Settled in 1785 and incorporated in 1811, Lubec was once known as the Sardine Capitol of the World. The town was named after Lubeck, a small town in Germany.
Lubec’s population originally was centered in North Lubec, but over time shifted to the point of land located closest to British owned Campobello Island, a few hundred yards across the Lubec Narrows. Townspeople found it profitable to bring British merchandise from Campobello into Lubec, and that drove trade – both legal and illegal– and the creation of a stagecoach route between Lubec and Machias. The British held Lubec from 1814 to 1818, when the boundary dispute between the United States and Canada finally was resolved, and Lubec was returned to the United States.
Two major industries initially supported Lubec: shipbuilding and herring. The art of curing herring by smoking came from Nova Scotia to Lubec in the late 1790s, and by the mid-1850s, there were 20 smokehouses in town that reportedly employed every male resident over the age of 10. In the midst of this prosperity came the outbreak of Civil War and, in 1861, over 200 men aged 18 to 40 entered the Union Army – one for every 12 inhabitants. Of those who served from Lubec, 26 were killed and 14 were wounded.
When the supply of the large herring for smoking became scarce, fishermen focused on small herring, or sardines, to meet a growing market demand for them by the European immigrants coming to the United States. Sardine packing became a major industry and spun off other manufacturing jobs, such as those at the American Can Company plant that was built in 1899 to make cans for the sardine industry. The U.S. military purchased millions of cases of sardines from Lubec during the first half of the 20th century, but by the 1970s, the demand for canned sardines had declined. The last sardine factory in Lubec closed in 2001. For more information on the rise and fall of the fishing industry in Lubec, check out the McCurdy Smokehouse Museum on Water Street.
With sardine packing factories and smoke houses a thing of the past, Lubec storefronts now are occupied by gift shops, restaurants, galleries and a local microbrewery. Fishermen harvest lobsters, scallops and other shellfish from Cobscook Bay. Seals play right off the shore in the famed Lubec Narrows, noted for its 20-foot tides. Recorded audio tours are available for those who enjoy a narrated tale of the area’s history, or want to learn more about the rise and fall of the Lubec tides, deemed the highest tides in the world. The Robert S. Peacock Fire Museum, located in the fire station at 40 School Street, is home to the 1865 hand-propelled pumper tub “Torrent,” and other historic fire-fighting equipment.
Located on a headland, with 97 miles of rugged coastal shoreline, Lubec draws eco-adventure tourists to study bird migrations, kayak with the whales, hike oceanside trails and Klondike Mountain, and take boat tours to see the brightly colored Puffins while hearing about the history of the area. For the past three years, Travel and Leisure Magazine has named Lubec the second best Little Beach Town in the United States. Mowry Beach, which has 1,800 feet of shorefront and a rare sand beach, can be accessed from trails leading from the back of the school where the BikeMaine Village is located.
Since 1991, musicians from around the world have been attending the famous SummerKeys instructional program, which offers free concerts to the public on Wednesday evenings throughout the summer. Artists, potters, writers, and many retired musicians now call Lubec home. Throughout the year, there are several festivals, including the ceremonial Pirate Invasion, Fog Fest, Harvest Howl, Fourth of July activities, and International Bay of Fundy Marathon, a 26.2-mile race that straddles the border of the United States and Canada.
For those carrying a valid passport, a short bridge links Lubec to Campobello Island, home to Roosevelt International Park and the East Quoddy Lighthouse.
For more information on Lubec, its history, culture, and things to do and see, check out the town’s website at www.visitlubecmaine.com.
Day 6: Lubec to Milbridge
Miles: 73.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 3843 feet
Today’s ride takes us first to Quoddy Head State Park, a 541-acre park sited on the easternmost point of land in the continental United States. The park is known for its classic lighthouse, ocean views and walking trails. The West Quoddy Head Lighthouse was built in 1858, replacing an earlier lighthouse that was built in 1808 to guide boats through the treacherous Quoddy Narrows. The tower of the lighthouse is 49 feet tall, and the light, magnified by a third-order Fresnel lens, has a range of 18 miles. The park shouldn’t be missed, but make it a quick stop. Today’s ride is the longest one of the week!
Leaving the park, we travel on back roads with occasional views of the water until reaching Route 191 in South Trescott, part of Maine’s Unorganized Territory. Passing Moose Creek, we enter Cutler, named after Joseph Cutler, an early settler from Newburyport, Massachusetts. The road passes through the Cutler Coast Public Reserve Land, a 12,234-acre expanse of blueberry barrens, woodlands, and peatlands, with 4.5 miles of headlands, interspersed by pocket coves and cobble beaches, overlooking the Bay of Fundy. Hikers can enjoy 10 miles of trails, three remote tent sites, and spectacular views from the property’s steep cliffs, part of the dramatic “Bold Coast” that extends from Cutler to Lubec.
Morning Rest Stop at Mile 25 at the Cutler Town Hall and Library
The Cutler Town Hall and Library overlooks the working harbor and Little River Lighthouse, located offshore on Little River Island. The brick-lined, cast iron light tower was built in 1876, and the two-story wooden Victorian cottage was built in 1888. There are 3 rooms in the cottage available for overnight stays that can be reserved online through the Friends of Little Lighthouse’s website. The room fee includes a 12-minute round-trip boat ride to the 15-acre island.
