As the textile crisis abated, Maine people, like those all across the nation, became more interested in quality of life issues. Business leaders were increasingly aware of the rising costs of pollution and the benefits of water as a means of attracting new people and new industries.
Kimball House, Northeast Harbor, ca. 1960
Item Contributed by
Great Harbor Maritime Museum
No less important, Maine's second largest industry, tourism, reached a critical juncture when the new interstate highway network extended the range of auto touring. Maine would either benefit or suffer from increased automobility – depending on whether it maintained its image as a refuge from the ills of modern urban-industrial society.
The most important impulse behind the clean water legislation, however, was a broadening range of grass-roots organizations pushing for pollution control. Advocates included the League of Women Voters, the Maine Federation of Women's Clubs, and the local Parent-Teacher Associations, all concerned about health threats to children.
The State Grange worried about contaminated water, pastures, and fields, and the many rod and gun clubs across the state were interested in improving river sport-fisheries. Clam diggers along the coast protested the lost of tidal flats, and resort, hotel, and camp owners rallied their local chambers of commerce.
In the mid-1960s, the Water Improvement Commission completed classifications for the state's major industrial rivers, and popular pressure was sufficient to ensure high ratings. Industrial rivers generally received "C" ratings, meaning only that they would be "free from scums, slicks, odors, objectionable floating solids, chemicals, and other conditions inimical to fish life."
Percival Baxter and Katahdin, ca. 1962
Item Contributed by
Baxter State Park
While the gain seems modest, it signaled that the administrative apparatus was in place for gradual improvement, and over the next decade Maine tightened the restrictions in each category.
By the early 1980s Maine stood in the forefront of the nation's water pollution control effort, ready to pioneer other forms of environmental legislation like wildland zoning, bottle and can redemption, community growth planning, forest management, coastline and wetlands conservation, billboard control, and Atlantic salmon restoration.
In the years between 1945 and 1975 Maine moved into the American mainstream, rejoining the two-party system, reclaiming its rivers and coastal waters, and shifting its industry and its better-educated workforce into the modern economy.
While these three decades imposed severe hardships on Maine's most isolated and underemployed citizens, the state emerged from the "Little Great Depression" with strong political leadership and a commitment to the future. In the decades after 1975 the state would continue to strengthen its social services and its educational system and to build a new economy based on diversified light industry and services.