Houlton Maine, Tell Me About Aroostook County’s Oldest Town.
Houlton Maine, located on the shared east / west International border with New Brunswick Canada is the “Shiretown” or the county seat of Aroostook.
The earliest settlers making the trek north distilled down from a small, closely related group of families. From New Salem, one specific location in Massachusetts.
Until 1820, Maine was part of the Bay State and most of the early pioneers that relocated in this vast wooded wilderness region did so along the coastal locations. Joseph Houlton was a leader, the most prominent of those stepping forward to buy his larger portion of land tract acreage. Located much further away from the rock bound craggy coastline, to the north along the fuzzy, vaguely defined Canadian Massachusetts (eventually Maine) border.
A boundary that took years to define and included the Bloodless Aroostook War. Also known as the Pork and Beans War that was an international incident. Where Great Britain wanted to defend it’s timber interest in those King Pines, the Loyalist population across the pond.
The skirmish and saber rattling between the two countries caused the US Congress to authorize 10 million dollars and to mobilize 10,000 troops to define, draw the line between Maine and Canada.
That dividing boundary eventually was hammered out once and for all with the help of a bottle of whiskey to lubricate the legalese crafted into the hard fought, way overdue Webster – Ashburton Treaty.
In the early years of settling Houlton, the other townships, half sections too the new inhabitants bought their land stakes from grants given by the state of Massachusetts to academies, many other worthwhile causes. To peddle the property, to develop and tame the uninhabited wilds to the northeast. This section of distant land needing population granted to benefit the New Salem Academy was primarily settled by the founders of New Salem itself.
Who stepped up to buy the Houlton land designed to create sales revenue for New Salem Academy when takers to lay down the money were few.
Early in 1807, trudging in on snow shoes, the earliest settlers of Joseph Houlton Jr, Samuel Houlton and William Cary arrived on the winter scene. Later that year, Joseph Houlton landed in the region via a sea route from Saint John, New Brunswick. Some of the settlers of Houlton crossed in from next door, across the border in New Brunswick Canada. Caused from the natural expansion of the St John area growth that pushed to the outreaches of the New Brunswick frontier.
Expansions of lumbering timber resources, the rise of the potato industry due to being blessed with the high test fertile soil of Northern Maine both helped population numbers gain momentum. After railroads opened up the Aroostook Region and attracted lumberjacks and dirt farmers to the region.
The earlier British timber exports especially paid for the purchase of goods from St John to help the Southern Aroostook area grow and prosper. More on Houlton Maine history.
The legal step of organization of the plantation of Houlton was needed to be able to levy property taxes.
It finally happened in 1826. With the hope that a second half township of Foxcroft, the Williams College grant was added to make Houlton a full six by six miles in size township. That union did not occur until 1834. Two years later than the Groton and Westford Academy grants formed the township of Hodgdon to the south of Houlton Maine.
So now the much needed but denied earlier money requests from Massachusetts became available to establish a post office. Where previously the mail was often sent to Houlton in care of Park Holland of Eddington, a well established surveyor. Who knew the woods and waterways of eastern Maine and round about ways through Eastport, St John and the Baskehegan Trail to get the posts delivered.
The first regular mail contract from Bangor to Houlton Maine by the Baskehegan was awarded James Lander. With the Calais Stage Route becoming the pony express option for spread the news, deliver the letters and packages. Amos Pearce who came to Houlton Maine in 1810 was the first postmaster appointed by President John Quincy Adams in 1826.
As the Houlton Maine population grew now connected better with mail news from the outside, a greater need for schools sparked educational options.
That led in time to eventually nine public schools serving the Houlton towns people.
The early settlers had New England Puritan religious roots and at first attended church in the new land across the border in Woodstock New Brunswick. Woodstock, a dozen miles distant, was a settlement established way earlier in 1786 by Loyalists to the King of England. After the American War of Independence and a desire for space caused their migration to the northeast, across the Maine border.
So many early Houlton residents from New Salem attended worship services in Woodstock New Brunswick Canada.
But in 1811, the First Congregational Church did enroll the first eighteen members. As the population of Houlton Maine grew, worship divergence happened to create many denominations.
The Federal government in 1828 established a US garrison in Houlton Maine which added over a hundred troops that had families or ended up married to locals. The extra social interaction the troops brought to Houlton Maine and the contracts and payroll put a lot of extra money into the local economy. But the building of the Military Highway and much later in 1950 the Interstate 95 system to connect to Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, a SAC base with B-52’s helped tremendously to open up the Northern Maine region.
With Houlton Maine now the cross roads of US Rt 1, 2, 2A and I-95 the connector to the Atlantic Canadian provinces Trans Canada highway make the County seat a true transportation hub.
The early railroad too did what local rivers that froze over for half the year could not. The St Andrews and Quebec railroad proposal of the 1830’s ran into a boundary dispute and was dropped. The lack of the well defined dotted line to establish where Maine ended and New Brunswick began fueled cross border tensions that hindered railroad service that would create benefits for both sides.
In 1960 fifty thousand railroad cars of potatoes were shipped from Northern Maine but destined to soon be trumped by the overnight service and just in time inventory control offered by trailer trucks. The Bangor and Aroostook Railroad was first incorporated in 1891. Shipping freight, offering passenger rail service and eventually operating a bus route to carry folks in and out of “The County”.
The soil profile of Southern Aroostook County around Houlton Maine is extremely fertile, with a level to rolling, undulating land terrain which supports the planting, cultivation and harvest of crops.
