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Moosehead’s Outdoor Tradition: A Sporting Paradise

New exhibit at Eveleth-Crafts-Sheridan barn, summer 2019

 Fred Reckards, a master craftsman who lived on the Moose River in Rockwood, became famous for his canoes. He made canoes in his workshop overlooking the river until his death in 1994. Fred was married to well-known fly tier Mabelle “Connie” Comstock, and began building canoes with her father, Merton Comstock, a respected canoe builder from the Moosehead region.  Eventually, Fred purchased the 10-ft., 15-ft., and 20-ft. canoes forms  from Merton.  In a long line of traditional canoe builders on the Moose River, Merton had purchased the canoe forms from Fred Templeton, who in his own day had built hundreds of canoes off of them.

If you happen to own one, they are much revered, and very much in use today. The 20-footers were called “Moose River Taxis” because they could carry two men and 1,000 lbs. of gear, a typical load for packing a long trip. The canoe was known for its wide bottom and was very stable for trips on Moosehead Lake, the West Branch of the Penobscot River, and the Allagash River.

Next fall, a 20-footer built from the form and used for decades by Moosehead resident Roger AuClair, one of the first surveyors of the waters of northern Maine, will be a centerpiece of a new, permanent exhibit to be unveiled at the Eveleth-Crafts-Sheridan barn next summer.

Some of the exhibit, titled Moosehead: A Sportsman’s Paradise, will also be on display at the Moosehead Visitor’s Center, in partnership with the Natural Resource Education Center, owner of the center. The exhibits will celebrate our region’s famed outdoor heritage and introduce visitors to the spectacular places, plants, and animals Moosehead is known for. We will tell the stories of the sporting camps and have on display many photographs and items particular to them.

The habits of our wildlife population, including moose, deer and bear, and the native fisheries, including wild brook trout and togue, as well as the landlocked salmon and rare arctic charr will be put on display to educate and inform travelers.

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A raw November day on the East Outlet of the Kennebec River, Moosehead Lake.

The great river drainages that flow into Moosehead Lake will be shown, when ice-out occurs, and what traditional foods, gear, and equipment that were used will all be part of the display. The stories and photographs of the guides and the skills they were known for will be told. We will have maps and ask that visitors participate in the exhibit by pinpointing where they have been, what mountains and what waters they have been on, and what they have seen while here.

The new exhibit is an important piece of our culture and heritage. We are excited to be sharing this story of our region, especially as we welcome a new century of tourists. Its telling is part of our mission as we go about interpreting and exhibiting the history of the Moosehead Lake region and its watershed, and in perpetuating the contributions that were — and are — being made by area residents, past and present.

 

Can’t you hear the Wild? — it’s calling you

Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;

Let us journey to a lonely land I know.

There’s a whisper on the night-wind, there’s

a star agleam to guide us,

And the Wild is calling, calling … let us go.

______

from The Call of the Wild by Robert W. Service

 

 

 

 

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Seasoned Warden Pilot Malcolm Maheu identified as July Mystery Man hunter

By Bill Meyer

Note: Long-time Historical Society member Bill Meyer began his career as a fisheries biologist here at Moosehead and completed it many years later as a federal director on the west coast. He continues to keep up with friends and news here. Here is his account of the Mystery Man hunter from the July issue he correctly identified as Rockwood native Malcolm Maheu.

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The “mystery Man” in the July issue of Insight was none other than Malcolm Maheu of Greenville.  A native of Rockwood, Maheu was a long-time pilot for the Maine Warden Service.

I knew Mac more as a seasoned, terrific pilot than a hunter. For years he was a warden pilot for the Maine Department of Inland Fish and Game, Aviation Division.

He had many hours of flight experience and was a delightful gentleman. He taught young WWII men how to fly from a base in Nebraska and knew northern Maine like the back of his hand. Mac was cool in adversity and relaxed in normal flight.

We once had a canoe come loose off the float while in flight almost immediately after taking off from a lake near Millinocket. Mac did a 180-degree turn to keep the canoe from banging into the plane’s fuselage, then landed down wind in the lake we had just left. The metal propeller had chewed off the end of the canoe, creating a “sugar scoop” effect, spinning the plane when we landed.

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Maine Department of Inland Fish & Game Flying Warden Malcolm Maheu

He used a hatchet to pound the prop back into shape, called the Greenville base to report what had happened and where we were, and took off. When the instruments did not vibrate excessively, he returned for me.

