North Maine Woods

The northern Maine Woods includes all the vast territory north of the West Branch of the Penobscot and everything north of Washington County.  The western part of this region is a virtual wilderness of trees, lakes, ponds and rivers, while the eastern segment was opened up into vast fields, becoming one of the major potato growing markets in the country.

Few adventurers travelled to this northern region in the early 19th century as it was very inaccessible, and most sporting in Northern Maine was limited to the Allagash River. Access was made by going from Moosehead Lake down the West Branch to Chesuncook, then over the Mud Pond Carry into Chamberlain Lake, where an early depot farm was built.  In 1831 Deane and Cavanaugh traveled down the Allagash to record the settlers on the St. John River for the State of Maine and this is the oldest known account of a trip on that river.  In 1838 James Hodge also made a trip down the river on a geological survey of northern Maine, in 1844 William P. Parrot made a plan of the Allagash and in 1847 Noah Barker lotted out fifteen townships along the northern part of that river.  Later accounts were written about trips down the St. John River and the Aroostook River.

The first adventurers into this vast forest were the lumbermen, who cut the many pumpkin pine and lumber camps were erected annually all through the woods to cut the lumber in the winter.  These log camps were quickly abandoned when the snow left, waiting for the river drivers to float the logs down the rivers to the numerous saw mills at Old Town when the freshet began in March and April.  These empty log camps were available havens for any passing sportsmen or paddler.

Travel to Aroostook County was generally made by the Houlton Road until the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad Company was formed in 1891.  Three years later it reached Houlton and was extended to Van Buren by 1899.  An alternate branch was completed in 1896, extending to Ashland and as soon as it was done, sporting camps began cropping up almost overnight, as now sportsmen in New York and Boston could take a train into the northern woods, getting off at Oxbow, Masardis and Ashland.   It was later continued and stops could be made at Portage, Winterville and Eagle Lake, opening up the most northern part of Maine.  From these stations buckboards and sometimes boats would take them to the lakes and rivers where they would “rough it,” and later to sporting camps that were built on the myriad lakes and ponds for wonderful fishing in the spring and moose hunting in the winter.

After the pines were depleted railroads were completed right into the woods and would bring eager sportsmen into the woods and spruce pulp, game hides and returning sportsmen on the way out.  Of the hundreds of sporting camps that were erected, many were closed before the 1930s, but a dozen of the original camps still offer hospitality to sportsmen and families.  Some of these old quaint camps that are still open are Bradford’s Camps, Chandler Lake Camps, Eagle Lake Camps, Libbey Camps, Munsungan Hunting and Fishing Club, Red River Camps, Umcolcus Sporting Camps and Willard Jalbert Camps.   Today many tourists and sportsmen fly into the more remote camps or arrive after many hours and miles of travel on the lumber roads.