Or to make pasturing animals and haying an easier endeavor than more mountainous sections of southwest Maine where Sugarloaf USA is located. Or the less desirable for tillable row crop rocky more acidic soil profile along the coast of the state where wild blueberries are raked.
My Dad was president of the Maine potato council, did a lot of testifying in Washington DC as a national council member to help shape the spud industry that was number one in the country production at one time. Grains, sugar beets, dry beans, even hops, broccoli and an increase of organic farming in the Houlton Maine area is done hand in hand with beef and dairy. Houlton Maine has a dairy serving Aroostook County since 1938.
See, watch a potato picking farm harvest operation in full swing.
The town of Houlton Maine has classic buildings surrounding town center’s Market Square and beyond.
The housing stock is attractive, preserved yesteryear designs that show Houlton Maine’s status of the richest town of its size east of the Mississippi was well deserved. Money was plowed back into the intrastructure and the 1966 comprehensive plan of Houlton Maine was very forward thinking by local tax payers.
Houlton Maine the site for the trans-ocean radio station that served greatly in World War Two. The bits and pieces of the large antennae array through the woods running miles and miles to connect with England for radio intercepts is still found during walks through the woods.
The radio station was located off the County Road, on what is not the residential property of Roger and Carol Hand.
Good mill sites were valuable to early settlers of Houlton Maine.
The state of Maine recognized the importance of good grist and saw mills to a beginning community. Sometimes granting 300 acres to the man who promised to start the first mill in a township of Maine.
Among the tanneries of the area, New Limerick Maine to the west of Houlton Maine was one important one. Set up I areas where there was a large abundance of hemlock trees. The wood bark needed for treating the hides to make leather.
Hides were brought to the New Limerick tannery mill from around Maine, and points more distant like cattle ranches out west, even from South America. The tannery in Island Falls was not established until after the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad line was well established. Another tannery was set up on Whitney Brook in Bridgewater Maine.
Fires in Houlton Maine shaped the look of today.
The first big fire happening on August 3, 1879. In the back of the Swanton building, the stable area opposite Fogg’s on Main Street a wind fanned the smoke that turned to flames. When the wind shifted westward the fire moved east wiping out most of the downtown Houlton Maine block.
The fire wiped out the C.P. Tenney row of buildings, his residence the second oldest home in Houlton Maine.
Being the one built by Samuel Wormwood for Dr. Rice. 21 Houlton Maine buildings including residences were wiped out by this blaze.
Nine months later, fire hit pretty much the same area again. It began in the back end of Samuel Gray’s workshop. On a dark night when water buckets were scarce the Aroostook Pioneer newspaper accounts report.
The only available water to fight the blaze in Houlton Maine was a “reservoir” that had it’s cover frozen below several inches of ice. This fire worked its way up and down Main Street and along Court Street.
The Congregational Church caught fire and the nimble pastor at the time scrambled up the belfry to put it out and save the building from ruin.
Houlton’s Great Fire of 1902 took out seventy five dwellings, three churches and left a score of business blocks in the Shiretown’s down town in ruin.
Eighty families were homeless. The fire started at the corner of Main and Mechanic Streets of Houlton Maine in the Almon H Fogg building.
The 1902 fire was fought with the help of the Woodstock horse drawn fire carts providing mutual aid that still happens back and forth today by both departments. This devastating 1902 fire of Houlton Maine burned a swarth with straight sides all the way up to Bird Street at the horseshoe roadway entrance to the Houlton Junior and High Schools. To where the Southern Aroostook Vocational Education complex is located near the armory.
Three major fires in Houlton Maine and the coming of the age of the railroad’s prosperity combined to create the brick buildings with intricate masonry appointments that are well preserved. And make Houlton Maine the fine Victorian downtown that it is today.
Fires caused losses quickly rebuilt like the McIntire home, the White Building where today the Houlton Chamber of Commerce and historical museum are housed behind large dramatic pillars on it’s open porch and located next to Cary Library.
Cary Library a Carnegie well stocked book and ancestor search facility made of granite cut and hauled in from around Cochran Lake in New Limerick Maine.
Ricker College started in 1848 met it’s demise after the Vietnam War caused it to lose the battle to keep the doors to higher education open that ended in the mid 1970’s. Ricker College, the classical institute that neighboring bedroom communities without a high school tuitioned their students has school colors of gold and burgundy and was an industry for new money brought in from out of state students. Many who stuck around and settled down in Houlton Maine after college was completed or the chasing the sheepskin process ended for financial reasons before obtaining the diploma.
There were two hospitals in Houlton Maine.
I was born in the Aroostook Hospital delivered by PLB Ebbet. A doctor who I noticed on a graveyard walk to visit Joseph Houlton’s tombstone to mark his final resting place that the good doctor died four years after my birth and I was the last baby he ever delivered. The Aroostook Hospital located on School Street where the Community Living Association now has their headquarters.
The merger in 1972 of the Aroostook Hospital with the Madigan Hospital located on Military Street was a controversial one but much needed.
One strong health care facility works better than duplication of two offering services struggling in a small Northern Maine town like Houlton Maine. Learn more about the Houlton Regional Hospital.
Stay tuned for more on my home town coverage of Houlton Maine. The story of this small community is not so different from one of the other 15 county seats, or one of the many towns in Maine Learn more about Northern Maine.
A taste of what it is like to live in a small Maine community where folks are friendly, pitch in to make worthwhile events happen as dedicated volunteers. That’s the point of the hunt and peck on the keyboard and uploading images from my travels around Maine.
I hope this blog post on the Houlton Maine and her early history is helpful, educational for the the readers of Me In Maine blog.
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