December 13, 2019

Northern Maine timber wars inspired 19th-century dam saboteurs

While Hollywood has immortalized the range wars in the American West, no one has articulated as well the timber wars in northern Maine as Richard W. Judd, Ph.D. In his historical anthology, “Aroostook: A Century of Logging in Northern Maine,” Judd has animated the lumber barons and loggers who locked heads and waged timber wars in the 19th century.

The Goddard War

Assuming the nomenclature “Colonel,” John Goddard logged the Maine woods from the Penobscot to the Allagash and the St. John. History (and perhaps good p.r.) assigned him legendary status in northern Maine. A hot-tempered “J.G.” got into trouble, however, when he irritated settlers allegedly trespassing on his legally apportioned wood lots.

Maine history recalls the resulting fiasco as the Goddard War.

In 1843-44, the state surveyed Perham Township (then in Range 4), located about 10 miles west of Caribou. After declaring the township open to settlers, the Legislature appropriated $600 in 1845 to build roads. The natural route to Perham Township ran northwest along Salmon Stream from the Aroostook River.

However, Goddard had already purchased timber rights in the township. The state guaranteed these rights until the settlers met the conditions placed on their land deeds. Such conditions might require the settlers to clear so much acreage, build a road or a mill to symbolize an intent to remain on the land, or attract a certain number of families to the region.

Augusta double-dipped Goddard and the settlers. He acquired timber rights, with the state telling him, “Cut all the trees.” They paid for the land with Augusta urging them, “Clear off all the trees.”

Conflict would inevitably occur. Augusta promised that J.G. would receive a year’s warning before his cutting permit was revoked. His rivalries among the Penobscot loggers ensured he did not receive that.

Settlers arrived in Perham Township by 1860, but the Civil War intervened to delay development. Goddard went off to war; when he returned to Houlton in 1865 to resume his logging operations, he learned that Augusta had terminated his permit to cut in Perham Township.

The temperamental Goddard gathered his rough-cut loggers and headed north for Perham Township. The loggers concentrated their numbers in a camp not far from the settlement in southeastern Perham, near where Route 228 intersects with the Mouse Island Road.

According to a contemporary account, J.G. ordered his loggers to cut every pine tree in Perham, “even if the tree stood in the yard of a settler’s camp with the family cow hitched to it.” Goddard definitely meant business…

…and so did the Perham residents. Rough-and-tumble men who had worked in the woods themselves, they officially sought help from the Legislature. After agreeing to defend their property (including the surrounding forest) from J.G. and his motley crew, the Perhamites dispatched a note to Goddard’s camp: Stay out, or you will find your tote roads blocked by felled trees daily.

What J.G. said when he read this warning evades posterity, but he told his loggers to disregard the note and start cutting. The loggers balked. Realizing he could not cut the timber by himself, Goddard threw his hands in the air and took another tack.

He approached the Legislature and sought access to the Perham woods. Even in Augusta, a lumber baron who ruled the roost 200 miles north might find no satisfaction, especially when he wasn’t a Penobscot logger. An 1878 agreement denied Goddard his claims and granted the Perhamites theirs.

Problems at Chamberlain

Inconsequential topography delineates the Penobscot and Allagash watersheds near Chamberlain Lake. Less than a mile separated Telos Lake, which drained via Webster Brook into the East Branch of the Penobscot, from Chamberlain, southern headwaters for the Allagash.

Two dams built in March 1841 altered the natural flow by raising the water level in Chamberlain until it flowed “backwards” into Telos. As desired, logs could be released into Webster Brook for downstream passage to the Penobscot.

A few years later, Bangor lumber baron Ebenezer Coe ordered additional dams built: The Lock Dam across the outlet from Chamberlain to Eagle and another dam below the outlet of Churchill Lake.

The Lock Dam could raise the water level in Eagle Lake until logs could be moved “upstream” to Chamberlain Lake and into Telos. Measuring 250 feet long and built with wings extending 285 feet along the west bank and 150 along the east bank, the Churchill Lake Dam bolstered the Eagle Lake impoundment.

In spring 1849, low water prevailed along the Allagash River. Holman Cary, brother to Aroostook entrepreneur and lumber baron Shepard “Shep” Cary, and John Glasier (or Glazier), a Canadian businessman, went upriver to Chamberlain Lake to inspect the “Bangor” dams. They found the gates closed and the lake high, but the stream below Lock Dam almost dry as far as Eagle Lake.

Cary, Glasier, and their crews boomed logs across Umsaskis Lake, struggled across Long Pond, and “bottomed out” in shallow water on Harvey Pond. Angry Allagash loggers immediately solved the problem.

On May 14, 1849, “fifteen men or more started up to the (Chamberlain) dam…and hoisted the gates,” Holman Cary subsequently wrote his brother. He denied responsibility for the illegal action, noting that it was accomplished “without my orders of course.”

The loggers spiked open the gate at the Lock Dam, and water poured into the Allagash. The log drive reached Round Pond by sunset on May 14 and Grand Falls on May 23.

