As we rode down-highway on our way back to the western mountains and home, I was still wondering about Military Street, Military Road, and making notations about our side trip to Houlton over by the Canadian border. We had gone on to Houlton for the refresher—the look of the town. Different from 25 years ago? Houlton was decided on and we headed toward it on Route 2. Was this roadway laid over top of the old Military Road? Also, I had wanted to compare today’s Houlton with what we saw there 25 years ago. In the event, we found it much the same. But it’s what you want. I do….
Houlton has a creatively laid out town center, perhaps as it was in 1886 when a history was written for A Gazetteer Of The State Of Maine. It feels like an Aroostook small town, an Ohio small town, as described earlier in the still percolating Eastern Uplands book. It reminds me of Ravenna, Ohio or many midwestern small towns. Here Main Street and Military Street converge at the triangular town “square.” We step into the County Co-Op and Farm Store after parking on Main Street behind the courthouse. Looking for coffee, finding an attractive abundance of food grown and preserved with care, things made by hand, and, today, a friendly and quiet atmosphere. People are ordering and eating freshly made pastries. Allen orders a blueberry scone and, when it arrives, generously gives me what I ask for, a taste. It is rich and dense and not too sweet, this scone. I’m going to refrain from ordering one for myself.
I receive friendly permission to take photographs. This is an old-time interior, with stamped tin ceiling, a gallery above on three sides, its railing supported by spindles of lathe-turned wood, showing the grain of trees grown 100+ years ago, felled by the ax. The Gazetteer, in 1886, tells of starch factories, cheese factories, canning factory, woolen mill, four lumber and three flour mills, a couple of iron foundries and other industry. Particularly, I like that it mentions the “overall well shaded and very attractive streets,” That’s what I saw 25 years ago—and what we see here today surrounding town-center.
My attention was directed to a couple old photos on the walls. This one is suggestively spooky, whether from my digital mishandling or …other… communicatory properties. …Perhaps confirmed by the rather dreamy look in the clerk’s eyes? Whatever the reason, it came off the camera virtually as we see.
In the Story of Houlton, by Cora Carpenter Putnam and published through House of Falmouth in 1958—that’s where I learn about the United States Military Road and how it was worked into existence. I’d studied this before in my Maine history class under Professor Condon and was glad to refresh my memory with this story and quotation from historical documents, one from a February 1831 report of the state legislature on state lands. Of course the road was built by the military, a corduroy road made out of logs, destined to be repaired again and again. I still need to confirm if this was part of Route 2, Route 2a, or something other entirely. I would like to know if I have traveled over part of that road, on any of my Aroostook journeys. We’re told the reason for this primitive road was to provide for a northern outpost, when there were Canadian-US northern boundary disputes during a 20- or 30-year period. The Military Road was a boon to the area, opening it to settlement and woods-rural industry beyond what the Joseph and Sarah Putnam Houltons had begun as a family. But, when the Mexican War began, the military was withdrawn from the area.
When I got back home I e-mailed Linda Faucher, the Cary librarian at Houlton, who kindly scanned some pages of the 1958 book by the wife of a descendent of Houlton founders (pioneered in 1807 before statehood). She also sent me definitive information about routes 2 and 2a being overlaid atop the Military Road. “A military road (roughly following the current U.S. Route 2 to Macwahoc, then U.S. Route 2A to Houlton) was authorized to aid in the movement of troops from Bangor to Houlton. http://maineanencyclopedia.com/aroostook-war/.” So, no, on this trip, we did not drive some of the eastern heroic and historic route which helped bring this part of Maine into Massachusetts settlement. Route 2a lay to the east of our road.