Camden's State Park and Mt. Battie with a view
In spite of snowy winter and cold spring, summer has arrived in town, as it always does. People will be camping at Camden Hills State Park and either riding or hiking up Mt. Battie.
If you have wondered where the name of the mountain came from, there are discrepancies in history, as usual. James Richards came with his wife and family by vessel in May 1769, according to John Locke. Rev. Locke wrote the first history of Camden from 1605 to 1859 and some have disputed his facts over the years, but if he hadn’t written the book, we would know little about the beginning of Negunticook or Megunticook, as Camden was called then. However, some say that Elizabeth (Betty) Richards saw Mt. Battie and said, “That’s my mountain.” So that story has been told for years.
But James Cargill, who was an” Indian hunter” called it Mt. Battie many years before the first settler ever arrive here.
Here is a short history of Camden Hills State Park , before we write about the mountain. During the Great Depression, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, started the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) to give work to the many unemployed young men. One camp was in Camden, at the foot of Mt. Battie. They had barracks there and built all the trails, shelters, outdoor fireplaces, etc., that you see used today both where the campers are and across Atlantic Highway down to the ocean. They did a great job and many men from here and away had jobs.
When World War II came along in 1941, a U.S. Army camp settled there using the barracks and it was called Camp Camden. USO dances took place in Camden Opera House on Wednesday and Saturday nights to entertain the Army boys and the U.S. Coast Guard, who were also stationed in Camden on Curtis Island and some on Patrol boats out of the Rockland Coast Guard base. They were checking for German submarines along our shores — and there were some.
As for some stories about Mt. Battie, the first would probably be in 1784. According to Rev. Locke, James Richards went on a moose hunt on the back side of the mountain with Leonard Metcalf and a Mr. Webber. They had only one gun, carried by Richards, while the other two hunting companions were armed with hatchets. Richards remained at the base, and the other two climbed. Shortly after they left, Richards was frightened by an old bear and shot him. His two friends, after ascending to the top, found two bear cubs in their den. In order to force them out, they had to build a fire and the smoke drove them into view. One rushed past Metcalf. He grabbed it by the ears and while holding on he yelled to Webber. Mr. Webber decided that he would just as soon get out of the way and not tangle with any bear. Metcalf had no choice except to jump on the bear’s back and ride him down the mountain. The bear was not happy either, and tried to throw Metcalf off. So the snow and bushes tore Metcalf’s clothes and scratched his legs. Finally, they met up with Richards and he shot the bear.
More history of the mountain was recorded during the War of 1812, after Castine had been taken by the British. Camden citizens knew they had to defend themselves. By 1814 the British had taken over the fort just south of Thomaston, which really had Camden worried. They erected a fort on Eaton’s Point (where Wayfarer is today) and another fort on Jacob’s Point (on Bay View Street near Bay Road). They had 100 men working on those forts for three days steady. When they finished a group of Camden men went to Fort George to get an 18 pounder (a cannon). This and two 12 pounders were place on the summit of Mt. Battie — not an easy task — by John Grose who took the contract for $25. There were also a few men running and shooting from behind different trees and rocks, so the enemy felt Camden was well fortified and did not attempt to take it.
A fire raged on the mountain in 1918. The hotel, known as the Mt. Battie House or Summit House, escaped the flames, but was torn down in 1920 because it was not economically feasible to operate. The following year the World War I Memorial Tower, designed by Parker Morse Hooper, was dedicated. Some of the stones used for the Mt. Battie House were again used this time for the setting around this tower.
Mt. Battie has many stories, as I do, but they are all true. In 1923, the Ku Klux Klan of Camden and Rockland burned a cross on the summit, as a symbol of religious and racial hatred. Other rallies and parades took place as well. Camden people were very upset, as they felt there were no prejudices here. I later learned members of the Klan were against the Catholic religion.
Another fire swept a two mile path across the summit of Mt. Battie in 1930 — one mile wide — and threatened the summer estates along the High Street ridge. Thousands of people turned out to fight the fire, that burned steadily for two days. Fortunately, the fire shifted over Mountain Street and burned itself out. Mt. Megunticook, also being protected, escaped being caught in the raging inferno.
Until 1965 there were only trails to climb to the summit for the wonderful view and a family picnic. Some places were dangerous and steep, so children were always very careful climbing and usually accompanied by adults. There were two ways to go. One was up the face of the mountain from Atlantic Highway and the other was off Spring Street in back of a most attractive “cottage” named “Baymount.” As far as I know that path is still there up over the old carriage road, but I have not looked for it, as my climbing days are over.
Although it was a wonderful feeling of accomplishment after reaching the top, many residents felt if a road were there, then old and young alike could enjoy the view like no other view: Camden, the islands and Penobscot Bay. Governor Reed arrived in Camden to check it out, and the Camden Women’s Club was at the top with doughnuts and coffee. The road was engineered very carefully, in order not to spoil the beauty of Mt. Battie from the highway. Mt. Battie Day came in July 1965. Marion Village Restaurant served dinner to Governor and Mrs. Reed and 86 others including photographers, reporters, the Chamber of Commerce, members of the Maine State Park Commission and the State Legislature.
I would be remiss if I did not mention one other thing about Mt. Battie, and that is the wonderful star that shines from the tower from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Eve (thanks to the Lions’ Club). It is seen from miles around, and people say “Look! Camden has its very own star!”
Barbara Dyer is Camden's official town historian.