In May 1866, another Allagash River log drive jammed below Churchill Lake. The drive’s owners, William Sewall of Island Falls and Fredericton lumberman Edward McElveney, pondered their next step.

Sewall took six men in a bateau and rowed to the Chamberlain Lake Dam. The angry loggers raised and spiked the gates. Again, water thundered downstream, flushing the jammed drive to the St. John and on to Grand Falls.

Warfare at Churchill Lake

No dam caused greater controversy on the Allagash River than did Ebenezer Coe’s Churchill Lake Dam. Like a light to moths, this dam attracted desperate loggers bent on moving their drives downriver on the Allagash.

In autumn 1847, loggers employed by Shep Cary and John Glasier were cutting near Umsaskis Lake. They stored logs on the lake ice until spring thaw, then drove the timber downstream in shallow flows as far as Round Pond (Township 13, Range 12).

The hard-working loggers realized that their drive could not clear Allagash Falls without sufficient water. In mid-May, a two-mile log jam below Round Pond stopped the drive cold.

Taking a Sunday off in weather that matched their temperament (foul), tired loggers debated their alternatives. The thoroughly peeved County men, numbering about 25 (including five crew bosses), loaded some logging tools into canoes or dugouts and paddled upriver to the Churchill Lake Dam.

There the exasperated loggers wielded picks and axes to tear out a 90-foot section along the western portion of the dam. Long impounded “Bangor” water thundered downriver to flush the jammed logs over Allagash Falls. Even farther downstream, the St. John River rose three feet at Grand Falls in New Brunswick.

The impromptu assault led the raised eyebrows in Bangor to rebuild the dam in 1848 and raise tolls to 50 cents per thousand board feet to cover the damage done by the irritated Aroostook loggers. Then a spring freshet damaged the dam in 1852, requiring costly repairs that forced yet another toll hike to 75 cents per thousand board feet.

The Legislature authorized another toll hike in 1860 to pay for repairs to the Chamberlain and Churchill dams. After the Civil War began in April 1861, the Churchill Lake Dam was not repaired. Spring floods later destroyed it.

Yet, to paraphrase a modern idiom, the Bangor lumber barons “hadn’t seen nuthin’ yet.”

A final bash at Chamberlain

Some 50 years after stubborn Aroostook loggers sabotaged the Churchill Lake Dam, their descendants-in-trade again attacked the Chamberlain Lake Dam.

By 1905, ownership of the Chamberlain Lake Dam (actually the Lock Dam) had fallen to Fred Ayer, a Bangor businessman who’d converted several South Brewer sawmills into the Eastern Manufacturing Co., forerunner of today’s Eastern Fine Paper. Ayer controlled woodlands stretching far north to Chamberlain Lake, and he didn’t enjoy sharing water with the County loggers using the Allagash River.

When their log drive jammed near Round Pond just above Churchill Lake in July 1905, loggers Arthur Brown and William Cunliffe Jr. took the tack followed by Holman Cary and John Glasier in 1849; they paddled up the Allagash to Eagle Lake and hiked cross-country to the Lock Dam.

Even in midsummer, the dam impounded several feet of water. Their presence known to the watchman (Ayer employed people to guard his property), Brown and Cunliffe completed their scouting mission and returned downriver.

Word was sent to John Sweeney, the river boss for the stranded log drive, to do something about that “dam” problem. He promptly took five men and 50 sticks of dynamite with him across Eagle Lake and up the dry streambed to the Lock Dam.

The Aroostook loggers retraced Brown’s and Cunliffe’s route, which led to the watchman’s cabin. Four loggers lured the guard, O.D. Bragg, away from his post by regaling him with hunting stories.

Meanwhile, two brothers named John and Nathan Ranney entered the guard’s cabin and stole his rifle, which they threw away. Apparently Bragg realized that his guests weren’t hunters, but saboteurs, and he could only watch as the burly loggers raised the dam gates and spiked them open. Bragg soon scrambled through the woods to seek help at a nearby Ayer-owned logging camp.

Water then drained from Chamberlain Lake into Eagle. However, while Bragg was still en route to the Ayer camp, Sweeney and his men dynamited two gates that they’d already spiked open. The County loggers beat feet as soon as they lit the fuse and didn’t stop moving until they reached their compatriots at the jam below Round Pond.

The dynamite exploded, but apparently caused insignificant damage. Ayer’s men simply beaver-dammed the two gates with whatever wood they found, and the lake soon stopped dropping.

Under Ayer’s request, John Sweeney would be arrested the next time that he appeared in Houlton. A local judge quickly released Sweeney, who never came to trial.

Ironically, the water released at the Lock Dam only partially freed the jam at Round Pond. But Sweeney was a hero, as were the other river drivers, and the “Bangor” timber barons (notably Ayer) relearned the lesson that they couldn’t mess with Aroostook loggers.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

comments for this post are closed

You may also like