Friday, July 17, 2015

Maine: Bucksport, Camden and Rockport

Curtis Island Lighthouse; Camden Maine

    Welcome back to Maine.  Before we head south from Mount Desert Island, I wanted to touch on one more feature here.  Below is a photograph from the water of a spot called Schooner Rock.  In the image below, you can see two white spots just to the right of the red arrow.

     This is a natural stone formation that has caused some confusion over the years.  In the fog or from a distance it can be mistaken for sails.  In fact, in the War of 1812 a British vessel mistook it for a ship and fired on it.

     In an area of ghost stories, this spot contributes its fair share.  It is said that on foggy nights a ghost ship will appear out of the mist and crash upon the rocks here.

     There are several incidents that contribute to the notoriety of the spot.  Back in the 1700's a pirate ship crashed on this rock. The ship had taken along the captain's wife, which was bad on two counts.

     First, it was unlucky to take a woman on a crew out to sea, and second the woman made the crew a total of a baker's dozen - 13 people on the boat.  When the boat crashed into the shore, onlookers watched in horror as the captain's wife knelt on the deck praying, yet the waves broke the ship apart and sucked it into the depths below anyway.  And thus, the one who pilots the ghost ship is a pale woman with  long dark hair and a flowing white dress.  Newspaper accounts detailed sightings past the civil war - up until the 1880's.

     And so we leave Mount Desert Island, heading south.  About twenty miles down the road we come to Bucksport. 

     Bucksport, a town of about 5,000, sits nestled in gentle hills on the Penobscot River estuary.

     The town has three highly visible features - the first of which is a paper mill that is just about as big as the town itself.

     The mill closed this last January, meaning about 500 folks lost their jobs.  Thats huge in a town this size.  There are rumors of a couple of parties interested in purchasing it, but nothing has materialized.

     There is a great bridge across the river here. 

     This is one of only three bridges of this type in the US.  It uses nitrogen gas pumped into the cable enclosures to ward off corrosion.  A cross section of the bridge was built just beneath it so that people can see how it is built.

     High atop the tower is an observatory that elevators run up to, and at 420 feet it is the tallest bridge observatory in the world.  The bridge has had to be closed a few times to remove ice - it seems that under severe conditions it can build up on the cables and then fall onto the cars below.

     The third apparent feature of the town is the fort built into the hill across the river.  This is Fort Knox.

     It is a granite fort built into a stone hillside.  There are gun emplacements on the river that can be reached through tunnels and stairways carved through the solid rock.

     Construction began in 1840, and was driven in part by memories of the town being burned by the British in the Revolutionary War.
Then, during the War of 1812, the British once again invaded here and used this as an access point to loot numerous inland towns.

     Today, a group called "Friends of the Fort" works to preserve it.  It really is a remarkable place - an enduring testament to the stone cutting and building skills of that time era.

     We the move about twenty five miles down-shore to the towns of Camden and Rockport - two of three sort of "sister cities."

     These two towns are situated at the base of Mount Battie.  The area became a refuge camp for Americans when the British invaded neighboring areas during the Revolutionary War.

     Perched on the steep slopes leading to the sea, the harbors are deep and were ideal for ship building.

     But what really drove the economies of this area is a three mile long deposit of limestone.  The rock was quarried in the surrounding hills and brought by small-gauge railroad down to the harbors.

     One of the old locomotives has been preserved and can be seen along the waterfront in Rockport.

     Big kilns lined the waterfront.  The limestone was dumped into the top of the wood fired kilns, reducing it to a powder.  You can see the kilns built into the hill behind the locomotive, and here is a closer up photo of the bottom.

     When this powder was mixed with water, it turned into a substance that was heavily used to plaster walls and ceilings all along the east coast.

     At its peak the area was turning out well over a million barrels of this powder a year.  But the problem is that when you add water to the lime powder it heats up - a bunch.  It was tough to insure ships - many caught on fire.  And if you tried to use water to put the fire out you just created more fire.  Air-tight holds were built to try to starve any potential fire of oxygen.  One ship that ignited smoldered for three months in a neighboring river.

     The industry started dying out about 1900 and went completely defunct around 1950.  

     Another industry in the area was large scale steel casting.

     We will learn more about this as we move down the coast, but I thought the fellow on the left of the photo was pretty dapper.

     You would never know it by looking, but a good sized stream runs beneath the main drag in Camden.

     It emerges beneath several restaurants and falls into the harbor.  

     There are many sitting places around it, and the sound of falling water adds a lot to any environment.

     I liked the message on the crosswalks.

    Churches all seem to be unique architectural works in their own right.  No Sears Catalog mail order church plans here.

     We are starting to see a shift in the architecture.  Many houses are featuring the rounded towers.

     But this house can't help but catch your eye.

     This is the Norumbega mansion, built in 1886 by Joseph Stearns.  He made his money by developing a telegraph machine that could send and receive simultaneously.  He chose the name for the house from a legend started in the 1500's by a French trader about a large settlement of Norse people in the area.  He claimed the people of this area were tall fur traders who worshiped the sun, traded furs and spoke a language that sounded like Latin.  

     The house was private for many years, and was turned into a bed and breakfast about twenty years ago.  It closed down a while back, and sat vacant until Sue Walser and Phil Crispo bought it from the estate two years ago.  We wish them luck - it will be fun to see how they have progressed when we return in a few years.

     Phil was a chef instructor at the American Culinary Institute and Sue was a business executive.  They met at a "CIA" executive boot camp and became fast friends when Phil rescued some mashed potatoes she was trying to make.

     The place is well appointed, and stands out among many bed-and-breakfast places in the area.  Rates vary with season - you can access their website by Clicking Here.

     Another feature we are finding in every Maine town is an architecturally unique and heavily used library.

     In Camden, half of the library is above ground and the other half built into the rock below.

     It, along with an outdoor amphitheater is built into a hill overlooking the harbor.  The far side of the island to the left of the harbor holds the lighthouse in the opening photograph of this article.

     Here is the view just two hours earlier, before the morning fog was burned off.  

     And this is a similar angle on Rockport's harbor, just a couple of miles away.

     In Rockport's harbor we meet Harbormaster Abbie Leonard.

     Abbie says the job entails being a diplomat between all the competing industries the need the harbor as well as the residents whose houses overlook it and the tourists and towns folk that want to access it.

     An interesting thing happened a couple of years ago when a vessel caught afire.

     The fire spread quickly when the fuel caught - a disaster in a harbor like this where the boats are all moored close together. You can see neighboring boats already beginning to blaze.

     Abbie called the Coast Guard, who sent an inflatable boat mounted with a 50 caliber machine gun.  Big help that was.  Then the local fire departments pump wouldn't work and things were looking grim.

     But luckily, help arrived from Charleston South Carolina.  The Spirit of South Carolina was in port, and had the pumping equipment needed to extinguish the blaze.  There are a couple of other stories linking Charleston to this area that I will be sharing in the next couple of days - the people here LOVE Charleston.

     The harbor has honor system launching fees - and if you are not honorable the fees double.

    Tomorrow we will meet some interesting folks from this area, but for now it is time for the "Faces in the Crowd."

     This was a fisherman out on the commercial wharf at six in the morning.

     And today's parting shot, taken through a window back in Bar Harbor:

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