Bridgton is built on beautiful Highland Lake, home to many summer and private camps. The town was settled around 1770 and incorporated in 1794. With water provided by Stevens Brook and the lake, Bridgton developed initially as an industrial center with as many as 12 sawmills, gristmills, textile mills and a tannery. The opening, first, of the Cumberland and Oxford Canal in 1832, and then of the Bridgton and Saco River Railroad in 1882, allowed for distribution of locally manufactured goods to a wider market, and the influx of summer tourists to the region.
The advent of automobile travel eventually led to the canal and railroad being abandoned. Vacationers continue to visit to this day, however, attracted by the beautiful lakes, Shawnee Peak Ski Area, and other outdoor activities. The town provided inspiration for the fictional town “Chester’s Mill,” described in Stephen King’s novel Under the Dome and his novella The Mist.
The BikeMaine Village is on Depot Street, one block back from the town’s Main Street. If you want to stretch your legs after the day’s ride, you’ll find Pondicherry Park, a 66-acre tract of land located adjacent to the BikeMaine Village, to be a good place to hike. You’ll also want to stroll along Main Street and enjoy the many shops, galleries and cafes that are unique to the town. For those interested in swimming, Highland Lake is only a five-minute walk away.
In honor of BikeMaine, Bridgton is closing Depot Street to traffic and opening it up to music, dancing, dining, and fun, so get ready for a street party! The Depot Street Tap House is offering a variety of local brews, and the Bridgton Community Center is working with Bridgton’s local service organizations and restaurants to prepare your meals.
Day 3: Bridgton to Bethel
Distance: 45 Miles
Elevation Gain: 2664 feet
Today’s ride is relatively short, but the magnitude of the hills increases as we pedal northwest. When leaving Bridgton, we ride along Highland Lake and past Bridgton Highlands Country Club and into Sweden.
Much of the land we are riding through was inhabited by the Abenaki Indians. During the Wabanaki-New England War of 1722–1725, the Indians, allied with the French, and the English fought over land boundaries and ownership. After the war, the Abenaki traveled to Canada, leaving the English to settle in Maine. Sweden become a town in 1813. Farming and a sawmill and carriage factory supported the inhabitants of the town.
Morning rest stop (Mile 15): Lovell Historical Society. The Lovell Historical Society is located in the historic Kimball-Stanford House. The house and barn were built in 1839, and parts of the connecting ell were probably built not long afterward. The property was purchased in 1867 by Elbridge Kimball, who added a second staircase and further extended the ell. It is unclear when the barn was modified, especially in relationship to the final section of the ell, which connected it to the house. The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003, and is valued example of Federal period styling while exhibiting the adaptive alteration of early farmsteads over time. The house is now owned by the Lovell Historical Society, which uses it as a museum and research center.
Lovell was settled in 1777 and had a prosperous farming economy. Plentiful energy was provided by the Kezar River and encouraged a healthy manufacturing economy.
Lovell is bordered on the west by Kezar Lake, six miles long and with a maximum depth of 155 feet. Located at the south end of Kezar Lake is the Kezar Pond Fen, a 970-acre wetland partly owned and managed by the Greater Lovell Land Trust. This area encompasses several small shallow ponds, a mixed tall sedge fen natural community, and broad wetlands providing feeding, nesting and brooding habitats to a variety of waterfowl and wading bird including sandhill cranes. Additionally, otter, moose, deer, bear, beaver, mink, raccoon, and muskrat are known to be present and bald eagles have been regularly seen in the area. The area also helps retain floodwater and protects downstream water quality by storing sediments and nutrients.
The beauty of the Lovell area encouraged summer visitors and the building of hotels and inns. Today there is a vibrant summer community around Kezar Lake and in the village of Center Lovell. One of its most famous summer residents is well-known author Stephen King. His camp is just down the lake from the magical Quisisana Resort, known for its musically talented staff and gourmet food. Harvest Gold Gallery in Center Lovell features beautiful and unique handmade fine jewelry and crafts. Yankee Magazine recently named them the Best Gallery With a View. Ebenezer’s Pub located just off the route on Allen Road, has been named the best beer pub in the country for the last five years by Beer Advocate Magazine.
After passing through Lovell, we ride along the edge of the White Mountain National Forest, established in 1918. The Forest includes Mount Washington, the Northeast’s tallest mountain (6,288 feet), as well as 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail. We pass through the small towns of East Stoneham and enter Lynchville, home of famous “World Traveler’s Sign,” listing the many Maine towns named after foreign countries.