Mac and I saw caribou swimming in Prong Pond, just north of Greenville. Mac was an interesting guy and a superb pilot.

 

Odyssey of the Eagle Lake Tramway

The description of the construction of the tramway is a first-hand account by O.A. Harkness, published Nov. 1927 in The Northern magazine by Great Northern Paper Company. Harkness was in charge of tramway operations.

One of the great feats of northern entrepreneurial ingenuity came about at the turn of the last century, when a tramway was built to procure wood from deep in the interior of Maine at Eagle Lake to bring to Millinocket paper mills. The tramway connected two great river systems: the St. John and the Penobscot.

The problem of moving logs to market from remote forests vexed timbermen for decades. Using the river systems was an answer.

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A hand-drawn map showing The Tramway and route of the Eagle Lake & West Branch Railroad and Chesuncook & Chamberlain Lake Railroad.  This map was originally published in the November 1927 issue of The Northern magazine.

In 1901, A.O. Harkness, then working for Eastern Manufacturing Company in S. Brewer, wrote that he’d heard rumors of a proposed tramway to be built at the head of Chamberlain Lake. Fred T. Dow of Bangor surveyed the spit of land that separated Eagle Lake of the St. John River system from Chamberlain Lake, which flowed into the Penobscot River drainage. The distance was about 3,000 feet.

Different types of possible conveyors were studied, then a contract was made with Taylor Iron and Steel Company of High Bridge, NJ, the first in the country to manufacture manganese steel castings. All of the trucks, castings, and clamps of the tramway were made from this.

Harkness writes that nearly all of the machinery was taken across Moosehead Lake to Northeast Carry in the fall of 1901. When the lake froze over, what was left in Greenville was taken across with teams by H.N. Bartley. Brown and Wiggin, of Patten, contracted to move the machinery from Northeast Carry to Eagle Lake. The cable itself weighed 14 tons. It wasn’t possible to move it all in one piece, as originally intended, so below Smith’s Halfway House on the West Branch it was cut into two pieces.

In March 1902, Mr. Dow and a crew began building the foundations for the boilers and heavy machinery on the Chamberlain side. He had a small rotary saw to cut out timber that he ran with a donkey engine, as the crankshaft on the large engine had been broken on the way in. Harkness built a tow boat at Chamberlain, which was ready to take logs from the tramway on May 10, 1903.

The tramway was built of steel cable, was 6,000 feet long, and fastened together to connect Eagle Lake and Chamberlain Lake. At intervals of 10 feet the trucks were clamped on. The trucks consisted of a steel saddle onto which the log rested, and two 11” wheels that ran on steel rails 22” apart. There were two tracks, one above the other. The loaded one went on the top track and empty one returned on the lower track. Halfway between the trucks there was a steel clamp. Both the clamp and the truck fitted into the sprocket wheel, situated at the Chamberlain end of the tramway. This wheel made nine revolutions per minute, so the logs traveled at the rate of 250 feet per minute. The sprocket wheel was geared to a Westinghouse Compound engine, designed specifically for electric light plants. The engine made 255 revolutions per minute with 100 lbs. of steam. Wood was used to fuel the two boilers furnishing the steam for the engines. It took a lot of power to start the machinery, but it rolled easily once it was in motion.

The crew ran into some problems before the tramway was practical to use. Each of the 600 trucks and 600 clamps were fastened to the cable with four 7-8” bolts, making 4,800 bolts in all. It was discovered that the threads on the bolts weren’t cut down far enough to allow the nut to be tightened sufficiently. When the tramway was loaded with logs, the trucks and clamps began to slip. Each of the 4,800 bolts had to be removed and run with a hand die then replaced.

The tramway was used for six seasons, under the management of Harkness, until 1909 when all available timber had been extracted. He said they managed an average of 500,000 board feet for each operating day, the day beginning at 4 a.m., ending around 8 p.m. He said the total amount of lumber taken over the tramway amounted to about 100 million feet. He called the tramway an excellent bit of machinery, very efficient in doing what it was designed for.

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A long abandoned locomotive rests in the woods, a relic from the Eagle Lake & West Branch Railroad. In an average week, more than 6,500 cords of wood were hauled from Eagle Lake to Umbazooksus Lake, where it was then taken to market on the Penobscot River drainage. A pair of railroad cars, by 1933 obsolete and left abandoned, remain as symbols of that logging era.

