Historian Lee Webb will present “From Wood to Water to Coal: How Maine First Became a High Cost Energy State, A Nineteenth Century Tale,” at the Camden Public Library on Tuesday, Oct. 19 at 6:30 p.m. Webb’s talk is an important part of the library’s Green October series on green energy sources for Maine.

In the first half of nineteenth century, Maine had abundant supplies of low-cost energy. Initially that low-cost energy source was wood and later it was water power. Capital poured into Maine to tame the raging rivers, and new cities like Saco, Biddeford, Lewiston, and Waterville emerged as a result. Maine’s natural energy resources were one of its great competitive advantages. Maine was one of the great beneficiaries of the wood-and water-based economy of American’s 19th century.

All of that changed after the Civil War. Coal replaced both wood and water as the most efficient energy source and Maine lost one of its great advantages. Maine had no coal, and other states with abundant supplies such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois replaced Maine as low-cost energy states. Far from America’s coal mines, and denied access to the coal mines of Nova Scotia, Maine could not compete for the new industries that emerged in the late nineteenth century. This talk will describe in detail the history (economic, environmental, and political) of these energy sources and the impact that the shift towards coal, and then oil, had on Maine in the 19th and 20th century.

Webb lives in Union and is presently a PhD candidate in the history department of the University of Maine at Orono. He is engaged in writing a dissertation on Maine during the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era. Webb has graduate degrees in economics and public administration and is a Senior Policy Fellow at the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at UMO. He retired to Maine six years ago after a career in public policy, government, and hospital and university administration.