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Student Exhibit: Logging on Kennebec River

written by Shawn Dumont

image of Loggers

The men in this picture are pushing the logs away from the side of the river to the middle so that the logs can flow smoothly down the river.

I became interested in the Kennebec River log drive when my grandfather would tell me stories. He remembers watching the logs flow down the river from his home in Fairfield, a small town along the Kennebec River.

I learned that people began floating logs down the river early in the 1800s. The first settlers in Old Canaan (former name for Skowhegan) cut the trees on their farms to build log cabins and barns. After about thirty years, they started to run out of trees in this area, so they had to cut the trees up the river and float them down river to Skowhegan. They built sawmills on the Skowhegan island in order to saw lumber to build the houses in Skowhegan village. Later they built pulp and paper mills up and down the Kennebec river, and began to cut pulpwood for making paper.

image of Logging in Maine woods

This picture shows logs that were just cut in the woods. Later they were hauled to the river and from there, logdrivers worked to get them to the mills.

After awhile, as trees became scarce, loggers went farther up north to find more trees to cut for the paper mills. By the 1900's, logs were being floated all the way from Moosehead Lake, and from all of the streams that ran into it.

Bill McLaughlin, who worked on the Kennebec log drive, told the story about a man named Aimee Gallant who was working on the log drive and fell off the dam in Skowhegan. Later when the log drivers were working in Fairfield, they saw a body floating and they discovered that it was in fact Gallant. The Foreman, Buster Violette, took his wedding ring and gave it to his wife. David Calder who worked on the drive as a young man, wrote a song about the last Kennebec log drive and about the time the log drivers found Gallant's body.

The last log drive was in 1976. It was held on the Kennebec River and it was a time to be remembered. Some men think that it is too bad that the log drive had to end. It was a time men looked forward to. The pay wasn't good, but they felt it was nice to be on the river, working with their hands. Other men say that it was good that the log drive ended because it polluted the river and no recreation could take place when the logs were floating down.

image of Kennebec River, July 1910

Log drivers rode on bateauxs to get to the middle so they could rig booms to hold the wood back.

WILLY GALLANT
BY:DAVID CALDER

It was late in the year of seventy three
It rained for days, it rained for nights
and then the mercury
plunged like a stone
and the rain turned to ice
Willy Gallant, he went off the dam
and the river took his life

All dark and full of fury
the river took his life
a raging river
and a dark December night
a raging river
and a dark December night

image of Skowhegan Falls

This is a picture of logs flowing swiftly down the Kennebec falls on the North Channel.

They searched for days along the shore
the eddies and the lees
from the dam in Skowhegan
all the way down to the sea
not a trace did they find
no sign of poor Willy
then the river froze, the wind it rose
and winter laid its siege

Come round the first of April
and I went back on the drive
like I'd done every year
since the spring of sixty five
we hung the booms, and sluiced the pulp
and then we took the rear
no sign of Willy Gallant as the fall again appeared
no sign of Willy Gallant as the fall again appeared
there was no sign of Willy, it had been almost a year

image of loggers in Maine Woods

Log drivers used poles called cantdogs to push and roll the logs away from the side. They also used pick poles.

It was then late October
and the drive was nearly done
we were hard upon the ledges then
where the Benton trestle runs
across the Kennebec
when I heard McLaughlin say
I've found Willy Gallant, boys
I've found his watery grave
I've found Willy Gallant
I've found his watery grave

I turned away then,I didn't want to see
his skin as white as any snow
poor,poor Willy
and from his cold white finger
Joe took his wedding band
Buster took it back to Willy’s wife
and he put it in her hand
took it back to Willy's wife
and put it in her little hand

All black and full of fury
that river took his life
a raging river
and a dark December night
a raging river
and one dark December night

Shawn Dumont is an eighth grader at Skowhegan Area Middle School.

 


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