In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Skowhegan Community History

The Skowhegan Island

Skowhegan dam
Skowhegan dam
Fishing on the Kennebec
Fishing on the Kennebec

by Kate Hodgdon, Scott Clarke, and Gus Hoy

Skowhegan Island has been a good, solid representation of Skowhegan, Maine. There has been growth on the island throughout generations. Mills, bridges, churches, fire stations, and other significant structures have been just a few of the figures that have changed, and played a large importance on the island. The island, through many changes, sometimes hard and bad, still has come to be proven as a beautiful place to visit in the town of Skowhegan.

In the winter of 1775, General Benedict Arnold led his revolutionary army up the Kennebec River to Quebec City. Because there were no dams at the time, the men and animals had to journey their way up the high waterfalls, and thoughout the course of the journey, many of the animals and men were killed, and food and supplies were lost in the cold, icy river. Just recently a new park was built on the island to commemorate Benedict Arnold's march to Quebec City.

Before European settlements, Skowhegan Island was used as a route by Native Americans on their annual trip to the seacoast. Skowhegan Island provided an important stopping place for the Native Americans. It was a place where they could fish, plant corn, and harvest corn on their return from the ocean.

Before the first dam on the island, there were two waterfalls. Also, a channel of water on the island, formally known as 'the slucieway,' provided a prime spot to build mills and factories. The sluiceway can no longer be seen today because of dams that caused the water level to rise substantially. In 1772, the first white settlement homes were built on or near the island. The welcoming of houses brought the rapid growth of mills.

In the 1790s, first mills were built along the 'sluiceway' and small dams were erected to raise water level and make the sluiceway more efficient for a power source. Much of the island in that time period was covered in mills and factories. According to Lee Granville, the president of Skowhegan's local historical society, there were so many mills, that there were just a few spots on the island that people could actually walk outside.

old shoddy mill
old shoddy mill
Spinning Mill
Spinning Mill

Before bridges on the island, transportation was provided onto the island by a ferry. The ferry was not safe, nor time efficient. Many accidents and deaths were recorded in regards to the ferry. In 1809 the first wooden covered bridges were built so people could pass onto and off the island easily at all times of the year. In the late 1800s, those bridges were replaced with steel bridges for a stronger reinforcement. In 1970, the Margaret Chase Smith bridges were erected and are still the two bridges used on the island today.

In the middle of the 1800s, the island accepted new buildings, such as the first bank, the high school, two churches, the fire station, a dairy treat -- one of the first in Maine -- and a new factory built to replace other old mills. The factory, originally a spinning mill, is now Solon Woods where they make popsicle sticks and other small wood pieces. In the early 1900s CMP, Central Maine Power, built two large dams and power stations that we still have in use today.

Central Maine Power
Central Maine Power
men working on the dam
men working on the dam

Item Contributed by
Skowhegan History House

The swinging bridge was originally built for a local farmer to make his distance onto the island shorter for him to have to walk. This bridge lasted six years, when the cables rotted and the bridge collapsed. A new bridge was built until 1901, when a flood washed it out. Another bridge was built higher this time but in 1936, that bridge was washed out by a flood as well. Then the bridge was built higher and still stands today, though it sometimes feels as though it will collapse when walking on it because of the way it wobbles and shakes. In the heart of Skowhegan, you may visit this neat island which has gone through many developmental changes throughout history.