The Arsenal on Maine's Kennebec River

by David Fiske, author of Forgotten on the Kennebec: Abandoned Places and Quirky People

The Federal government recognized the need for a system of munitions depots after various successful attacks (including some in Maine) by Great Britain during the War of 1812. Adding to the argument in favor of building an arsenal in Maine was tension due to the Northeast boundary dispute, and the resulting "Aroostook War."

Augusta was one of the places selected for an arsenal, and construction of the Kennebec Arsenal began in 1828. Not everyone was satisfied with the project. A person wrote a letter to a Hallowell newspaper, saying "I am afraid, that many, who have the handling of Uncle Sam's money are too flush of it; and spend it to gratify their own fancies or to provide for their friends." A response by an editor of the paper indicated that most people saw the construction as being necessary, however.

The stately granite buildings still stand, across the Kennebec River from the State Capitol building. They are easily viewed by making a pleasant walk on the Augusta Greenway Trail, along the eastern bank of the river. Walking along the trail will also take you past the reconstructed Fort Western. Right at the river's edge, there is a plaque commemorating the expedition made by Benedict Arnold to (unsuccessfully) attack Quebec at the very beginning of the American Revolutionary War.

The Greenway Trail passes alongside Fort Western

In its early years, the arsenal provided more than defense. Firework shows were staged for the enjoyment of the public. One officer even noted that a particular sergeant, who "was fond of preparing fireworks to properly celebrate the Fourth of July," found it difficult to "use the alcohol essential to that operation without some of it getting into his mouth.”

Among the various commanders of the arsenal during its years of operation, there were some very capable and noteworthy men, including:

In 1901, an order was issued by Secretary of War Elihu Root abolishing a number of arsenals around the country, including the Kennebec Arsenal. Its buildings were adapted for use by the adjoining mental hospital, until that institution was closed in recent years. There are plans to refurbish the arsenal complex, for use as office space, though progress has been slow to date.

You can visit the arsenal complex by taking a delightful walk along the eastern bank of the Kennebec River. Park somewhere near the Fort Western restoration (just north of the Arsenal), and you can walk alongside its stockade fence. Keep walking south, and you’ll soon reach the arsenal.

On the summer day when I was there several years ago, we sampled some wild blackberries from bushes alongside the trail. A bald eagle was also visible on a gravel bar in the river. The lovely dome of the State Capitol can be seen from various points along the trail.

Follow this link for more information on the Greenway Trail.

More interesting information about the Kennebec Arsenal is available in my book, Forgotten on the Kennebec: Abandoned Places and Quirky People.

Book by David Fiske, Forgotten on the Kennebec: Abandoned Places and Quirky People.
available on Amazon

Press Release for Forgotten on the Kennebec

Read a review of Forgotten on the Kennebec by Michelle Souliere on her Strange Maine blog.

Read a description at Plus, find other fun places to go!

Kennebec Arsenal is one of several offbeat places to visit in Maine.

Go to Hike Ghost Towns page, or see the New England Ghost Towns Facebook page.