Maine State Fish Hatchery
Until I can find parking within walking distance to Camden Public Library, most of the people will have to rest at Mountain View Cemetery. I have been doing a driving tour — the length of Atlantic Avenue, over Sea Street, wait for traffic to go by on High Street, down Harbor Hill and over the route again. After four times, I figure they are having a good time shopping in Camden and the merchants really need the tourists, so I head for home. Summer finally passed, but then the “leaf-peepers” arrived. In fact, today, I saw a couple of ladies gathering up some of the pretty leaves to take home. We know they will dry up (the leaves), but maybe they will put them between two pieces of the plastic paper that sticks together. That preserves them for a long time.
At the outlet of Megunticook Lake and the beginning of the three-mile Megunticook River are twin dams. The large building is now a home, but was once a fish hatchery. Because of the purity of the water, its aeration and uniformity of supply, the hatchery made ideal conditions for breeding young fish. The Maine State Fish Hatchery began in 1909 in Camden.
The lower part of the building was used to hatch eggs, where the temperature was warm, and they were protected. As the eggs developed into tiny fish, they were transferred into cement water-filled tanks; then they were transferred again in various stages of growth.
By 1916 there was a yearly output of 500 trout and 375,000 salmon. The fish were fed and cared for by the superintendent, Bill Libby, for many years. A “Visitor’s Book” was kept, and it was surprising for many residents to learn that 3,744 people had viewed the operation in a six-month period. As only one out of 10 registered, it appeared that probably 37,000 people visited the hatchery. Tourists came from about 40 states, as well as England, France, Canada and the Panama Canal.
The state of Maine built eight new concrete troughs in 1925 under the outdoor stand. But there was another attraction. Mr. Libby erected a store in 1922, near the hatchery building at the intersection of Molyneaux Road and Beaucaire Avenue, where Mrs. Libby sold soft drinks, ice cream, picnic supplies, hamburgers and hot dogs. Anna Libby did this for more than 50 years. Her granddaughter, Barbara, when she was old enough, helped her.
In July 1922, a 500-gallon gasoline tank was installed so motorists could fill their tanks, as it was about two or three miles out of Camden.
The annual report for that year showed 98,000 salmon, 15,000 land-locked salmon and 285,000 square-tailed trout that had been raised and planted in local lakes and ponds during the past year. Some of the enterprising young lads would spend their time catching frogs and selling them to Mr. Libby for five-cents each, which he in turn sold to fishermen for bait to catch bass.
The twin damns are still there and owned by the town of Camden: the East Dam and West Dam control the flow of water into Megunticook River, and were also necessary to run the hatchery. There is a wooden spillway and walkway, plus the concrete and trash rack supporters, which must continually be maintained. The towns of Camden and Lincolnville even have a Dam Committee. The flow of water has to be controlled and it takes both towns, as part of Lake Megunticook is in Lincolnville and part in Camden. Their meetings are interesting and I was happy to serve on the Dam Committee.
At one time Joseph Talbot, his wife and family lived on the second floor of the hatchery building, and the Megunticook Fish and Game Association occupied the first floor for their meetings. The roe belonging to the state of Maine were kept in the basement. Joe Talbot, a very active fisherman, revived the Megunticook Anglers, increasing the membership from 30 to 500 members and changing the name at the same time. They taught young people fly tying and sent quite a number to conservation camp. With the donated use of trucks, gravel and labor, Megunticook Fish and Game Association built the launching facilities at Bog Bridge, the picnic and swimming area at Barrett’s Cove and the launching ramp off Turnpike Drive.
Across the road from the Fish Hatchery is Hodson Park, named for G. Willis Hodson, who was also very active for a number of years in Megunticook Fish and Game Association, as well as town affairs. He was a selectman and served as town manager. About 500 pheasants were raised yearly and released in this area, and a few deer had that park for a home. It is my recollection that at one time a moose was found disabled and placed there to recover.
The Maine State Fish Hatchery operated for a number of years, but is now just a memory, as is the aroma of hamburgers and hot dogs. However, people still fish from the bridge. Joe Talbot returned to Camden after being away for years, but is now deceased. Bill and Anna Libby are buried at Mountain View Cemetery ; Bill died in 1941 and Anna in 1977 and their granddaughter, Barbara Young, died a few weeks ago. The Hodson Park remains for the public to enjoy.
Barbara Dyer is Camden's official town historian.