North Maine Woods
P.O. Box 421
Ashland, Maine 04732
The Sportsman's Innkeeper in Northwestern Maine
Multiple Ownership Area
Under Multiple Use Management
Down the River
(People, Places and Events)
As you travel down river from Baker Lake, the St. John River Valley seems like a vast remote wilderness. On the St. John River itself, there is less activity today than there was in the past. Many consider the river to be in more of a natural state today than it was years ago.
For many years, the riverbanks were lined with logging depots, landings, homesteads and cabins. Clearings averaged 25 acres along the river in the late 1800's. Today, campsites have been established in many of these spots.
A few of the people who worked on the St. John River as woodsmen, game wardens, fire wardens and homesteaders in northern Maine recall the days of life on the upper St. John. Their stories tell us about these sites:
Knowles Brook was for many years the site of a logging depot. An old trapper named Bill Gordon lived in one of the cabins for a long time. During World War II, he ran an observation post to scout for enemy planes. Game wardens would bring supplies and check on him from time to time. One warden remembers Gordon canning deer meat into mason jars one day for the winter. Gordon was well-known and remembered for his silver revolver which he delighted in showing to visitors.
In 1927 Edouard "King" LaCroix built the road into Nine-Mile to get supplies into his backwoods operations. In 1931, LaCroix put the steel bridge across the river at Nine-Mile. LaCroix purchased the discarded one-lane bridge in St. Georges, Quebec, and transported it in pieces to be reassembled at Nine-Mile. Before the bridge, a ferry boat was operated to get across the St. John. Behind the campsite at Nine-Mile Bridge are the remains of a coal-fired steamshovel that was used in building the road and the bridge. The remains can be found with relative ease.
Nine-Mile Bridge was one of the busier spots along the river in the 1900's. Game wardens and fire wardens had homes for many years at Nine-Mile. The wardens would stay there year-round, snowbound during the winter months. A book by Helen Hamlin entitled "Nine-Mile Bridge" reflects her life as the wife of a game warden at Nine-Mile and other places in the woods.
At the site on Nine-Mile Brook, just below the bridge stood the Maine Forestry District ranger's camp.
Seven Islands was by far the largest settlement on the upper St. John. It was known to have homesteaders as long ago as 1860. In 1875, Frank Currier had sold $3,000 worth of hay, grain, beef and other items from Seven Islands. W. H. Cunliffe and Stevens had 56 cattle (19 milking cows), 100 sheep, 7 farm horses and a dozen hogs at Seven Islands. In the early 1900's, there were five major homesteads in the Seven Islands area.
At one time there was as much as 1,300 acres cleared and all seven of the islands were farmed. Now some of those cleared areas are covered with trees over 40 feet tall. One may see the rockpiles and the rows where crops once grew below the stands of trees. During those earlier times, there would be as many as 300 men at Seven Islands before they headed into the woods for the winter operations. Up to 100 men would sometimes be kept on hand during the summer to farm and clear more land. Four thousand bushels of oats and 250 tons of hay were raised a year and sold to woods operators during peak times.
After LaCroix left the Seven Islands area, things began to slow down in the late 1930's. At one time there was a post office which was eventually moved to Clayton Lake when LaCroix put in the road from Lac Frontiere.
Some of the other homesteads along the river were Simmons Farm, Castonia Farm, St. John Farm, Quellette Farm and Bishop Farm, but they were not near the size nor did they have the activity of Seven Islands. They served much the same purpose. Men traveling on the river would stay at these farms.
Below Seven Islands there was at one time a logging depot at Priestly Brook. Today Priestly Bridge is three miles upriver from Priestly Rapids. Each year the wooden deck of the bridge is removed during "ice out" in early spring. Simmons Farm - Simmons Farm Tote Trail
In order to bypass the Big Black Rapids and also access Quebec and the St. Lawrence Valley, a tote or portage trail was constructed from Nine-Mile Dam on the Big Black River to the Simmons Farm.
During World War I a man by the name of Fred Deschaine came home on leave and deserted and fled to the St. John region. He spent the rest of his years alone on the St. John. He lived for a time at both Seven Islands and Simmons Farm. He kept livestock and raised a small garden to support himself. People remember him as being a nervous man and always on the watch. Eventually he came out of the woods and spent his last five years in St. Francis.
At the mouth of the Big Black River today is a U. S. Border Patrol camp. This camp is a reminder of the times when most of the travel in the area was done on the St. John River. In those days, Border patrol crews would inspect logging crews and merchandise. Until recently a fire warden camp was located here on the spot where the campsite is now.
Almost all travel upriver in the early days was in a poled canoe or bateau. A story is told of game warden Leonard Pelletier leaving Big Black one morning with a broken-down outboard motor. He was headed upriver to Nine-Mile. The fire warden called ahead by radio to tell his wife of his situation. By nightfall, Mr. Pelletier had made it to Nine-Mile by poling his canoe. That is almost 31 miles and stands as an unwritten record today!
School House Rapids
Roughly halfway between the Castonia Farm and Quellette Farm was a one-room schoolhouse. Several families shared in the expense of the schoolhouse. The students attended school during summer months instead in the winter.