Maine: Aroostook County

Aroostook County (pop. 71,870), the northernmost county in Maine, makes up about one-fifth of the state. Known locally as “The County,” it is the largest county in any state east of Minnesota.

It borders Quebec and New Brunswick.

Aroostook (pronounced “ah-ROO-stick”) is a Native American word meaning “beautiful river.” In the St. John River Valley, in the northern end of the county, many residents speak both French and English.

The river separates Maine from New Brunswick.

The town of Fort Kent (pop. 6,123), on the St. John River, has a campus of the University of Maine. It was founded in 1878 as a teachers’ school.

It has about 1,000 students.

The Fort Kent State Historic Site commemorates the Aroostook War (1838-39), a border dispute between the U.S. and Canada that involved no actual combat.

The blockhouse at Fort Kent

Fort Kent is the northern terminus of U.S. Highway 1, which goes 2,369 miles to Key West, Florida.

The western part of Aroostook County includes the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, a 92-mile-long protected area of rivers, lakes, and streams in the Maine North Woods.

The Allagash River

Most of Aroostook’s residents live in the eastern part of the county, where Presque Isle (pop. 9,692), Caribou (pop. 8,189), and Fort Fairfield (pop. 3,496) are located. The area is the leading potato-growing region in the eastern U.S.

Fort Fairfield is the home of the annual Maine Potato Blossom Festival.

The festival always includes a parade.

Presque Isle (meaning “peninsula” in French), the largest city in Aroostook County, was named for the peninsula formed by the Aroostook River and Presque Isle Stream.

The University of Maine also has a campus there.

North of Fort Fairfield is the town of Limestone (pop. 2,314). Its population was almost 10,000 in the days before Loring Air Force Base closed in 1994.

It was the largest base for the Strategic Air Command.

The county seat of Aroostook County is Houlton (pop. 6,123), located in the southeastern part of the county.

Aroostook County Courthouse (1859)

Houlton’s nickname is “Shire Town,” and the Houlton High School athletic teams are called the Shiretowners.

The Maine Solar System Model extends about 42 miles (north to south) along Highway 1, beginning with the sun on the University of Maine campus in Presque Isle and ending at Pluto in Houlton.

Saturn is near the town of Westfield.

NEXT STATE: MICHIGAN (coming soon)

Maine: Somerset County

Somerset County (pop. 52,228) is Maine’s third-largest county in square miles. It was named for Somerset County, England. The states of Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania also have Somerset counties.

The county shares a long border with Quebec. U.S. Highway 201 in the county is officially known as the Old Canada Road National Scenic Byway.

The county seat of Somerset County is Skowhegan (pop. 8,589). The name comes from an Indian word meaning “gathering place.”

On the Kennebec River

Margaret Chase Smith (1897-1995), U.S. senator from Maine from 1949 to 1973, was born in Skowhegan. She was Maine’s first female senator.

A moderate Republican

“The World’s Tallest Indian” is a 62-foot sculpture (with a 20-foot base) in downtown Skowhegan. It was built in 1969.

Now undergoing restoration

The Skowhegan State Fair calls itself “The Nation’s Oldest Consecutively Running Agricultural Fair.” It began in 1818 and has been running for 195 years.

Just west of Skowhegan is Madison (pop. 4,855), home of Backyard Farms, which has a 42-acre greenhouse (about the size of 30 football fields) growing vine-ripened tomatoes.

The state’s largest building

The town of New Portland (pop. 718) is known for the Wire Suspension Bridge, built in 1866 across the Carrabassett River.

Probably the last of its kind

NEXTY: AROOSTOOK COUNTY

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Maine: Piscataquis County

Piscataquis County (pop. 17,535) is the least populous county in Maine, and the second-largest in square miles. The county reached its peak population of 20,554 in 1920. It is pronounced “Pis-KAT-uh-kwis.”

Piscataquis County in 1895

“Piscataquis” is an Abenaki word meaning “branch of the river.” The 65-mile Piscataquis River is a major tributary of the Penobscot River.

It flows through the southern part of the county.

