2.1 LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT OF STUDY
2.2 HISTORY OF THE MERRYMEETING BAY AREA
Merrymeeting Bay is a large freshwater tidal bay located in the
mid coastal region of Maine and formed by the confluence of six
rivers including the Androscoggin, Kennebec, Eastern, Cathance,
Abagadasset, and Muddy Rivers. The Kennebec and Androscoggin are
Maine's second and third largest rivers draining 5,870 and 3,450
square miles respectively. The remaining four rivers drain
collectively less than 200 square miles. The Bay itself encompasses
about 8,400 acres with approximately 99 miles of shoreline.
Geographically, Merrymeeting Bay lies within 30 minutes of three of Maine's major population centers: Portland to the south; Lewiston-Auburn to the west; and Augusta to the north. The surrounding towns include Richmond, Bowdoinham, Topsham, Brunswick, Bath Woolwich, and Dresden. These lie in three counties: Sagadahoc, Lincoln, and Cumberland (see accompanying map).
This planning study has defined the Merrymeeting Bay Region as including those areas within commuting distance of the Bay, i.e. the Portland, Lewiston-Auburn, and Augusta areas. The Merrymeeting Bay Area includes the surrounding towns plus Bowdoin which contains the upper reaches of the Cathance River. The Study Area includes a narrow band of land bordering the Bay and its tributaries as defined by the Study Area Map on the next page. This area approximates the zone most immediately influencing the natural systems of the Bay and follows various watershed lines, ridge lines, roadways, and town lines generally avoiding already built up areas. This zone including some 40,500 acres was studied extensively for natural resources considerations affecting the Bay, such as soils, geology, hydrology, ecology, and topography. The Merrymeeting Bay Region and Merrymeeting Bay Area (surrounding towns) were studied in terms of the socioeconomic considerations, which might affect the Bay--population, traffic, recreation, economic activity and employment, taxation and real estate trends. These relate more to geographic than natural boundaries.
The history of Merrymeeting Bay is closely linked to the
activities that centered around its tributary rivers, particularly
the Kennebec, Rivers were the highways of the North American
wilderness, and the Kennebec was used extensively as a route to the
interior of Maine.
Indians early inhabited the Bay, reaping its bounty, and introducing wild rice to its waters from the Midwest. Europeans first viewed the Bay in 1605 when George Weymouth of England sailed up the Kennebec after landing on Monhegan Island. His praises of the Kennebec's harbors, its fish and its rich timber covered land were extravagant enough to entice Sir John Popham to found a colony at the Kennebec's mouth in 1607. Popham's men stayed the winter, long enough to explore up to Merrymeeting Bay, then built the first of the Kennebec's many ships, named her the "Virginia" and set sail for home. Over the next twenty years a few winter fishing camps were established and by 1623 there was a village at Bath on Merrymeeting Bay.
Weymouth's arrival at the Kennebec preceded that of Champlain by only a month. Throughout the seventeenth century, and into the mid eighteenth century the French also had a lively interest in the area. Both the English and French hoped that the Kennebec would provide a trade route north to Quebec and access to the rich raw materials of the Maine and New Hampshire forests.
A conflict between the French and English led to the French and Indian Wars which Lasted 150 years and retarded the growth of Maine coastal towns. Consequently, ports to the south, such as Plymouth, Newburyport, and Boston gained an advantage in establishing trade routes in the northeast.
During the French and Indian Wars, a group of Irishmen attempted to settle on the eastern side of the Bay near Cork Cove in the present town of Dresden. That attempt was abandoned in 1722 and the first permanent settlement was made by French Protestants in 1752, called Frankfort. The town was later called Pownalborough after Governor Pownal of Massachusetts (which included Maine at the time) and finally, Dresden in 1794 when the town was incorporated.
The French were finally driven from the area in the 1760s ending the French and Indian Wars. About that same period the town of Bowdoinham was incorporated (1762) including present day Richmond and a large part of Bowdoin. Bowdoinham's first settlers lived along Merrymeeting Bay and on the shores of the Kennebec and Abagadasset Rivers. A meetinghouse was built in 1765 overlooking the Abagadasset but was burned by Tories during the American Revolution.
In 1788 Bowdoin separated from Bowdoinham and incorporated. Bowdoinham Village or Cathance Landing was settled in about 1800, later to become a bustling commercial center. Richmond withdrew from the town and incorporated in 1823.
