History of New Meadows River Area
adapted from
Meadowsweet & Its Rich Historical Environment

by William C. Purington

At the time the first colonists arrived in the of the New Meadows River area, it was already being hunted and fished by native Americans of the Pejepscot and Kennebec tribes. These natives frequented the upper reaches of the New Meadows River, using the short section of land between Merrymeeting Bay, the Androscoggin and Kennebec Rivers, and the Upper New Meadows as a shortcut into eastern Casco Bay, thereby saving them having to navigate the length of the Kennebec and around Small Point.

Foreign influences in the area may have started as early as the eleventh century. The carved inscription of A1018" on a rock found at Popham Beach has been attributed to Norse Vikings, known to frequent the North Atlantic coast of America during that time. The first true attempt to establish a settlement in the area was made at Popham in 1607, the same year Jamestown, Virginia was established. This settlement was abandoned just a year later due to the harsh weather. It wasn't until over 100 years after the first settlers departed that Small Point was successfully colonized beginning in 1716.

The first European colonist known to have settled in the upper New Meadows River area was Thomas Purchase, a farmer, trapper and fisherman, originally of Devonshire, England, who arrived around 1628. The exact location of his first home is not known, but he is known to have built several houses in the Brunswick area along the Androscoggin, including the Fair Stone House, believed by some to have been built on AFish House Hill@ on a site on Water Street where the Narcissa Stone House was later built. Although Purchase appears to have traded extensively with the Indians, he also endured numerous attacks by them on his dwellings. Purchase's expansion of the Pejepscot Proprietorship granted to him in 1632, and the exploitation of the land that followed, undoubtedly precipitated these attacks, which along with others that followed, eventually led to the French and Indian Wars of 1689 to 1763.

By all accounts, Purchase was very successful at exploiting the then abundant salmon and sturgeon of the Androscoggin River. He reportedly caught, dried and salt-cured enough fish to export Athirty-nine barrels of salmon@ and sturgeon to foreign markets every three weeks, including a London-based company allegedly established for the primary purpose of importing fish from this area. Indeed, this company is reported to have stationed an agent on the Androscoggin River at the Pejepscot Falls to transact its business. Purchase died in 1675 at the age of 101 in Lynn, Mass.

The second memorable person to settle in the area was Thomas Stevens who moved to the New Meadows River from North Yarmouth in 1675. Stevens' prominence in the community is evidenced by the fact that several areas along the New Meadows River, including the upper section of the river itself and the Acarrying place@ between the then Whiskeag River (Kennebec River) and the Stevens River, today's New Meadows River, were named after him.

The next person mentioned in historical accounts is Captain James Thompson who moved his family to the New Meadows around 1739 after his father and his family had arrived in the area in 1727. Thompson appears to have been principally a dealer of general merchandise, although he was also a cobbler, a farmer, a scow operator on the New Meadows River, and an innkeeper as of 1750.

Another important figure in the area's history is Samuel Hinkley who purchased 200 acres at the New Meadows River in 1742, having previously moved to Brunswick in 1739, the year Brunswick was incorporated as a Town. Hinkley was highly respected and served as one of the town's first selectmen, represented the Town at the General Court of Massachusetts, was Brunswick's first Town Clerk, and moderated Brunswick's first town meeting. By this time Brunswick had grown substantially and it is reported that by 1765 there were 173 families residing in the town whose population had risen to about 500. Most of the population lived along the Twelve-rod Road (now Maine Street and along the New Meadows. By this time the New Meadows area had become economically self-sufficient and no longer dependent on Brunswick. However, a 1762 petition by the people of the New Meadows Rive area to separate from the Town to form their own town was rejected.

Captain John Peterson moved into the area around 1783. Captain Peterson was very industrious and established several enterprises along the New Meadows. A stone dam he built on the west side of Howard Point cove included a gristmill and a double sawmill, the latter built and operated by Joseph Berry and a man named Sears. Captain Peterson also established two shipyards on the New Meadows to build the ships needed to supply the two general stores he ran in the area. One of these shipyards was located in Howard's Point cove just below the dam on the west side of the cove, the other near the Brown's Ferry site. These shipyards were very successful, continuing to build ships through the 1807 shipping embargo, up to 1809.

By this point in time, considerable shipping was taking place along the New Meadows River in and out of Cushman's and Brown's wharves. According to some accounts, by the mid-1800s almost twenty shipping vessels sailed the New Meadows each year. Packet sailing vessels reportedly sailed routinely between the New Meadows River and Portland and Boston, bringing in merchandise for the traders in Brunswick and Topsham and carrying away the lumber and cotton produced by the various mills, granite from a quarry (opened by Rev. Samuel Woodward in 1799 near the New Meadows Church), and ice. Fish and shellfish were still abundant and very cheap. Large quantities were being exported by the early 1800s.

Captain Peterson was also a driving force behind the construction of a canal through the Stevens' Carrying Place to link the Kennebec and the head of the New Meadows Rivers, primarily for the transport of logs and lumber. Although completed by 1793, the canal never proved practical due to the two-hour difference in the time of the tide between the heads of the New Meadows and Kennebec Rivers that severely limited its use. Indeed, according to Captain Peterson's granddaughter, the only logs ever to have been floated down the canal were those sent through by her grandfather at the time of the canal's completion.

Transport and travel by land across the New Meadows River was limited through most of the 1700s. The first Aroads@ between Bath and Brunswick appear to have been built sometime between 1718 and 1740 and were mere foot or horse paths. To facilitate transport between Brunswick and West Bath, Benjamin Brown began operating a ferry across the New Meadows around 1760, substantially reducing the transit time between West Bath and Brunswick. The ferry continued in operation until about 1792. Captain Peterson continued operating a ferry until 1796 when a toll bridge was built across the river near Brown's Ferry landing. This, and subsequent bridges, were often lost to ice or inclement weather. Nevertheless, the bridge was maintained for about 50 years. After the revolution, however, the economy of the area began to shift from farming, fishing and logging to manufacturing. With this shift towards an industrial economy came the need for greater land-based transportation. Governor King's Road, so named after William King, first governor of the newly formed State of Maine in 1820, was built between 1805 and 1806 and is considered to have been the best road between Brunswick and Bath prior to modern highways.

The first railroad bridge across the New Meadows River was built in 1849, four years after the Maine Legislature allowed West Bath to incorporate as a separate town. The railroad provided regular passenger service between Bath and Brunswick, then on to Yarmouth and Portland. The trolley remained a popular form of transportation for both passengers and freight until Route 1, originally Governor King's Road, now referred to as the Old Bath Road, was built in 1937. Shortly after, the trolley service was discontinued. When Route 1 was built, the bridge that crossed the New Meadows River was replaced with the existing causeway and culvert, thereby creating the New Meadows Lakes. While the tidal range on the south side of the causeway is around nine feet, the tidal amplitude of the Lakes is measured in inches.

Watercolors by
Sarah Stapler
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