There’s a lot of history in Lincoln County – it’s been around since 1760, after all. And much of that history is on display during the Lincoln County Historical Association’s Bicentennial Plus One Pilgrimage celebrating Maine’s 200th year of statehood.
The event, made possible by a grant from the Maine Bicentennial Commission, kicked off on Sunday, Aug. 15, at the Railway Village Museum in Boothbay. Representatives from a number of historical societies were on hand, eager to discuss the fascinating features and stories that make the Pownalborough Court House in Dresden, the Hendrick’s Hill Museum in Southport, or the Head Tide Church in Alna worth a visit.
There are 16 separate sites in Alna, Boothbay, Dresden, South Bristol, Jefferson, Westport, and Wiscasset, to visit. The pilgrimage program, available at several locations, provides addresses, open hours, and a brief synopsis of the history of each location. The back page features a passport with a place to collect stamps from each site visited.
One location to pick up pilgrimage brochures is at The Wizard of Odds and Ends, an antique shop in the heart of Alna, and a historic building in its own right. It was once the general store for the village of Head Tide.
Proprietor Richard Plunkett said the town of Alna is “tucked away in time” since the mills that comprised its primary industry closed down or were destroyed by fire. Plunkett said he hopes the pilgrimage will bring people off the beaten path, away from Route 1 to discover the history that surrounds them.
Whether visiting the featured properties participating in the pilgrimage, or stopping at any number of historic churches, forts, meetinghouses, or even homes in the county, Plunkett makes a good point. To breathe history, to sense the ghosts of the past, to understand the distance of time, a road trip along the back roads of Lincoln County is in order.
Several of the sites are rarely open to the public and the Bowman House, in particular, is a new addition to the historic panoply of Lincoln County.
The Bowman House was built in 1762, and while its Georgian-style exterior may not be as imposing as the historic houses of the larger New England cities, Midcoast Maine site manager for Historic New England Peggy Konitzky said that Judge Jonathan Bowman made sure that the interior architecture and fittings would stand up against the finest homes of Boston.
Fortunately, the later residents of the home made few changes and eventually it was purchased by a series of preservationists who each worked to maintain the historic structure and the artifacts within it.
This is the first season the Bowman House is available for tours, and there are a number of activities, including re-enactors and period artisan displays and demonstrations on the grounds planned for Kennebec Days on Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 21 and Aug. 22. See the pilgrimage brochure for details and times.
The Southport Historical Society runs the Hendrick’s Hill Museum, filled with artifacts donated by residents of the island that provide a sense of what island life was like up until the 1950s. Artifacts include items associated with Southport Island residents like renowned environmentalist Rachel Carson and actress Margaret Hamilton, best known for her portrayal as the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz”.
Westport Island has a map for a driving tour available at the kiosk at the Squam Creek Preserve. The tour has 11 historical markers that, according to Jeff Tarbox, treasurer of the town’s history committee, showcase the most beautiful locations on the island.
Head Tide Church in Alna, a tall white jewel on a bright green hill, is not often open to the public. The iron chandelier suspended from an ornamental medallion in the ceiling, the rows of latched box pews, the curved architecture of its upper gallery, the trompe l’oeil window behind the pulpit, and the fragments of its original Revere Bell are steeped in a sense of history that make it worth the trip.
The Lincoln County Museum and Old Jail in Wiscasset immerses visitors in the cold and dark that was home to miscreants in the early 1800s. The 41-inch thick walls and heavy iron doors with 12 lb. locks provoke a sense of foreboding, especially standing in the solitary confinement cell with its single narrow notch of a window – the only light that prisoners confined there would see.
The jail logs are on view upstairs, and provide a fascinating look into the crimes and punishments of the times. William Caswell of Wiscasset, only 14 years old, served six weeks for stealing an apple.
History is told in broad strokes and small details throughout the pilgrimage. Jail house docent Christine Hopf-Lovett described how Wiscasset’s shipping industry largely collapsed when Thomas Jefferson closed all U.S. ports to exports during the Napoleonic Wars. Many of the wealthy shipping magnates who built the historic homes in Wiscasset were ruined, and the center of shipping migrated south to Portsmouth and Boston.
The Bicentennial Plus One Pilgrimage runs through Aug. 22.
Pilgrimage passport booklets are available at participating sites and organizations, as well as at the Lincoln County Regional Planning Commission Office, located on Route 1 in Wiscasset, next door to the Sea Basket restaurant.
Additional information can be found at lincolncounty2020.com.