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Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES in ME » MAINE (all topics) » The Other Maine
An Engraved Cobblestone at the Veterans' Memorial
The Other Maine

Madawaska, the Northernmost Town in New England

By Alex Seise | November 22, 2010

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Prior to this year, I had never heard of the town of Madawaska. It sounded more like a remote village located halfway between Madagascar and Rwanda than a sleepy mill town nestled in Northern Maine.

An Ornate Lampost and Pavers

In fact, the tightest connection between Madawaska and a small African village might just be their mutual love of the French language. Like many of the Francophone countries surrounding the Sahara, the people of Madawaska have French verses rolling off their tongues. You can barely get through a trip to the grocery store without hearing a few foreign words.

“Did that man just say that he had ‘un cabbage’ in ‘le pickup truck’?” David asked me, furrowing his brow with piqued curiosity. I nodded with a smile. Unlike the Parisian dialect, Acadian French has a distinctive pronunciation style and a lexicon that incorporates more than a handful of English words.

Apart from its bilingual population, Madawaska is much like many of the surrounding towns in Aroostook County. It relies on the nearby abundance of forests to fuel its economy. While smaller towns dotting Route 11 are rife with logging, Madawaska and neighboring Edmundston, New Brunswick base their shared economy on the large Twin Rivers paper mill. Logs are shipped in from around the County via train and truck where they are pulped in Edmundston then pumped across the border and refined into paper products in Madawaska. The mill specializes in papers used to make high-quality food wrappers as well as treated blends used to repel grease in pet food sacks.

But paper isn’t the only commodity that Madawaska churns out. The small town has a relatively active downtown area where local vendors peddle services to the nearly 5,000 people who live there. While quite a few storefronts are vacant and many more are in sore need of upgraded exteriors, those who do survive on Main Street find a distinct level of prosperity not seen consistently around Aroostook County.

Saint Thomas Aquinas Church, Madawaska

Bolstered by the residents of nearby Edmundston and the seasonal draw of Four Corners Park—which marks one of the four corners of the continental United States—Madawaska has potential for business owners. The town is also basking in its recent selection to join the Maine Downtown Network, a move that will help revitalize the area and raise awareness about its historic architecture and downtown businesses.

Acadian culture is prevalent throughout the town. In 2014, Madawaska will play host to the World Acadian Congress, bringing an expected influx of 40,000 tourists with it. The yearly Acadian Festival, which is normally held in late June, will instead take place in August. Businesses are already preparing for the flourish, and local Acadian historical landmarks are preparing for a spectacular return to the limelight.

The further one strays from Main Street, the more rural Madawaska becomes. To its southeast is Saint David and to its west is Frenchville, tiny hamlets that visitors zip through in the blink of an eye. Due south of Madawaska is Saint Agatha, home to several miles of the appropriately named Long Lake.

During our first drive from Saint Agatha to Madawaska along Route 162 on an overcast March afternoon, David and I remarked how desolate the landscape looked. Pocked with the remnants of last year’s potato crop and flat in all directions as far as the eye could see, the land appeared to be an uncivilized lunar landscape held fast by a narrow ribbon of asphalt.

Fortunately, the rugged landscape only improves as the days grow longer. The farms are much more charming when the still chilly earth pushes forth green shoots. During the drive to Long Lake, the trees, grasses and fields play an elaborate visual symphony of rustic greens, yellows and browns that change ever so slightly each day. Despite its reliance on industry, Madawaska always reminds its inhabitants that nature lurks around every corner.

For being the northernmost town in New England, Madawaska certainly is much more than a rugged, snow-bound village. It is a modern community steeped in rich traditions that never forgets its roots or the direction it will take forging ahead.

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