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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 89: Augusta, Maine

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund


Trip 89:  Augusta, Maine
October 3, 2010

            Although it ranks as the third smallest state capital, population-wise, Augusta can hold its own with any other capital in the United States.  The area of Augusta was actually first explored by the Popham Colony.  They were English settlers who established the second colony in America only a few months after Jamestown, Virginia in 1607.  It was called by its Native American name of ‘Cushnoc’ until 1797 when it was incorporated as a part of Massachusetts as the town of Harrington.  Shortly thereafter it was renamed Augusta after Augusta Dearborn the daughter of noted American physician and Revolutionary War veteran Henry Dearborn.
Fort Western
            The first place I visited when I entered Augusta was the famed Fort Western.  Built in 1754 it is the oldest wooden fort in the country and remains relatively unchanged to this day; it is opened to the public during the summer months.  As interesting as the fort is there is more to the story of this place.  First of all two of the most infamous names in American history stayed here at one point.  In 1775 during their expedition to Quebec Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr stayed at the garrison while building bateaux, a small flat bottomed boat.
            Aaron Burr of course was Vice President under Thomas Jefferson and is well known for his duel with Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton which resulted in Hamilton’s death in 1804.  Benedict Arnold’s name is even more infamous as the Revolutionary War general who plotted to surrender the fort at West Point to the British in 1780.  After being found out he defected to the British Army.  His name to this day is synonymous with betrayal.  It was for this reason that I found it very fitting that a stone plaque which mentions Arnold’s stay at Fort Western was covered with graffiti. 
Another Stone near the Benedict Arnold one marks the site of the Cushnoc Trading Post which was in use from 1628-1661.  This trading post was established by the Pilgrims of Plymouth County in order to trade with the local Abenaki tribe of Native Americans.  The site of where this trading post once stood is an historic landmark as well thanks to the discovery of the post’s remains in an archaeological dig from 1984 to 1987.
One of the buildings at the Kennebec Arsenal.
            There is a splendid river walk, The Augusta Greenway Trail, which connects to the Kennebec River Rail Trail and leads to Fort Western along the Kennebec River.  It is here that you begin to feel how small the state capital is as I don’t know of many others that could make you feel so isolated at times as I did walking along the Kennebec.  The state capitol building’s dome poking up from the trees across the river was a magnificent sight that I believe can only be seen in Augusta.  As isolated as I felt during this walk it actually added to the mystique and overall experience when I came upon the Kennebec Arsenal.
            Comprised of eight granite buildings the Kennebec Arsenal is the most intact early 19th century munitions depot in the country.  It was built between 1828 and 1838 and was built strategically on a hill with a fabulous view of the Kennebec River.  Though they are the most intact munitions depot buildings the Kennebec Arsenal looks every bit of its age.  I am not sure if it is natural aging and weathering or if it is vandalism but some of the granite buildings look like scenes from horror films.  Some of the buildings were partially obscured by small trees and shrub overgrowth while others were tucked behind chain link fence.  Personally I think it made it more of an experience for me since for the most part it was just myself and the eight buildings.  From the hillside I could see the state capitol building still; this was where I would end my trip to Augusta.
The State House seen from Capitol Park.
            Visiting a state capitol on a Sunday means that there is very little in the way of traffic in and around the buildings.  Before I took a stroll around the impressive capitol building I decided to get acquainted with it from afar.  The thirty-four acre Capitol Park, directly across the street from the capitol building, gives you a view that I was in awe of.  The trees are planted in such a way that there is a straight clearing from the park all the way up the steps of the capitol.  Words cannot describe it, a photo will do a little better job.
            After seeing it from this angle I decided to make a closer inspection of the Maine State Capitol.  Portland was actually the original state capitol of Maine, but it was moved to Augusta in 1832 because of its central location.  The building opened in 1832 and has the look of the United States Capitol in Washington D.C. with the domed roof and the many Romanesque columns. 
The Blaine House aka Governor's Mansion
            I was able to move rather freely around the grounds which gave me great perspectives.  To the left of the State Capitol is a modern three-story building which houses the state’s library, museum, and archives.  Behind the Capitol is the Burton Cross building which houses the Maine State Offices.  Cross was governor of Maine twice, from 1952 to 1955 save for one day due to the fact that his Senate term had ended 25 hours before his term as governor began.  It is a bit complicated for me to explain.
            Across Capitol Street sits the Executive Mansion, also known as the Blaine House.  The home of Maine’s governors the house was given to the state by Harriet Blaine Beale in 1919.  The house dates back to 1833 and the first governor to live in the mansion was Carl E. Miliken in 1920. 
            I was lucky enough to visit Augusta on a Sunday, making it very easy to get around.  This should not stop any visitor from coming here to see one of the smallest, yet most beautiful state capitols in the country.  The small town feel makes it more special, some state capitols feel out of reach due to their size, but Augusta is all right there for you to experience.  Make the time to see Fort Western and the Augusta Greenway Trail, and then check out Capitol Park and the spectacular view of the State House.  Have fun and happy traveling! 

My first book, In My Footsteps: A Cape Cod Travel Guide, is now available at SchifferBooks.com, and Amazon.com, or visit my homepage at ChristopherSetterlund.com, soon to be in stores everywhere!  Follow me on Twitter!
     
DirectionsFort Western:  On I-95 headed north take exit 109A, merge right onto Rt. 202.  At rotary take 3rd exit to stay on Rt. 202.  At the next rotary take 4th exit for Cony St., Fort is on left.
            Maine State House:  On I-95 headed north take exit 109A, merge right onto Rt. 202.  At rotary take 2nd exit for State Street.  Capitol Park is across from State House with parking on the street.

            Blaine House.org
            Maine.gov

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