The principal economic activities in the Bay towns in the early history of the area included shipbuilding (Dresden, Richmond, Bowdoinham, and Bath all were thriving centers), ice, agriculture, and commercial fishing. Dresden also supported a brick industry. Populations peaked in the 1850s when Bowdoinham numbered 2,382 residents tin 1970, the population was about 1,400).
The tall pines of the Kennebec first attracted the agents of the Royal Navy and for a long time they were a principal source of masts for ocean-going vessels. Development on a larger scale began after the Revolution when President Jefferson decided to encourage the construction of a domestic merchant marine. Because of its good harbors and seemingly endless supplies of wood, Maine builders constructed a large proportion of these. The demand for Yankee shipping boomed through the turn of the century as American merchants did a thriving business with the warring nations in the Napoleonic conflicts. Rowe (1948:reports that Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar had masts of Maine pine.
Between 1830 and 1840 the south's cotton production more than doubled and Maine's traders played a large part in that trade. Between 1800 and 1840 the average size of Maine's many ships grew from 130 tons to 321 tons. In the decade after the 40s the "Rappahanock" and the "Saratoga" were launched at Bath and vied with each other as the largest ships of their day (Rowe 1948). Bath was traditionally foremost of the Kennebec shipyards, but in this golden age of wooden ships Richmond's full square riggers surpassed her.
After the Civil War, shipbuilding went into decline, not in launchings or tonnage, but in spirit. There was a last extravagant fling with the fast and graceful clipper ships and afterward coastal schooners were constructed until the turn of the century. But the railroad made steady inroads into the coastal trade and the cheap agricultural goods of the west devastated New England farming. By 1875 only Bath, Phippsburg, and Richmond of the many Kennebec towns that once had launched ships were still in operation. In 1894 the first American steel sailing ship, the "Dirigo" was launched at Bath.
There were other industries along the Kennebec. During the whole shipbuilding era vast quantities of lumber floated down the Kennebec and when the pine was gone, the spruce floated to the pulp mills of the Androscoggin. Pulpwood is still trucked to mills in Brunswick on the corner of Merrymeeting Bay.
Between 1860 and 1900 Kennebec ice was a fantastic source of prosperity. "White gold" (tidewater ice) was famed over the entire country and was shipped as far as the West Indies. By the end of the century, 3,000,000 tons (Rowe 1948) were harvested in a year. Thereafter, as a result of the invention of artificial refrigeration, the industry declined
From 1900 to the Second World War, the economy of the Merrymeeting Bay area depended on the pulp industry, some limited shipbuilding, and tourism, The Eastern and Kennebec Rivers had many public landings. In 1906 the Eastern Steamship Company built a wharf at Cedar Grove in Dresden, where Boston steamers landed twice a day with up to 150 vacationing passengers. Many small summer hotels were found in the towns.
Since the Second World War the Bath Iron Works has revived the economies of Bath and Brunswick, but elsewhere towns have increasingly become bedroom communities supplying workers to the major employment centers of Augusta, Bath/Brunswick, and Portland. Out of the mainstream of the major economic corridor in Maine (centered on the Turnpike and I-95) the Merrymeeting Bay towns have grown slowly.
This now is being changed by the linkage of I-95 in Brunswick to the major transportation network, the Maine Turnpike in Augusta. This linkage will put the Bay towns back into the mainstream of activity and will introduce a new surge of growth. Properly guided it could mean a revitalization of the area. Unguided, it could cause irreversible ecological damage and monotonous suburban sprawl.
The history of the area has left a rich cultural heritage worthy of protection. Richmond has more Greek Revival homes than any other town in Maine, and several buildings on the National Historic Register, reminders of the prosperous shipbuilding and ice industries. Bath contains several noteworthy homes and an Historic District which contains 19th century residences built in the period of maritime prosperity. Brunswick contains many historic structures and a 19th century Historic District as do Topsham and Woolwich, Dresden has an outstanding courthouse built in 1761, the Pownalborough Courthouse. These are listed in the accompanying table on historic resources.
