway to Tuttle Road, then turn left onto Middle Road into Falmouth. As we travel south, we move away from the coast and ride through the residential areas that surround Portland. Historically, Falmouth, like much of Maine, was home to Native Americans. As the European settlers moved in, there was a great deal of conflict between the two groups. In the 1800s and 1900s, when the settlers could live safely the area, industry began to grow with mills on the Presumpscot River, Piscataqua River in West Falmouth, and Mussel Cove. Sawmills, processed agricultural products, boatbuilding and manufactured finished products were produced by the 1800s.
We are on the home stretch as we continue to spin along the backroads of Falmouth into Westbrook. Soon we’ll cross the Presumpscot River one last time and we’ll right back to Westbrook where we started. Our finish line is at the headquarters of IDEXX Laboratories, Inc., the global leader in pet healthcare innovation, serving practicing veterinarians around the world with a broad range of diagnostic and information technology-based products and services. IDEXX is also a worldwide leader in providing diagnostic tests and information for livestock and poultry and tests for the quality and safety of water and milk. IDEXX Laboratories employs more than 5,900 people and offers products to customers in over 175 countries. IDEXX, a major sponsor of BikeMaine, has graciously offered its brand new gold LEED certified Synergy Center for post-ride showers and farewell luncheon.
Congratulations! Thank you for joining us on our BikeMaine 2014 adventure. We hope to see all of you again next year as we explore more of our great state!