By the 1920s timber was again ready to cut. The tramway was determined to be obsolete, no longer able to handle the volume of wood that could be cut. It was never used again. Instead, the answer was railroads. In 1926 a railroad was designed near the tramway, laid on the west shore of Eagle Lake to Allagash Stream, along the west shore of Chamberlain Lake, to the headwaters of Umbazooksus Lake. It’s said the most incredible feat was the moving in of two steam locomotives, each weighing almost 100 tons. The trains ran four seasons, hauling pulpwood from one watershed to the next, until the area’s surrounding timber had again been taken. By 1933, train use ended. Roads began being built into the interior for logging.

Today, hikers may visit the site. It’s a long drive. It is not easy to get to, but the curious will find remnants of the long lost tramway and a pair of tremendous full size steam locomotives resting among the trees.

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Today logging trucks move wood along a network of private roads owned by timbering companies.

Our Benefactor, Julia Crafts Sheridan

Julia became a business partner to her father Arthur and later, an important benefactor to the Town of Greenville and many local organizations.  An astute philanthropist, she encouraged the formation of the Moosehead Historical Society in the 1960s, bequeathed her property to it, and provided a restricted endowment to help maintain the property of the Eveleth-Crafts-Sheridan Historical House.

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A teenage Julia Crafts sits for a formal portrait.

Today, the property is also home to Moosehead’s Lumberman’s Museum in its Carriage House and a new Moosehead Lake Region Outdoor Exhibit in its barn, to be unveiled next summer.  The Carriage House is also the repository of a very large archival collection of photographs, stories, and artifacts open for research and for anyone to enjoy and learn about Moosehead’a people and heritage.  The Carriage House is open year-round.

Season closes with high compliments

One of the greatest compliments we received came through the mail in September, when a couple wrote to us:  “Our favorite find was the amazing tour we took at the Eveleth-Crafts-Sheridan Historical House! When we paid our fee, we expected it would be a quick walk through. To our pleasant surprise, we were given an extensive tour of the property. Our guides really made the tour interesting and we learned so much from there. It really was a highlight to our visit.”

We had people who came and pored for hours over our stories about the settling of Rockwood and the many versions of the Mt. Kineo Hotel. The Lumberman’s Museum continues to be of particular interest and received many high marks for the show of logging and woodsmen’s equipment and the story of the industry by Bob Cowan.

The docents, led by Marlene Stevens, must be thanked for their passion about our region’s history and their thoroughly entertaining and informative tours. Each guide has their own way of telling the story of the Historical House and weaving in Moosehead’s culture and heritage.

We commonly heard how well people enjoyed their tour through the house and museums, no matter if they were in for the very first time or if they were professors visiting the area with a particular interest. The revolving display of a family history in the guest room continues to be of high interest – this year it was of the Marsh family of Greenville. Next year we’re working with the Maynards of Rockwood to celebrate their 100th anniversary in business as a family. The Maynards have some very unusual items to share and a great, long, wildly popular story to tell through many changing decades.

The Center for Moosehead History, often called the Community House, is home to The Moosehead Aviation Museum and Moosehead’s Native-American family stories, along with an important display of Indian artifacts and tools dating back thousands of years. Recent visits by archeologists say there are some very fine pieces.

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Chris Sockalexis, the Penobscot Nation Tribal Historical Preservation Officer, discussed the oral traditions of the Penobscot Nation during the 12th Annual Thoreau-Wabanaki Trail Festival, with a focus on the stories of the Moosehead Lake Region.  An Archeologist, he also spoke about tools made from Kineo rhyolite and demonstrated the art of flint napping, Penobscot drumming and songs.  The audience was captivated by his voice during the songs.

Moosehead’s Native American presence has always been strong and we hope to further tell the stories of those families in the East Cove exhibit that will continue to evolve. Toward that end, we are forming a partnership with the Penobscot Nation, which has ties to many of the Moosehead families who lived here.

This year two new exhibits proved popular: Tracing Thoreau’s Trail: East Cove to Katahdin and The People of the Dawn: Moosehead’s Native American Families. Both of these were introduced during the 12th Annual Thoreau-Wabanaki Trail Festival in July.

