The first permanent settler in the region, Moses Martin, established a home in what is now Pittsfield in 1795. The Sebasticook River and the rich land surrounding it provided ample opportunities for hunting, fishing, trapping, and growing crops, and prompted development along the river. Sawmills and gristmills took advantage of the waterpower, and shops opened that attracted new businesses. The arrival of the railroad in 1855 spurred the town’s growth as a manufacturing center. Woodworking plants and a canning factory were established. The first woolen mill in Pittsfield opened in 1869, and at one time Pittsfield had the largest woolen mill in the State. In 1868, Isaac H. Lancey built a hotel that welcomed guests from all over the world. The Lancey House made Pittsfield a tourist destination, and the Lancey name became synonymous with gracious living in “your home away from home.”
Today, Pittsfield is home to Cianbro, one of the United States’ largest 100% employee owned construction companies, operating in over 40 states and employing 4,000 people. The town is strategically located along an interstate highway, has an airport, regional hospital, four financial institutions, and close to 200 businesses. Maine Central Institute, a well-known, private secondary school serving as the town’s high school, houses the nationally known Bossov Ballet Theater. The town has extensive recreation facilities, especially for a town of 4200 people: a ski slope, 9-hole golf course, public swimming pool, trail system, and the 45-acre in-town Manson Park, the site of the BikeMaine Village. Pittsfield Community Theater is the only municipally owned theater in the state, hosting movies, live shows, and community events. The public library is in an original Andrew Carnegie designed building (check out the painted ceiling on the rotunda), and the historic Pittsfield Railroad Depot now serves as a Museum of Transportation.
Pittsfield was home to three of Maine’s Governors: Llewellyn Powers, Carl Milliken, and Nathaniel Mervin Haskell. President Eisenhower visited the town in 1955.
Each July for the past 45 years, Pittsfield has hosted the Central Maine Egg Festival, featuring one of the largest frying pan in the world.
September 11 – Day 2 – Pittsfield to Kingfield
Elevation Gain: 3320
We head north out of Pittsfield on Main Street, crossing under Route 95 for the last time. We cross Fogg Brook and thread between Douglas Pond and Madawaska Bog, which together provide a high-quality wading bird and waterfowl habitat, and support a number of rare species including American coot, common moorhen, least bittern and tidewater mucket, a rare freshwater mussel. In recent years, Douglas Pond has had the largest nesting population in the state of black terns. Douglas Pond also supports smallmouth bass, blacknose Dace, white sucker and creek chub. Madawaska Bog serves as a black tern nesting habitat and supports chain pickerel, yellow perch, brown bullhead, golden shiner, and sunfish. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife manages the bog.
In Hartland, we cross the Sebasticook again. Hartland is a town of about 1700 people. It was the last town to be incorporated by the Massachusetts General Court before the Missouri Compromise, which led to the birth of the state of Maine three weeks later. The town once had woolen mills that in the Civil War made blue material for soldiers’ uniforms. Tasman Leather, a major supplier of US material into the global leather market, is the town’s largest industrial employer.
We follow Routes 151/43 to Athens. Settled by Revolutionary War soldiers, the town was incorporated in 1804. The Town Office is housed in what was once Somerset Academy, where the town’s children once were educated. Today, students in grades K-8 attend school at the Athens Community School, where we have our morning rest stop.
At Mile 29.5, we come to the South Solon Meeting House. Built in 1842 as a place for religious and community activities, the Meeting House is always open to the public. Now on the National Historic Register, the building’s podium, pews, choir loft, windows, and steeple are original. From the outside, it looks archetypal in its New England landscape. Inside, it is covered in fresco paintings. In the early 1950s, founders and faculty at the nearby Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture conducted three national juried competitions to select the artists to adorn the walls. The result is stunning: wall-to-ceiling, loose interpretations of the New and Old Testaments by contemporary artists, rendered in that chalky, warm material that conjures Tuscany more than Maine.
As we head down the hills into the town of Solon, we get our first glimpses of things to come: Sugarloaf Mountain and the High Peaks.
Solon ‘s first known inhabitants were the Abenaki Indians. In the fall of 1775, General Benedict Arnold and his troops came up the Kennebec River and camped below Caratunk Falls. They were on their way to Quebec City where, on December 31, 1775, they engaged in a battle with British defenders. The battle was the first major defeat of the Revolutionary War for the Americans, and it came with heavy losses. Benedict Arnold was wounded, General Montgomery was killed, and more than 400 Americans were taken prisoner.
Solon is the gateway to the Old Canada National Scenic Byway, a 78-mile stretch of U.S. Route 201, with its amazing waterways and spectacular mountain vistas, that was once the primary link between Lower Canada and Maine. We cross the Kennebec River from Solon into Emden, where we have lunch at the Emden Community Center.
We pedal west to the Carrabassett River, and then follow the river upstream. We cross one of its tributaries, Gilman Stream. At mile 50, we begin a 3.5-mile climb, which leads to a view of the High Peaks and the town of Kingfield. A well-earned descent allows as to coast into Kingfield, our home for the night.