Offbeat Places to Visit along Maine’s Kennebec River

By David Fiske

Fort Baldwin (Phippsburg)

This often overlooked neighbor of Phippsburg’s Fort Popham is spread out along Sabino Head, a hill that overlooks Fort Popham and the ocean. Baldwin is reached via Fort Baldwin Road, a short distance from Fort Popham. Park in the lot, and walk up the dirt road to pass by bunkers and gun emplacements.

Constructed during the early 1900s, the installation was intended to guard the entrance to the Kennebec River. In the beginning, the test-firing of the fort’s mammoth guns disturbed its neighbors–buildings shook and windows cracked. In time, the soldiers at the fort were active in the community, playing football against local teams and even helping to put out a fire one time.

Baldwin was activated again for World War II, when the tower was constructed. There were no engagements with the enemy during either of the world wars, however.

Swan Island (opposite Richmond)

This is Swan Island, in the Kennebec River opposite Richmond, and not the more well-known Swans Island, which is off the coast.

Swan Island offers visitors a chance to traipse through an actual ghost town, complete with abandoned homes. Walk the length of the island on an iconic New England dirt road and you’ll pass homes of some of the residents of the former Town of Perkins. One, the Gardiner-Duamresque house (shown above), is a fine example of a New England salt-box, which dates to the 1750s. It’s located in a lovely–-but deadly-–spot on the river bank at the island’s eastern edge. Its location so near to the river resulted in the drownings of several members of the Dumaresq family.

Access to Swan Island generally must be arranged in advance (there is a modest access fee--lean-to camping is available). For instructions see this page maintained by Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Kennebec Arsenal (Augusta)

The stately granite buildings of a former Federal arsenal in Augusta overlook the Kennebec River, historically an important route for traveling into Maine's interior. A project is in place to restore and re-use these buildings--but it has been stalled for several years.

In the meantime, they can be viewed by making a delightful walk along the eastern bank of the Kennebec. Park somewhere near the Fort Western restoration (just north of the Arsenal), and you can walk alongside its stockade fence (watch for the plaque memorializing the expedition led by then-patriot Benedict Arnold to attack Quebec early in the Revolutionary War).

Walk south, and you’ll soon reach the arsenal complex. Stone steps lead to a river landing, where supplies were delivered. Up the slope from the river are what remain of this military installation. When it was no longer needed as an arsenal, the complex was turned over to the State of Maine, which used it to expand the nearby State Hospital

Commandants of the arsenal included some notable army officers:
Major Robert Anderson years after his time in Augusta commanded at Fort Sumter at the outbreak of the Civil War. General Oliver Otis Howard (a Maine native) lost an arm during the Civil War, and afterward held positions providing assistance to freed slaves, and was instrumental in establishing what is now Howard University in Washington, D. C. Colonel Cullen Bryant was a nephew of the poet William Cullen Bryant and it was said he "could repeat every verse his uncle wrote."

One officer never left Augusta. Major Otho E. Michaelis, a native of Germany, served in the Civil War as a young man, and had a colorful army career that included service with George Armstrong Custer at the time of the massacre at Little Big Horn. While at the arsenal, two of the Michaelis children fell through ice on a pond (filled in long ago). Michaelis saved one but the other died. About six months after the tragedy, Michaelis died, and is buried in Augusta's Forest Grove Cemetery. View his grave at this Find a Grave page.

Many interesting stories about these places (such as the 1882 killing of college student Frank Smith by the Fort Popham caretaker) are told 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!

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