In My Footsteps
Trip 85: Thomaston, Maine
October 2, 2010
The tiny old seaport of Thomaston amazed me with its quaint, peaceful feeling. However it was the ‘Museum in the Streets,’ an absolutely brilliant idea, that made this trip stand out for me. The ‘Museum’ consists of thirty panels strategically located in front of, or across the street from, important and historical sites in the town. These panels made the entire town appear to me to be more of a scavenger hunt; it was such a fun experience.
|Replica of Gen. Knox's Montpelier.|
Located in the area around the St. George River, the land on which Thomaston stands was originally a trading post established in 1630. The most famous name associated with Thomaston is that of General Henry Knox. Knox was a Revolutionary War hero who played a pivotal role in the ‘Siege of Boston’ in 1775-76 by bringing captured cannons to Boston from Fort Ticonderoga along the shore of Lake Champlain. He brought them by sled a distance of over 200 miles.
Knox became a close friend of George Washington when he was a General and Washington made him the United States’ first Secretary of War once he was named the first President. There are two separate forts named for him, one near Louisville, Kentucky and another located in Prospect, Maine.
|The only remaining building from the original Montpelier estate.|
Knox retired to Thomaston in 1795 to his estate called Montpelier. That original mansion was torn down in 1871 after it had decayed and Knox’s oldest grandson had no desire to repair it. The only building remaining from the original Montpelier estate is a small brick building which was used as the train station for the Knox and Lincoln Railroad. That building currently houses the Thomaston Historical Society.
The current Montpelier Museum is a reconstruction located on a hill at the corner of Rt. 1 and Rt. 131. It is a magnificent building at an equally magnificent location. There is a parking area off to the right of the white building; I parked in front of it where there is a small turnoff. The building looked to me a lot like the White House with the golden eagle above the front door. It had that sort of regal air to it the way it stands above everything else around it.
The only surviving building from the original Montpelier is one of the stops on the ‘Museum in the Streets.’ In actuality this building, despite being an original piece of history, is not as eye-catching as the replica of Montpelier. If I had not been specifically looking for it I would not have known that the small brick building, built in 1795, had any sort of significance but for the oval sign on the façade which alerts you to the fact that this is more than just a run of the mill train station.
The ‘Museum in the Streets’ plaques are scattered all over the little town of Thomaston but the main cluster of them can be found along Main Street and Knox Street. One historic site I checked out was Watts Hall on Main Street. The building was erected and donated to the people of Thomaston by Captain Samuel Watts in 1890. The interesting part of the story is the fact that in 1915 there was a tremendous fire in the stable located behind the building which caused the entire block to burn to the ground. The current Watts Hall was rebuilt by Watts’ daughter Mary Jane in memory of her father. The building is used for town meetings and the large auditorium on the second floor is used by several theater groups.
|St. Baptist Episcopal on left, Thomaston Baptist on right.|
Another spot on Main Street with an interesting story is the location of two churches. The Thomaston Baptist Church and the St. John Baptist Episcopal Church have been good neighbors ever since they were first built in 1816. The two institutions have come to symbolize the love and respect between all religions in the small town. In fact when the Baptist church’s steeple burned down in the 1990’s the money to rebuild it was raised by all of the other religious groups in town. This lesson of love and respect between religions was not lost on me during this time in the world.
The ‘Museum in the Streets’ comes to an end along the banks of the St. George River where there are four plaques arranged around a large wooden cross on a green. The cross was erected in commemoration of Captain George Waymouth’s landing there on June 12, 1605. One of the plaques I found most intriguing was the one which featured information about an old wooden toll bridge which once spanned the river to the west. There is a normal paved bridge there now but the story is that north of where that bridge stands was an original Indian trading post established by the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony in 1623.
|Cross commemorating George Waymouth's landing.|
Thomaston was also known as the town which built more ocean-going vessels than any other town in the entire country. That fact surprised me when taking a drive around this little town. It is amazing how much history, such as the building of all of those ships, happened in such a small place.
There are a total of thirty plaques making up the ‘Museum in the Streets,’ many of those facing the place described on the plaque. It is a fun way to learn about the history of a great little town, I never imagined during my trip to Maine that I’d been taking part in a sort of scavenger hunt, it was a lot of fun. I highly recommend any visitor to the area take in the replica of General Knox’s Montpelier estate, breathe the salty air of the St. George River, and take some time to find all thirty of the plaques of the ‘Museum in the Streets.’ Have fun and happy traveling!
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Directions: Montpelier Museum: Take Rt. 1 into Thomaston, turn onto Rt. 131/High St. Museum is on the left, parking is on left just beyond it.
St. George River: Take Rt. 1 into Thomaston, turn right at Knox Street which is next right after Watts Hall. Follow it to the end. There is a parking area which is where the final plaques and wooden cross are located.
Watts Hall: Take Rt. 1 into Thomaston. Watts Hall is 110 Main Street/Rt. 1. This is where a cluster of Museum plaques are located as well.
References: Wataview Cottage - Owl's Head, Maine