(from Shettleworth 1974)
1. Tugboat Sequin - Bath, Maine (1884), Public
A tug used for towing five masted sailing vessels as well as barges from the sea to various parts of the Kennebec River. National Register 12/3/69
2. U. S. Custom House - Bath, Maine (1853-58), Public
This Ammi B. Young Italianate Custom House stands on the Waterfront of one of Maine's busiest 19th century seaports and shipbuilding centers. National Register 10/6/70
3. Governor William King House - Bath, Maine (1812), Private
The home of William King, Maine's first governor
4. William D. Crooker House - Bath, Maine (c. 1850), Private
A grand late Greek Revival mansion designed and built by Isaac D. Cole of Bath.
5. Hyde Estate - Bath, Maine (1914), Private
A palatial Georgian Revival mansion sited in a park-like setting. The house was erected for the Hyde family, Bath shipbuilders, from designs by John Calvin Stevens I of Portland.
6. Sagadahoc County Courthouse - Bath, Maine (1968), Public
An impressive brick and brownstone Italian style courthouse built from designs by Francis H. Fassett of Portland.
7. Washington Street Historic District Bath, Maine (19th century), Private and Public
A beautiful street of 19th century residences and churches from the Federal through the Colonial Revival styles. Many of these structures reflect the maritime prosperity which Bath enjoyed in the 19th century. National Register 5/17/73
8, Winter Street Church - Bath, Maine (1943), Public
A major wooden Gothic Revival church in New England. Designed and built under the supervision of Anthony C. Raymond of Bath.
9. Percy & Small Shipyard - Bath, Maine (1894), Public. This shipyard was involved in the building of 44 vessels between 1894 and 1920, 42 of which were schooners.
10. Cabot Textile Mill - Brunswick, Maine (1891), Private
A massive late 19th century brick textile mill built on the site of a mill complex which started in 1834.
11. Footbridge - Brunswick, Maine (c.1900), Public
12. Bowdoin College Campus - Brunswick, Maine (19th century, Private:
Since its founding in 1794, Bowdoin College has significantly influenced the intellectual and literary life of Maine and has made Brunswick an important cultural center. The following are buildings of special interest on the campus:
ADAMS HALL (1860) - A large brick and brownstone Italianate classroom building which once housed the Maine School of Medicine.
APPLETON HALL (1843) - A brick dormitory built on the lines of Winthrop and Maine Halls.
CHAPEL (1S45-55) - A granite Romanesque church designed by Richard Upjohn and built under the supervision of Samuel Melcher III, Brunswick's leading local master builder.
COMMONS HALL (1828) - A brick structure attributed to Samuel Melcher III.
HUBBARD HALL (1902-03) - A major late Gothic Revival building designed by Henry Vaughn as a library
MAINE HALL (1936) - Maine Hall was built in 1836 to replace an earlier structure of 1806-08. Maine Hall was erected from plans by Anthony C. Raymond, a prominent Brunswick-Bath master builder.
MASSACHUSETTS HALL (1802) - Massachusetts Hall was the first building on the Bowdoin campus. A handsome restrained Federal structure, it provided classrooms, faculty offices, and living accommodations. The design is attributed to Samuel Melcher III. National Register 7/27/71
MEMORIAL HALL (1868) - An imposing Gothic Revival hall built in memory of Bowdoin men in the Civil War. Now; used as a theater.
PRESIDENT'S HOUSE (1860) - Built in 1860 for Captain Francis G. Jordan, this grand Italianate wooden mansion has long been the home of Bowdoin's presidents.
PSI U FRATERNITJ HOUSE (1903) - A distinguished example of John Calvin Stevens I's late Shingle Style work.
WALKER MUSEUM OF ART (1894) - Designed by Charles F. McKim of the famous New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White; the museum is modeled on the exterior after Brunelleschi's Florentine Renaissance Piazzi Chapel. Inside, in four tympana under the arches of the central dome are murals painted by John LaFarge, Elihu Bedder, Abbott Thayer, and Kenyon Cox symbolizing the artistic achievements of Athens, Rome, Florence, and Venice.
