For riders interested in learning more about the daily routes, we are providing a route digest for each day. This summary is a compilation of history, culture and trivia that Maine native Fred Frawley uncovered along the route, and environmental information prepared by Kate Dempsey of The Nature Conservancy. If there is something you discover in your travels along the route and think should be added to the digest, please submit your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Orono to Dover-Foxcroft
The section of the route from Orono to Dover-Foxcroft gives you a good dose of interior Maine, places where tourists are less likely to venture. But not you! The route is a sweet trip from the back roads north of Orono through the deep woods of Dover-Foxcroft. This is a landscape defined by its rivers: the Penobscot, the Piscataquis, the Pleasant, the Sebec River, Alder stream.
The ride today is covering ground that all eventually drains into the mighty Penobscot. You will see parts of the Penobscot River Restoration Project which is one of the largest, most creative river restoration projects in our nation’s history. In an unprecedented collaboration, the Penobscot Indian Nation, seven conservation groups, hydropower companies PPL Corporation and Black Bear Hydro, LLC, and state and federal agencies, are working together to restore 11 species of sea-run fish to the Penobscot River, while maintaining energy production. Successful implementation of the project will revive not only native fisheries but social, cultural and economic traditions of New England’s second largest river- the Penobscot. For more information go to www.penobscotriver.org.
The route begins in Orono, home of the main campus of The University of Maine, which was established in 1865 as a land grant college, and today, offers undergraduate and graduate studies to nearly 11,000 full and part-time students.
As you follow Route 43, you’ll pass through Old Town, the home of Old Town canoes and a historically important mill town along the Penobscot River. Abenaki Indians called it Pannawambskek, meaning, “where the ledges spread out.”
The French established a mission here in the 1680s but, in 1774, English pioneers settled the area. The name Old Town derives from “Indian Old Town”, which is the English name for the largest Penobscot Indian village, now known as Indian Island, and boasts a population of 8,000 today. Old Town is home to a former Georgia-Pacific paper mill, which has been transformed into Old Town Fuel & Fiber, a “value-added” pulp mill that produces energy and biofuels as byproducts of the pulp manufacturing process.
You’ll get your last glimpse of the Penobscot River when you cross the Milford Dam, also known as the Great Works dam. Running over 100 miles to the sea, the Penobscot River was an early trade corridor to interior Maine from the Atlantic coast. Ocean ships could actually navigate upstream to Bangor. And, from the 1800s through the 20th century, the river was also used to float gigantic tree harvests from the interior of Maine to mills along its shores, the way to the sea.
As you get your legs on this journey, you will pass next into Hudson, which was first settled about 1800. Originally called Jackson, the town’s name changed to Hudson in 1854 after Hudson, Massachusetts. In 1937, playwright Maxwell Anderson, who received the Pulitzer prize for “Both Your Houses” and penned “Anne of a Thousand Days,” bought a farm in Hudson and used it as a vacation home.
Just up the road from Hudson is Bradford. This is farm country and the population today is about the same as it was 100 years ago. In 1872, an uncommon (for these parts) tornado struck Bradford, and destroyed a barn and a couple of houses. Onto LaGrange. In 1900, this part of the state suffered a massive forest fire, and LaGrange was probably the hardest hit. As the New York Times reported back then: “a large part of the male population is working night and day in an effort to stay the flames by felling strips of forest and throwing up trenches. Many people have already been driven from their homes…”
Eventually, on Route 16 you’ll come to Milo, which was incorporated on January 21, 1823, and named after Milo of Croton, a famous athlete from Ancient Greece. Until 1975, Milo was home to the American Thread Company (ATCO) spool plant, which employed up to 300 people at its most active period. Without spools, what good is thread, after all? In a period including the First World War, the Milo and the Lake View mills, both spool makers, together used 20,000 cords of birch (annually). And, during the 70-plus years of ATCO’s operation, the company estimated that it shipped out three billion, six hundred million spools, bobbins, etc., of various shapes and designs. After Milo, follow the Pleasant River where the topography gets hillier and is more heavily forested. Hopefully you will see views of Mount Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain, nearly a mile high. It is actually a few feet shorter than 5,280, but enterprising hikers tend to stack stones at the summit to get the last ten feet or so. Katahdin (pronounced Kah-TAH-din) is located in Baxter State Park and its summit is the endpoint of the Appalachian Trail. It is also the headwaters of the Penobscot River. Mount Katahdin.
Although time may not allow for you today, make sure you come back to the Brownville area some time and visit Katahdin Iron Works, a Maine state historic site and Gulf Hagas, a canyon on the West Branch of the Pleasant River that is a National Natural Landmark. About a mile and a half downriver is another national landmark, “The Hermitage,” a roughly 35-acre grove of large Eastern White Pine trees that is preserved by The Nature Conservancy. In 2003, the Appalachian Mountain Club acquired a 37,000-acre (15,000 ha) property upriver from Gulf Hagas that it named Katahdin Iron Works.
The final leg of the route goes into the Sebec Lake area where, in the early 1800s, quarries were established to extract the region’s abundant slate, the quality of which won first prize at the 1876 Centennial Exposition. In 1843, the Bangor & Piscataquis Slate Company opened with 60 employees and produced 8,000-12,000 squares of roofing slate annually. The Merrill Quarry opened in 1846 with about 80 employees, producing 30,000 squares of roofing slate annually. And, the Highland Quarry employed Welsh employees, who were recruited because they were accustomed to working in slate. The last quarry closed in 1917.
Sebec Lake was and remains a popular vacation spot, where Mainers go to their holiday homes (called “camps” up in these parts). In the early 1900s, Sebec Lake was home to pleasure steamboats and a dance hall.
By the end of the day, you will return to the extensive farmland along the Piscataquis River floodplain west to Dover-Foxcroft. Dover-Foxcroft is the county seat of Piscataquis. Dover was founded in the early 1800s when Maine was still part of Massachusetts. The towns of Dover and Foxcroft merged in 1922, and remain a single town today. The Piscataquis River runs through the two (formerly separate) towns.
A native of Dover-Foxcroft, Clarence Blethen spent 18 years in organized baseball, almost all of it in the minor leagues. He pitched briefly for the Boston Red Sox in 1923 and did not have another opportunity until 1929, when he played with the Brooklyn Dodgers. In seven major league games, he had no decisions and posted a 7.32 ERA with two strikeouts in 19-2/3 innings pitched. Blethen, who had false teeth and would put them in his back pocket when he was running the bases, suffered one of the most ignominious injuries in baseball history. According to a contemporaneous report in The Sporting News, one day in 1933 he slid into second base, and the false teeth took such a big bite out of his posterior that he was removed from the game because of excessive bleeding. Some stories are too good not to be true.