Lunch Stop (Mile 26): North Waterford Congregational Church
North Waterford is a village of Waterford, once known for the Lake House, a historic tavern built in 1797. In 1847, it became The Maine Hygienic Institute for Ladies, which in the 1880s was then converted to a hotel. Guests including Mickey Rooney, Claudette Colbert, and Judy Garland, who were drawn to the beauty and seclusion of the antique lakeside village, much of which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The field across the street from the church that is serving lunch is the site of the Waterford’s World Fair, started in 1852 by Tom Green, and carried on today as a three-day agricultural fair.
Following lunch, we have our big climb of the day is up Cummings Mountain (elevation 1528 feet). We then descend to the Albany Town House.
Built in 1848, the Albany Town House is the only remaining governmental structure from the town of Albany that was disincorporated in 1937. Albany was first settled in 1784 by a group of men from Andover, Massachusetts who were interested in harvesting the region’s timber. Originally known as Township Number Five, the settlement was named Albany when the town formed in 1803. As the trees were cut, residents began farming, then mining, when feldspar, quartz and beryl were discovered in the area.
In the 1920s and 1930s the White Mountain National Forest expanded to include all the land in Albany north of the Town House, removing almost forty percent of the town’s land from its tax base. This led to a decline in population, and in 1937, the town surrendered its organized status and became an unincorporated township, meaning it has no local government. Administration, services, licensing, and ordinances for the township are handled by the state government. Today, the Town House is a meeting place and voting site, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also nearby are the Albany Congregational Church and the Mountain Grange, which are centers of activity for residents living in the area.
The remainder of the day’s riding is through wetlands and is fairly flat. As we approach Bethel, the White Mountain National Forest to our left offers magnificent views of foothills and mountains. Closer to town, farmhouses and small homes are interspersed with wetlands of the Androscoggin River Watershed. We enter the village on Main Street and ride by various eateries and shops on our way to our BikeMaine Village at Gould Academy.
Bethel offers the tranquility that comes with small village life along with the convenience of modern amenities. Bethel was first settled in the late 1700s and was known initially as Sudbury-Canada. The Revolutionary War dissuaded new families from moving to the region, and in 1781, while home to only 10 families, the community experienced the last-ever Indian attack in Maine.
Once the war was over, people began moving to the area and, in 1796, the plantation was incorporated as Bethel, meaning “House of God.” With good roads and the arrival of the railroad, the largely agricultural Bethel developed into a fashionable summer resort. In 1896, Dr. John George Gehring set up a clinic in town to treat a variety of nervous disorders using hypnosis. The facility attracted many wealthy patients, allowing the town to prosper. From 1897-1926, Bethel was a hub of music and entertainment due to the Maine Music Festivals, put on by William Roger Chapman.
Today Bethel draws visitors to its scenic views, its shops and quality restaurants and the array of historical buildings scattered throughout the town. Bethel is great for walking and easy to explore. There are numerous outdoor activities to enjoy: fishing, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding and more on the many lakes and rivers; nearby mountains offer a wide range of hikes of various lengths and difficulty; and roads and trails provide hundreds of miles of on- and off-road biking and mountain biking. For those interested in a round of golf, there are two premier 18-hole golf courses in gorgeous mountain settings. Moose spotting tours are offered at dawn and dusk for visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of North America’s largest land mammal. Skiers may wish to return in the winter to take advantage of the nearby Sunday River Ski Resort.
The BikeMaine Village is on the picturesque grounds of Gould Academy, a private, college preparatory school overlooking the White Mountains and within easy walking distance of the town’s many acclaimed eating and lodging options. Riders are on their own for their first three meals in Bethel. Click here for a list of restaurants in the Bethel area. More information about local dining options will be available upon your arrival in town at the Community Information Booth located in the BikeMaine Village.
Day 4: Layover Day
You have the day to relax or explore the area on foot, by bike, or by boat. A list of suggested layover day activities can be found in the July Newsletter and on the website.
Dinner will be on the grounds of the Bethel Inn, with the first seating beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Day 5: Bethel to Sweden
Distance: 60 miles
Elevation Gain: 2514 feet
After our day of “rest,” we begin the ride back to the coast. We head out of Bethel on the peaceful North Road.
We cross the Androscoggin River in Gilead. Settled in 1772, Gilead was originally known as Peabody’s Patent. By 1804, the population had soared to 20 families and it was time to become a formal town. A petition was granted and the town became Gilead.