WINTHROP HALL (1822) - A large brick Federal style dormitory
13. Henry Boody House - Brunswick, Mane (1849), Private
A major wooden Gothic Revival house designed by the English American architect Gervase Wheeler. Published in 1850 in The Architecture of Country Houses by Andrew Jackson Downing
14. Federal Street District - Brunswick, Maine (19th century), Private and Public.
A stately street of Federal, Greek Revival, and Victorian homes, several of which are the work of Samuel Melcher III, Brunswick's leading 19th century architect and builder
15. First Parish Church, Brunswick, Maine (1845), Private.
This large board and batten Gothic Revival church was designed in 1845 by Richard Upjohn and was constructed under the supervision of the local master builder Isaiah Coombs. National Register 12/3/69
16. Captain George McManus House - Brunswick, Maine (1857), Private
A fine example of a transitional brick Greek Revival Italianate residence of the Maine mid-coast region. National Register 5/16/74
17. St. Paul's Episcopal Church - Brunswick, Maine (1845), Private
An early example of the board and batten chapel form which Richard Upjohn popularized throughout the United States. Upjohn designed this church for the Brunswick Episcopalians
18. Pejepscot Paper Mill - Topsham, Maine (1868), Private
The Pejepscot Paper Mill at Topsham is the earliest surviving example of Maine's 19th century wood pulp mills. Architecturally, it is also the finest. Erected in 1868 this complex of industrial buildings is dramatically sited at Brunswick Falls on the Androscoggin River.
19. Bank - Topsham, Maine (c. 1840), Public
A handsome brick Greek Revival bank of the C.1840 period.
Topsham Historic District - Topsham, Maine (18th and 19th centuries), Public and Private
Topsham's unusually fine residential neighborhood is comprised predominantly of Federal and Greek Revival homes. Many of these houses were designed and built by Samuel Melcher III of the adjacent town of Brunswick.
21. Peacock Tavern ..- Richmond, Maine (1807), public
A well-known hostelry on the route from the coast to Augusta.
22. Southard Block - Richmond, Maine (2882), Public
The Southard Block is a late example of a small town Mansard roofed commercial building with an original bank and counting house surviving. The first story has a cast iron front o Boston origin. The structure was designed and built by Thomas J. Southard, prominent Richmond ship- builder and developer. National Register 2/23/72
23. Greek. Revival Farm House - Richmond, Maine (c. 1845), Private
A handsome example of a small, one and a half story Greek Revival temple style farm house.
24. Richmond Corner Meeting House - Richmond Corner, Maine (1835),
A rural Greek( Revival meeting house which is the earliest known work of Harvey Graves, a native of Bowdoinham, Maine, who became a prominent mid-l9th century Boston church architect built by Gaves in conjunction with Daniel Holway of Bowdoinham.
25. Richmond Historic District - Richmond, Maine (19th century), Public and Private
Richmond thrived as a shipbuilding center in the twenty years before the Civil War. This prosperity created a town with more distinctive Grecian temple style houses than any other in Maine. Other fine homes and commercial buildings were built in the Italianate and Second Empire styles. National Register 11/12/73
26. Bridge Academy - Dresden, Maine (C. IU95), Public
A distinctive late Queen Anne style design for a school by George A. Clough, a Boston architect.
27. Bowman-Carney House - Dresden, Maine (C. 1761), Private
Attorney Jonathan Bowman contracted with Gersham Flagg of Boston to design and build this handsome Georgian house on the Kennebec River. Bowman later became Judge of Probate for Lincoln County. National Register 4/12/71
28. Pownalborough Courthouse - Dresden, Maine (1761), Public
Lincoln County was established in 1760 and the following year the Plymouth Company proprietors voted to construct this courthouse for the new county. Gersham Flagg of Boston was the architect and master builder. National Register 1/13/70
29. St. John's Episcopal Church - Dresden, Maine (e. 1830), Private
A local landmark with a pleasing composition of Federal style, Greek Revival, and Gothic Revival elements in wood.
30. Day's Ferry Historic District - Day's Ferry, Woolwich, Maine (18th and 19th centuries)l Public and Private
Bowdoinham Planning Board. 1975. Bowdoinham's comprehensive plan.
Coffin, Robert P. Tristam. 1937. Kennebec, cradle of America. Farrar and Rhinehart, New York.
Dresden Planning Board. 1971. Preliminary report of the Planning Board. Dresden, Maine. 30 p.
Foster, Inge. Unpublished notes on the Kennebec and Eastern Rivers.
Rowe, W. H. 1948. Maritime history of Maine. W. W. Norton Co., New York.
Shettleworth, Earle G. 1974. Historic resources inventory. Maine Historic Preservation Commission. 128 p.