SOLON & BEYOND: More on the Burial of Flagstaff

Marilyn Rogers-Bull & Percyby Marilyn Rogers-Bull & Percy
Solon, Maine 04979

This will be the second column written about The Burial of Flagstaff, by Roland and myself. He wrote quite a bit about the beginning of this sad happening and it starts this way…. The decision to build the dam at Long Falls had been in the planning stages for quite some time. Up to 20 years before the first tree was cut, Central Maine Power Co., in conjunction with Great Northern Paper Co. and Hollingsworth & Whitney, in Winslow, had begun buying up property in the Flagstaff area. The community was the only one of any size with an elevation low enough to be covered by the future lake.

By an act of the Legislature in 1937, the creation of the Dead River storage was authorized and the act was renewed in 1939 and subsequently, in 1941.

Maine ‘s hydro-electric output would be increased by thousands of kilowatts with the completion of the project. The Dead River storage basin contains no generating equipment at the Long Falls site, but provides additional prime capacity from the Central Maine Power Company’s five generating stations on the Kennebec River.

The storage system was increased by about 35 to 47 billion cubic feet of water, increasing the Kennebec River’s normal flow and making higher minimum flows.

The dam would act as a huge reservoir to control the flow of water into Wyman dam, as well as dams at Skowhegan, Madison, Solon, Shawmut, Fairfield, Waterville, Augusta and those along the length of the Kennebec River. The dam in Augusta has since been removed.

When completed, the dam would create a lake approximately 25 miles long and impound some 12 billion cubic feet of water. The estimated cost for the project was put at $4 million. Work began in 1949 and was was completed in 1950.

Up to that time the Dead River and its peculiarities had been controlled by one dam, a 21-gate hand-operated wooden affair. The Dead River would have been useless if it hadn’t been for that small dam. The river was a sight to be remembered after the zig-zag course, which at times runs all points of the compass. That river no longer exists as the entire basin is flooded with up to 20 feet of water.

By July 1948, the sound of axes were already in the air as the crews began to open up the area where the engineers and construction crews would build the dam. The few remaining residents sadly watched the preparations for the construction.

(I hadn’t thought it could get any worse!….. But then came all the raging fires! Can’t begin to explain what that was like! )

However, the tiny village of Flagstaff was to meet another challenge. In July 1948, forest fires broke out in the vicinity where crews were cutting in the flowage area. A Somerset County official said the Flagstaff fires were centered mainly on the Central Maine Power Co. flowage basin, sweeping unchecked through 50 acres of private timberlands. The town was threatened with complete destruction by one of three forest fires raging within sight of its main street.

At 5:30 p.m., an eye witness stated that Flagstaff “appeared doomed,” as a brisk northeast wind pushed a stubborn fire on the Eustis Road to within a half-mile of the built up section, before being checked by Flagstaff, Rangeley and state forestry department firefighters. Flagstaff was spared for the time being. ( I can remember one that was much nearer to our house than that, and our only means of escape was to cross the big bridge where the fire was close by, not a pretty sight!

At this point, Flagstaff was a town of 20 families. The people of Flagstaff had been taken by surprise, and almost stunned by the news that their homes were to be inundated as a result of the dam project. They had known for years that such a move was pending, but had gotten used to the idea, and it was always something that MIGHT happen SOMETIME in the future . Folks had heard the building of such a dam talked about for 20 years. But as time passed, it had become more or less a myth.

However, there had always been a feeling of uncertainty in everything they had done. No one attempted to establish anything permanent.

Financial arrangements were made with the property holders by the development concern, but the remaining residents were now faced with a stern reality that made them sad and homesick.

Public buildings included a fine school house, a Congregational Church, a mill, one store and the Masonic lodge.

There were many residents of Flagstaff who were born and had always lived there.

The Dead River Plantation was in a similar circumstance. Although they did not have a village, there were 27 sets of buildings in the area to be flooded.

I am sending an excerpt from a letter to the editor, published on June 29, 1948, written by a wonderful friend of mine who lived in Dead River.

To the editor:

Your recent editorial on the benefits to be received from the building of the dam on the Dead River makes me shake a wrathy fist at you people who are so in need of more hydro-power that we must sacrifice our homes and lands to it. To us who have put all our love, labor, and earnings into the lands that have been in our families for years, there can be no compensation for their loss.

It seems a sad and selfish thing when the needs of urban dwellers become so demanding as to cause, to be obliterated, two communities whose inhabitants live in greater happiness, satisfaction, and far more tranquil peace of mind than you harried city folk can imagine. (Written by Frances Taylor, who I miss very much)

I hope all of those who read this column every week are enjoying this old news about days gone by. With all that is going on in our world today, I’m going to send out a bit of information in memory of my dear cat, Percy. Hope it helps!

We need to feel more to understand others, We need to love more to be loved back, We need to cry more to cleanse ourselves, We need to laugh more to enjoy ourselves, We need to be honest and fair when interacting with people, We need to establish a strong ethical basis as a way of life, We need to see more than our own fantasies, We need to hear more and listen to the needs of others, We need to give more and take less, We need to share more and own less, We need to realize the importance of the family as a backbone to stability, We need to look more and realize that we are not so different from one another, We need to create a world where we can trust one another, We need to create a world where we can all peacefully live the life we choose.


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