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Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES » MAINE » The Other Maine
The Other Maine

Allagash, The Penultimate Maine Frontier

By Alex Seise | July 25, 2011

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Somewhere out beyond the northern terminus of US Route 1 and the last vestiges of grocery stores and gas stations is Maine’s northernmost western-bound road, Route 161.

The winding two-lane boulevard is open and clear with no more than a few dozen homes peppering its curves and bends beyond the town limit of Saint Francis. And much like the mythical land of Oz, at the end of this yellow brick road lies the frontier town of Allagash.

Downtown Allagash

Calling it a town is perhaps deceptive. Allagash would be better described as a wilderness settlement that just happens to be home to a select few modern conveniences. Traditionally, its name means, “Cabin by the River,” a suitable moniker given its position on the Allagash River. While it is not the most removed inhabited area in Maine—that title is reserved for the elusive Estcourt Station, a village of four people located on the Maine-Quebec border approximately forty miles north of Allgash—it certainly is the second-most secluded incorporated area in the state.

When David and I drove out to Allagash for the first time, it was to attend the much-publicized Moosestock Festival. Event schedules boasted an indoor craft fair and a slew of other events taking place throughout the remote town. Aroostook County is no stranger to heavily publicized festivals; most are quaint but well worth the voyage, replete with food, local culture and artisanal wares not normally found in the supermarket. We were looking forward to it.

As we pulled into the town limits, we looked around for signs of the festivities. A few well-kept homes surrounded the road, and two small eateries and a locally owned convenience store popped into view as we navigated a curve in the road. We continued to drive, passing densely forested tracts and striking river views.

Looking Downstream Toward the Allagash River

A few miles later, we finally happened upon the downtown area. To the left was Allagash Outfitters; to the right, a municipal center that houses the town office, library and a recreation center.

The relatively large building was once the town’s school. The consolidation happened back in 1993, and ever since, students from Allagash have been bused to other schools in neighboring towns (predominantly neighboring Saint Francis and Fort Kent, which is thirty miles east).

On the lawn of the municipal center, a group of seventy-five or so festival goers gathered to watch one of the day’s events, the frying pan toss. Participants hurled a large cast-iron skillet as far as they could, watching as it bounced, rolled and tumbled across the green lawn. Inside the half-size gymnasium, eight or nine booths were set up for vendors to sell their wares. Locals and visitors milled around, soaking up the day’s activity.

The town has a small population of around 300, but its heart is much larger than one might think given its tiny census count. It doesn’t take visitors long to notice this upon arrival in the town. A few days before the Fourth of July, every telephone post from the town limit out to the end of Route 161 was lovingly adorned with billowing American flags. Even the bridge crossing the Allagash River had Old Glory affixed to either side.

An old barn and shed on the outskirts of town

Unlike the rest of the Saint John Valley, Allagash doesn’t have Acadian roots; rather, it is a Scots/Irish community. The family name “McBreairty” appears on more than a few mailboxes, and the Irish flag is flown with pride throughout the community. It is a community where everyone knows your name and most townspeople are related by distant bloodlines.

But this culture aside, Allagash is more of a gateway than a gathering place. It signals the end of civilization in northwest Maine and the beginning of a vast wilderness oasis, the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.

The pristine river is beloved by canoeists for the long, calm ride it offers, and it was lauded by Henry David Thoreau as he made two watery trips along its waters in the 1850s. Apart from the river itself, the trees, wildflowers and animals surrounding its cool currents are a magnificent sight of unspoiled nature.

Like much of the Other Maine, Allagash is just inches away from slipping amongst the trees and returning quietly back to nature. But unlike the other towns of the Saint John Valley, it savors this distinction and flaunts the natural bounties that thrive just inches away from the lone road that bisects the town. Truly, Allagash embraces its frontier image, relishing its unique location at the end of the road.

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