We turn onto Route 113 and follow the Wild River into the White Mountain National Forest (WMNF). The WMNF, managed by the U.S. Forest Service, covers 750,852 acres and has unique forested ecosystems at a range of elevations. It supports several types of rare alpine, subalpine, and forested natural communities. While it lies primarily in New Hampshire, the forest’s boundary extends into western Maine. In the decades prior to 1911, the unregulated logging practices of private timber companies in the White Mountains resulted in a damaged landscape susceptible to both fire and flood, raising people’s awareness. Eventually, Congress passed the Week Act and established the White Mountain National Forest in 1918. Today, the forest is used for hiking, camping, skiing, as well as logging and other limited commercial purposes.
We begin a long gradual climb, then a short steep one, up through Evans Notch to a height of 1,410 feet above sea level. Evans Notch is the easternmost pass in the White Mountains. On the southern side of the notch, the Cold River flows to the Saco River. This area provides beautiful views of the watershed divide between the Androscoggin and Saco Rivers to the north and south. Peregrine falcons often nest in the cliffs at the notch. This is a popular hiking area with five hiking trails available to nearby scenic locations including Blueberry Mountain and Evan’s Brook.
After passing through the Notch and beginning our descent, we enter New Hampshire for a few miles. We pass Brickett Place, a homestead that was built from 1812 to 1816. The Brickett family owned the Federal-style brick building until 1877. In 1918, the U. S. Forest Service bought the building and currently uses it as a visitors’ center.
Rest Stop (Mile 25): Cold River Camp. Cold River Camp is a seasonal camp owned by the Appalachian
Mountain Club, one of the United States’ oldest outdoor groups that created in 1876 to explore and preserve the White Mountains. The club now has over 150,000 members and twelve chapters from Maine to Washington, D.C.
The rest of the morning’s route is through rich farmland as we head back into Maine. The area was a major Abenaki Indian village known as Pequawket, meaning “crooked place,” a reference to a large bend in the Saco River. Settled in the early 1700s by the English, the relationship between the Abenakis and the English was good until the Wabanaki-New England War of 1722–1725. The English prevailed and the Indians moved to Canada.
Along the way, we pass Green Thumb Farm, located on 2200 acres of rich Saco River Valley soil. This third generation Thibodeau family farm raises a variety of, dried beans and corn. It also raises turf to sell to landscapers, golf courses, and the sports turf industry, and to homeowners. In 2005, Maine Distilleries (developed in partnership by Green Thumb’s President Don Thibodeau and his brother Lee) launched a new venture, Cold River Vodka, made from the farm’s potatoes. The vodka has received several awards and earned the attention from aficionados of fine spirits.
Lunch Stop (Mile 41): Weston’s Farm in conjunction with Stone Mountain Arts Center Weston’s Farm started in 1799, when Ephriam Weston purchased 46 acres along the Saco River from Captain Henry Young Brown, the founder of nearby Brownfield. Over 200 years and six generations later, the Weston Farm now has over one thousand acres straddling the Saco River that are under production in timber, diversified vegetable cropland, maple sugar orchard, Christmas trees, and forage hay. In July 2008, the farm was placed on the US National Registry of Historic Places. Stone Mountain Arts Center is a beautiful music hall hosting national acts, located in Brownfield and owned by renowned folksinger Carol Noonan and her husband Jeff Flagg.
Following lunch, we ride through Fryeburg. It was the rich farmland that drew settlers to the region. Granted township status in 1725, Fryeburg became a successful agricultural community. Factories and mills also were established using water power from the Saco River. Today Fryeburg is a year-round resort area. It also is home to Fryeburg Academy, a private preparatory school founded in 1792. Before his career as a statesman, Daniel Webster taught for a year at the school, one of the oldest of its type in the nation. Coed, the school attracts students from all over the world. On the campus is the Pace Galleries at the Leura Hill Eastman Performing Arts Center. Officially opened in January of 2009, the Galleries were made possible by a gift from Stephen Pace, a world-renowned artist, and his wife, Palmina. We encourage you to stop at the Galleries on your ride through town.
As you leave town, you pass the Fryeburg Fairground, home Maine’s largest agricultural event. Always held the first week in October, the eight-day Fryeburg Fair is known for its harness racing, a farm museum second to none, and the world’s largest steer and oxen show. It attracts over 300,000 visitors annually.
The afternoon ride provides beautiful views of the White Mountains. We ride inland again toward Lovell and by Kezar Lake. From there, we head toward Sweden and our destination for the evening, Camp Tapawingo.