The Mt. Battie Roads
Soon after we moved to Millville in 1937 my folks took me on an outing up Mt. Battie by way of the old carriage road that goes up the backside of the mountain where it is not so steep. Of course my folks were young and healthy at that time, so they packed a picnic lunch and we walked up the road, perhaps looking for Mayflowers or noting where the good spots for blueberries were. Although I enjoyed such a trip, I remember it as a long way up there. It’s about a mile and it seemed even more to me as I anticipated seeing the tower at the top and the spectacular view of Penobscot Bay and its islands.
The big stone tower on top of Mt Battie and the broad flat ledges and grasslands fascinated me. It was obvious why the area was called the tablelands. My mother came from Deer Isle, and they would always try to decide which island out there was her home. On a nice sunny afternoon they were content that they had it properly located when they would see the sunlight glinting off the Deer Isle water tower.
Columbus Buswell built the road to the top of Mt. Battie in 1896, and he also built a fine hotel and restaurant at the top known as the Summit House. It was somewhat popular at first, and he charged a toll to use the road as well as provided lodging and meals for those who came. That road is often spoken of as the old carriage road and went up from upper Mountain Street “near the old Fay house.”
Although the Summit House seemed to have been well received, it apparently was not profitable, because 1899 a group of summer residents formed the Mt. Battie Association and purchased the top of the mountain, the Summit House, and the toll road for the purpose of preserving the mountain for a park, and to prevent it being used for “objectionable purposes.” Reuel Robinson’s "History of Camden and Rockport" tells us the hotel was remodeled and became known as the Mt. Battie Clubhouse. It was opened annually as a summer hotel.
This was not the first road on Mt. Battie. From an earlier time there was a road over the mountain from Youngstown that passed through the area between Mt. Megunticook and Mt. Battie and came down in the vicinity of the state park campground. At that time there was a large farm there known as Sagamore Farm that provided cold milk, fresh eggs and garden vegetables, catering primarily to the summer residents. That road was not suitable for vehicles of any kind, but was only for folks on horseback or on foot. In the fall they closed up Sagamore Farm and took their cows back over the trail to Youngstown for the winter.
That precipitous road was why Daniel Barrett got the idea to build Turnpike Road along the edge of Megunticook Lake in 1802. He charged a toll for passing, which folks needing to take a wagon to Camden were usually willing to pay rather than go all the way around to Lincolnville Beach, but the free road over the mountain still found use for those on foot or horseback for some years more. Apparently the Hardy family at Sagamore still found it convenient to use a hundred years later.
In 1908 the town accepted Mt. Battie Road to the Summit House as a public road, and maintained it as such for a number of years, but when I walked it in the 1930s and 40s I would not have believed it was passable by horse or auto, because it was badly washed out in places.
The Clubhouse fell into disuse, and in 1920 the Mt. Battie Association had the building demolished. In 1921 many of the stones from the foundation were used to build the Mt. Battie Tower as a memorial to the men who died in World War I.
A Camden Herald article written in 1965 says it was still passable by jeep, but when townspeople tried to make the trip in a jeep with the governor they found out otherwise. The idea of rebuilding the road was always of interest to local people, but the road is steep in places and the cost of maintaining the gravel road apparently was significant. It found little place in the town budget. I’m sure also that some thought it was better not to have any road because too many tourists would spoil the quiet and the beauty at the summit.
In 1954 enough interest was aroused to send Charlie Lowe, Dave Nichols and Willard Wight to Augusta to seek help in reestablishing a road to the summit. They proposed the idea that the state should finance a road as a tourist attraction for Maine. At first the thought was to rebuild the old road, but there was not much progress until Representative William R. Hardy was told there needed to be an engineering study. Finally in 1962 the Chamber of Commerce President, Ken Dickey, got the chamber behind the effort and money was raised to match state funds for the necessary study.
With a check in hand Ken Dickey and others took Governor Reed on the aforementioned Jeep trip up Mt. Battie. The Jeep bogged down before reaching the top and the party proceeded on foot to the tower. Governor Reed was impressed with the view, and expressed the hope that his next visit there would be to dedicate the new road.
The engineering study changed the plan and opened up the idea of a road from the Sagamore Farm area to the summit that would be more easily accessed from Route 1. More than 200 people attended a hearing by the state appropriations committee not only from Camden but also from all over the state. Rep. Hardy’s bill was passed and the new road was finally coming to pass.
Soon inmates from the State Prison in Thomaston were clearing the 1.4-mile route to the summit. By mid-October 1964 the State Park Commission was able to informally open the present road so that local citizens could check it out, and my mother could once again go up the mountain to get a look at home.