A history of Hatchet Mountain

Inspired by the Hope Historical Society’s “Facing Hatchet Mountain.”
By W. W. Matteson | Apr 22, 2021

What would it have been like to be here? I often wonder about the experience of occupying the times we think of as history. We grew up thinking of history as solid, something that can be touched and measured like a monument. But history is more like the ocean into which the monument is sinking. It is a multiplicity of conversations happening between the written records, the physical evidence, the oral histories, and our interpretations. We build our histories around people, places, and ideas.

Hope has a mountain to stand at the center of its history. Hatchet Mountain is the highest point of the second ridge of the Camden Hills, a formation caused by the collision of Europe and North America long before either had a name. It is the defining feature of the Hope landscape and therefore has been the theater of Hope’s history. How lucky I am to see it from my window every day. And to wonder what it would have been like to climb it during every chapter of our history.

They say it got its name from the Passamaquoddy and the Mic’mac. It’s where they literally buried the hatchet. Where they smoked the peace pipe to end the Wawenock-Terratine War of 1607. I wonder what it would have been like to be there in the room, in Hope Grange, in 1920, listening to A.J. Dunton tell the story. It was an oral history of an oral history. It was the legend brought home by local boys who picked up arms in 1812 and camped at Rockport with friendly Wawenock fighters whose grandparents might have been there. Maybe there is a kernel of truth at the core of it.

At any rate Hatchet Mountain was a barrier to anyone who wanted to get around it, like the Camden Hills were the boundary between the two great factions of the Wabanaki. They stuck closer to the water, where they managed the game but didn’t farm much.

After the settlers brought their germs and killed everyone, it was a while yet before they moved inward and took up the land around Hatchet Mountain. Henry Knox’s great scam was tempered here by the sub-proprietor, Barrett, who seems to have kept his promises. Though, kept promises probably didn’t help that much in a town where there weren’t any roads, and stubborn Hatchet was in the way of commerce. Nothing stopped them though; they fell every tree and sold the logs to fuel the lime kilns. They pulled up all the stumps and grazed their livestock across the landscape.

Yes, Hatchet was naked by the middle 1800s. Today’s Scar might not seem so ugly by comparison. I would have liked to have been a young shepherd up there, working the flock and singing sea songs, dreaming of my love down in Camden. Or would it have been more like grinding poverty, endless toil in the frozen woods?

But the frozen woods turned out to be the solution. The Winter Roads. The muddy tracks were too sunken and narrow to be good supply routes, but the frozen lakes and streams became the highways of Hope. Would I have skated on these roads as a lad? Bringing tidings and Christmas cheer to all our neighbors on the icy thoroughfare? Would I have had to sled down narrow falls with my taciturn father, our winter’s livelihood at stake on the slushy drops?

And then the ice itself became the product. Could I have cut it on one of those teams, carving out huge blocks of ice and sliding them down to the wharves in Thomaston to be shipped across the world? Would I have stuck around, or would I have stowed away on one of those ships?

When it is done right, history raises more questions than it answers.

The bottom fell out of the lime business in Rockland and Rockport and they stopped needing our wood. Not that we had any left to sell them by then. The Civil War was over now, and things got even tougher for Mainers, who were used to having it tough. Could I have made it through that war? Would I have come to back to Hope after going south and west to fight?

As the economy dwindled, the forest came creeping back.

Later the rusticators came for the peaceful lakeside lifestyle. They built summer camps for their kids to attend and created a welcome market for the farmers who were still hanging on here. Would my folks have been able to send me to Hatchet Mountain Camp? Probably not if we were from here. Who were those boys who spent their Depression-era summers running amok on top of old Hatchet, re-enacting the Wawenock-Terratine War?

The population of Hope rose again in the 1970s, when the back-to-the-landers converged with the seaside locals who were getting priced out of the waterfront property in Rockport and Camden. No one really hiked Hatchet Mountain then; that was reserved for the prettier mountains closer to the water.

In the 1980s the top of it was sold, given over to the web of communications infrastructure that was enmeshing itself across the landscape in the form of radio towers and powerlines. Now I can always spot it, Hatchet Mountain, from wherever I am by looking for that jaunty radio tower perched on its head.

And then came the land use wars we don’t need historians to know about. Should we conserve the land, or should we use it? If we use it, how? Hatchet hasn’t fallen neatly into one camp or the other; it is a patchwork of competing ideas, and I am just glad to be able to walk along its wooded reaches.

So, having read one article do I know the whole story of Hatchet Mountain? Far from it. But now the land, when I walk on it, will be full of stories.

W. W. Matteson is a writer who lives in Hope, where he weaves tales about Maine's coast and mountains.

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Comments (3)
Posted by: Prock Marine Company | Apr 23, 2021 19:19

What was Henry Knox’s scam?  Who was Barrett, the sub-proprietor, and what promises did he keep?

~Cindy Brooks Prock

Posted by: Patricia Hubbard | Apr 23, 2021 07:49

Your writing is always so full of interesting facts! Thank you for bring a piece of our community into focus.

Posted by: Marlene W Dodge | Apr 22, 2021 20:52

My grandfather used to work at Hatchet Mountain Camps.

Of course that was many years ago.

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