The 1920s series of photographs by Dexter professional photographer Bert Lincoln Call, re-printed by internationally recognized photographer Todd Watt, were solidly appreciated by visitors throughout the summer, both for their beauty in their own right and, very likely, because of the universal recognition of nature essayist Henry David Thoreau’s name. That exhibit was on special loan only for the season, courtesy of curator Frank Spizuoco, and closes this month. Next year we will bring back the fantastic large canvas prints telling the story of our logging heritage. One of the most popular ones that drew many comments hangs on the door of the entrance. It shows thousands of cords of pulpwood that completely surrounds an island on Moosehead Lake.

All About Moose, with Moose Biologist Lee Kantar of the Maine Dept. of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and Going Solo: Women in the Outdoors, with Jen Searles Dumont and Alexandra Bennett drew full houses and a lot of great questions.

Ripogenus Gorge

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Water shoots into Ripogenus Gorge from the dam between Ripogenus Lake and the West Branch of the Penobscot River. 

 

Moose Island Hermit John Cusack 1827 – 1904 to be remembered with Greenville cemetery stone

This summer a gentleman of quiet demeanor walked into the office here in the Carriage House with an abiding interest in honoring John Cusack, known as the Hermit of Moose Island. He offered to match any donations that we might raise toward the purchase of a stone for his grave. We think it’s a great idea, and took him up on it. If you like the idea, too, please send a note “for Moose Island Hermit John Cusack” with a check made payable to: Moosehead Historical Society. Any amount, small or large, will help keep alive the memory of this curious man of Moosehead. In the spring, we will meet with the donor and write a check for however much we end up saving for him toward the marker.  Following is Mr. Cusack’s story.

Mysterious people come and go on Moosehead Lake. Some stay. One such person was John Cusack. In 1864, the resident of Readfield began buying up land on Moose Island. In circa 1870, he rode into Greenville dressed in well-cut, expensive clothes. He spoke in a cultivated voice and knew both English and French. The son of a teacher, some anecdotes say he attended Bowdoin College but we have no account that he was there. What we do know is that he was extremely taciturn and wanted to be left alone. He came to Greenville, and left civilization as he knew it.

Some stories say he was unlucky in love, so left. But the Bangor Daily Commercial, the newspaper of record of the time, quoted him to say, “I could have had the prettiest girls in Readfield…I was a dandy in those days with my fine clothes and horses, but I did not want them…A man always wants to keep at least a foot away from the women, and then he is sure to be safe.”

Shortly after arrival, he built a raft and with some provisions, a horse and a cow, rowed out to his island. There, he built a rustic cabin. He left the island only if he had to. By 1885, Mr. Cusack was something of a celebrity; he had worked as a guide, farmer, and lumberman. He was described as a skilled river driver and had been invited to perform log rolling tricks in New York City, for which he replied, “I would rather stay here and eat a dozen fresh eggs a day and talk to the lambs and old Frank [his horse].”

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John Cusack, “The Hermit of Moose Island.”

He did have one mystery visitor, a woman from away of some apparent means, but who seemed ill. She came looking specifically for the hermit, moved out with him on the island, and never returned. About a year later, Cusack came to the mainland asking for a nurse. He never spoke about the woman. The nurse’s story is that she tended to the dying woman and helped the hermit bury her in a homemade coffin out on the island. The hermit paid the nurse, took her back to the mainland, and she never saw him again.

Late in life Mr. Cusack inscribed his name in a boulder on the island, where he intended to be buried. But that never came to be. He ended up buried in Greenville Cemetery, Lot 59.

He had a number of intentions that did not come to fruition. One surprise was made by Wayne E. Reilly, an historical columnist with the Bangor Daily News, who discovered in an 1885 Registry of Deeds at the Piscataquis County Courthouse that the old hermit had deeded a parcel of his land on Moose Island to create a 2.5 acre public park! Apparently, in some sort of complication it ended up sold with other land.

Mr. Cusack lived most of his adult life on Moosehead Lake. Despite his private ways, he was well thought of, a part of the town, and had a philanthropic side. He died on Dec. 5, 1904, when he punched through the ice in his snowshoes as he was crossing the narrows from Harford Point to his island. He could not release the bindings and died standing up in the shallow freezing water, his head above the ice. He was found the next morning with his dog waiting patiently next to him.