Off to the southwest of Cutler is the U.S. Naval Radio Station. When this Very Low Frequency (VLF) radio transmitting station was completed in 1961, it was – and perhaps still is — the largest and most powerful facility of its kind anywhere in the world. It provides one-way communication to the United State strategic submarine forces operating in the Atlantic and Arctic Ocean regions. As with all VLF stations, the transmitter has a very small bandwidth and so cannot transmit audio (speech) but only coded text messages, at a relatively low data rate. It has a transmission power of 1800kW. The call sign of the station is NAA.
The extensive antenna system, which can be seen from miles away, consists of two separate identical arrays, designated the “north array” and the “south array”. Each array consists of a ring of 13 tall metal diamond-shaped “panels” radiating from the central tower in a hexagonal pattern shaped like a snowflake. The two arrays normally operate together as one antenna, but each is designed to function independently to allow maintenance on the other array. The central tower of each antenna system is just shy of 1000 feet tall. It is surrounded by six 875-foot masts, placed on a ring with a radius of 1824 feet around the central tower. The remaining six towers of the array are 799 feet tall and placed on a circle of 3070 feet around the central tower. The entire array is 1.16 miles in diameter.
We continue on Route 191 around Holmes Bay and into East Machias. We pass Washington Academy, an independent co-educational secondary school first established in 1792, when John Hancock, then the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, signed the charter founding the school. Originally housed in Burnham Tavern in nearby Machias, Washington Academy’s first building at the current site was built in 1823. Today, Washington Academy has over 350-day students and about 90 residential students representing more than 20 surrounding communities and 15 countries. The school is located in the heart of the East Machias Historic District, comprised of 32 buildings on 630 acres that were built between 1760 and 1880. The district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973
We cross the East Machias River and head south on Route 1, passing Willow Street on our left, where the East Machias Aquatic Research Center is located. The Center is a research and community outreach facility on the East Machias River that includes a fish hatchery, a flow-through fresh water experimental facility, a state certified water quality-testing laboratory, a Technical Resources Center, and a small Historic Museum/Education Center. The Center has partnered with the North Atlantic Salmon Fund out of Iceland on a project to hatch and grow a sturdier stock of native East Machias salmon that hopefully will someday recolonize the East Machias River.
We quickly move off of Route 1 and onto the back roads running along the north side of Machias. These roads take us past blueberry barrens and across the Machias River into Whitneyville, where we stop for lunch.
Lunch at Mile 45 at the Whitneyville Rec Center, in support of the Whitneyville Library & Whatnot Association
The town of Whitneyville was named after Colonel Joseph Whitney, a mill owner. The town currently has a total of 254 residents, and it proudly maintains a recreation center and a public library. The library is housed in a 2 ½ story Greek revival school house that was built in 1868 after the original Whitneyville School burned to the ground. The building was used as an elementary school until 1966 when the one-story Hillgrove School was built. The Whitneyville Library and Whatnot Association, Inc., was then given use of the 1868 building “to create and maintain a free library” and “to increase the skill of handicrafts.”
In 1972, $501 was collected in gifts from 43 families to start a children’s book collection of 155 new books, which has grown to more than 5000 children’s books today. Gifts of both books and money have helped the adult book collection grow from 1,000 books in 1972 to nearly 10,000 books today. The Whitneyville Library delivers books to local elementary schools in Machias, Jonesboro, and Wesley. Since the late 1970s, the library has offered a children’s summer reading program for those in preschool through grade eight that attracts children from the surrounding communities as well as Whitneyville.
Afternoon Rest Stop at Mile 60 at the Columbia Falls Town Hall
The rest stop is at the Columbia Falls Town Hall. Located at the rear of the Town Hall building is the Wreaths Across America Museum, which tells the story of how the nearby Worcester Wreath Company became known for donating thousands or wreaths each year for military graves in Arlington National Cemetery. What began as a quiet tribute by a small business in Harrington, Maine in 1992, has today grown to a non-profit organization and its volunteers that in 2014 laid over 700,000 memorial wreaths at 1,000 locations in the United States and beyond, including ceremonies at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, as well as Bunker Hill, Valley Forge and the sites of the September 11 tragedies.
Columbia Falls also is the site of Ruggles House, one of Maine’s architectural treasures. Built in 1818, the Ruggles House is a classic example of Adamesque style Federal period architecture, famous primarily for its central feature, a flying staircase. Three generations of the Ruggles family lived in this house until 1920, when Ruggles descendant, Mary Ruggles Chandler, Maine’s first registered woman pharmacist, led an ambitious campaign to restore the house. It was opened to the public in 1951.
Next door to the Ruggles House is the Columbia Falls Pottery Shop. Opened in 1990, the shop features the Maine-made hand thrown and hand built pottery of April Adams and Dana McEacharn.
From Colombia Falls, we do some hard miles on Routes 1 and 1A, and then reward you with some beautiful back roads into Milbridge, our home for the night.