Piscataquis County has been called the most rural county in the most rural state in the U.S. The county is mostly unsettled wilderness, with much land traditionally owned by the timber industry.

Most of the population is in the county’s southernmost part.

The county seat is Dover-Foxcroft (pop. 4,213). The two communities, located on opposite sides of the Piscataquis River, merged in 1922.

It is also the county’s largest town.

Northwest of Dover-Foxcroft is the town of Monson (pop. 686), a major resting point on the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail.

The trail goes from Georgia to Maine.

Monson is the last town before the trail goes east into the “Hundred-Mile Wilderness,” which is often considered the wildest area of the trail.

The Appalachian Trail ends on Mount Katahdin (elev. 5,269), the highest point in Maine.

The mountain is in Baxter State Park.

Baxter State Park is unusual in several ways: it has no electricity, running water, or paved roads, and it’s not actually part of the Maine State Park System.

Piscataquis County has many large lakes and reservoirs, with abundant fishing. Moosehead Lake is the largest mountain lake in the eastern U.S.

The source of the Kennebec River

NEXT: SOMERSET COUNTY

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Maine: Penobscot County

Penobscot County (pop. 153,923) is Maine’s third-largest county in population. Most of the northern part of this odd-shaped county is wilderness, and the southern part is the urban area around the city of Bangor.

Bangor (pop. 33,039) is the county seat of Penobscot County and the third-largest city in Maine.

It’s 30 miles up the Penobscot River from Penobscot Bay.

Much of Bangor was rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1911 destroyed hundreds of commerical and residential buildings.

The Bangor Public Library opened in 1913.

The Bangor Opera House dates from 1920. The Penobscot Theatre Company – which calls itself the northeasternmost theater company in the U.S. – presents a regular season of live plays in the theater.

It was a movie house for many years.

Author Stephen King lives in the Bangor area; the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau offers regular “Tommyknockers and More” bus tours of locations from King’s books.

The King home

Bangor (as well as places in Minnesota) claims to be the birthplace of Paul Bunyan. A 31-foot statue of Paul is in Bass Park.

Constructed in 1959

In the town of Orono (pop. 10,362) is the flagship campus of the University of Maine. It was founded in 1868 as Maine State College. Today, it has about 11,000 students.

On the Penobscot River

The Penobscot Indian Island Reservation is north of Orono, along the Penobscot River. The Penobscot Tribe is headquartered on Indian Island.

The town of Corinna (pop. 2,198) is the home of the Stewart Free Library, a gift to the town from Minneapolis millionaire Levi M. Stewart.

Built in 1898

NEXT: PISCATAQUIS COUNTY

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Maine: Washington County

Washington County (pop. 32,856) is one of 30 Washington counties (plus one Washington parish) in the U.S. Its population is less now than it was in 1850.

Adjacent to New Brunswick

Washington County is Maine’s third-smallest in population. Its county seat, Machias (Much-EYE-us), is Maine’s smallest county seat, with a population of 2,221.

Centre Street Congregational Church

The University of Maine has a campus in Machias. It was established in 1909 as the Washington State Normal School.

It has about 1,000 students.

Washington County is sometimes referred to as “Sunrise County” because it is the easternmost county in the continental United States. The town of Lubec (pop. 1,359) is at the easternmost point of all.

West Quoddy Head Light, Lubec (1858)

Near Lubec is the small city of Eastport (pop. 1,331), which is located entirely on islands.

Eastport’s Big Fisherman

Much of Washington County’s economy depends on fishing and on blueberry production. The town of Cherryfield (pop. 1,232) calls itself “The Blueberry Capital of the World.”

Hammonton, N.J., also claims this title.

“The World’s Largest Blueberry” is a few miles away in the town of Columbia Falls (pop. 560).

At Wild Blueberry Land

The town of Perry (pop. 889) is the home of the 45th Parallel Gift Shop, located near the line of latitude that is about halfway between the Equator and the North Pole.

A variety of 45th-parallel gifts are available.

NEXT: PENOBSCOT COUNTY

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