But coastal summers also brought weeklong fogs, and the soils were thin, stony, and acidic. Thus villagers pursued farming indifferently, and on a "good bitin' day," as William Bishop put it, they were "apt to put to sea in hot haste, leaving work on shore to the women and boys."
Green Mountain Advertisement
Item Contributed by
Great Harbor Maritime Museum
Life on the long peninsulas and islands was isolated and inward looking, but after mid-century a sprinkling of "summer people" added a new cultural element. Natives welcomed these folks "from away" with tolerant disdain: "how many rusticator folks you got up to your place this season, Capt'n?" might be the banter. "Wal, we've got half a dozen, all told, jest now. I kind of hat to have them-kind round under foot, summertimes, but we make out to get a dollar out of 'em some ways or another."
In fact, the rusticator's dollar went far. It bought up unused land, purchased building materials and relics of the old China trade, built town wharfs, clubhouses, chapels, stables, libraries, schoolhouses, and roads; and kept blacksmiths, gardeners, glaziers, and carpenters in business.
Nevertheless, when marine engines shortened the haul to the offshore fishing grounds in the 1890s, year-round residents began leaving the islands and peninsulas seeking better schools and doctors and more opportunities for work.
Coastal life settled into an economic pattern still evident today: opportunistic, multi-occupational fisher-farmers working seasonal odd-jobs; a scattering of shops, stores, and fish-processing factories; a vigorous trade in domestic handicrafts; and a collection of "summer colonies" and hotels that helped sustain this local activity.
Like offshore fishing, lumbering faced depleted resources, competition from other regions and a reduced market in the second half of the century. As early as the 1870s, companies were using spruce as opposed to pine to keep the sawmills running, even though this species competed poorly in metropolitan lumber markets.
As logging operations moved into the upper watersheds, log-driving became expensive, dangerous, and indeed at times desperate. Operators were also moving back away from the rivers, necessitating longer hauling roads.
Two Lombard Loghaulers at Buttermilk Pond, ca. 1900
Item Contributed by
Patten Lumbermen's Museum
In 1899-1900, Alvin Lombard of Waterville invented a lag-track, steam-powered log-hauler – precursor to the modern tank tread – that helped lower these hauling costs, but by this time the pineries of the Lakes States were out-selling Maine in its traditional East-Coast markets, and builders were shifting to materials like brick, cement, and steel.
Lumber producers everywhere faced declining markets. Maine lumber production peaked in 1909 and again in 1915 then decreased steadily.
As lumber operations tapered off, the forests returned a second growth of spruce and fir, providing a magnificent field of endeavor for a new wood-products industry requiring these very species.
By the early 1880s paper manufacturers had exhausted the country's supply of rags as a source of pulped fiber, and after a brief experiment with linen wrappings from imported Egyptian mummies, they began experimenting with wood, settling on spruce because of its long fiber and easy separation.
Between 1880 and 1900 some 40 mills were built in Maine to take advantage of this resource, sustaining one of the most active periods of industrial expansion in Maine's history. This growth was all the more spectacular because the industry moved its processing operation to the source of supply, building new industrial centers in small towns and wilderness regions in the upper Androscoggin, Kennebec, and Penobscot river basins.
Pulp Mill, Skowhegan, ca. 1900
Item Contributed by
Skowhegan History House
Taking control of river development, timberlands, and labor supplies in these underdeveloped regions, paper production demonstrated the power of monopoly capital in Maine's new economy, creating "magic cities" like Rumford, Millinocket, Berlin Mills on the upper Androscoggin, Sprague's Falls on the St. Croix, and Westbrook near Portland.
Pulpwood converged on these mill towns from the upper rivers, the woods roads, and the Bangor and Aroostook and Maine Central rail sidings. These towns displayed the characteristics of frontier America, but they were also thoroughly modern in the exercise of corporate power, the ethnic tensions, the rootlessness, and the scale of economic activity.
From these small industrial centers paper producers extended their influence out over the rivers, forests, and labor systems beyond the mills, epitomizing Joshua Chamberlain's admonition to harness Maine's vast natural resources to modern science, big capital, and outside entrepreneurial energy.