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Sunday, October 07, 2012

Bridges of Seal Cove, Tremont, Maine

This past summer, I took a train to Maine... mainly through the plain.  Sorry... couldn't resist.   Anyway, I did go to Maine.  I was part of a four-person team working on a shipwreck study.  Actually, the ship wasn't technically a wreck, but the result was the same... its remains have slowly decayed in the mud of Seal Cove, Tremont, Maine.  As you can see from the picture, there remains very little.  
Franklin H. Price, a graduate of East Carolina University’s Maritime Studies program (2006) and former resident of Tremont, Maine headed the team.  Price is currently employed as a senior archaeologist with the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research.  He began the Seal Cove Shipwreck Project last year in coordination with Arcadia National Park and the Institute of Maritime History.  Another member of the crew is Steve Dilk of NewYork and also a graduate of ECU’s maritime program (2012).  A third member is me, Baylus C. Brooks, currently a member of the same program (graduating in 2013) and the Seal Cove project’s historian.  Last, but not least, is Crista Shere, a student at College of the Atlantic, based in Bar Harbor, Maine located at the north end of Mount Desert Island (MDI).

My trip was a most pleasant one, even aside from getting out of North Carolina in the midst of a hot summer.  The temperatures were cool and we never had to run the air.  As a matter of fact, the apartment that we stayed in at Arcadia National Park on MDI did not even have that option!  

As the site historian for the Seal Cove Project, I was tasked with the study of Seal Cove's history.  Part of that history that we guessed pertained to the shipwreck was a lumber mill that sat just behind a bridge on Seal Cove Stream just at the outlet into Seal Cove.  The mill ceased operation, fell out of use by 1909, and was torn down by 1928.

Clipping from Bar Harbor Times and photo from William O. Sawtelle Center at Arcadia National Park
This picture of the old bridge just in front of the mill intrigued me.  The reason that it did so was the bridge that was there now... a sturdy, yet uncomplimentary affair designed with pragmatism in mind and not so much style.  Still, it seemed to sit further back than the one in the Sawtelle photo.  I began to wonder about the bridges that once existed at Seal Cove.

I became fascinated with the bridge’s history and discovered that there have been at least three bridges at Seal Cove outlet.  Aerial photos in 1966 showed the path of the road (Hwy 102) as it crosses the stream and the 1928 bridge just prior to demolition.  

1966 Aerial Photo and a modern-day Google Earth shot of the same location.
The bridges date 1808-1928 (probably more than one), 1928, and 1969.  Kevin McLaggin at the Maine DOT office was very helpful in finding old photos of the three last known bridges, which, by far, show that the 1928 bridge held the most awe-inspiring architectural beauty.  

Pre-1928 DOT photo of the old bridge with the Heath General Store on left and the W.W.A. Heath homestead right background.  The picture is taken from the former lands of Hiram Flye, farmer and shipbuilder and a contemporary of William W. A. Heath. 

1928 Bridge - Photo from Tremont Historical Society Collections
Dating the bridges aided also in understanding the disposition of the mill since it was so closely-related to the oldest known bridge.  In the days before a bridge, access south was obtained by a ford across the cove itself, indicated on Salem Towne Jr’s 1808 map.  So, the first bridge to be built across Seal Cove Stream would had to have been after that.  In fact, there may have been several, since they were composed of wood and decayed faster than modern bridges.  We have no data on those bridges. 

The DOT information was vital in determining the dates of the last two. Plans for the construction of these two bridges show that the last wooden bridge was closest to the cove itself, the 1928 bridge was built just north of the old wooden bridge, and the 1969 bridge was built in a much different location far to the north of the 1928 bridge, to allow for the lessening of the curvature of Highway 102.  

Composite of bridge photos, 1928 plans, and Google Earth image showing the same region.
 In 1969, the present bridge was constructed in a much different location.  As the picture above indicates, Highway 102 was straightened quite a bit to remove the hairpin curve at the entrance to the bridge built in 1928.  The advent of better and faster cars had a great influence on this change no doubt.  Sharp curves had become deadly... they weren't so bad when your horse-drawn carriage was making its way with fresh-cut lumber or produce.  

The plan for the 1969 bridge is below:

1969 Bridge Plan from Maine DOT

Here is the best shot available for this bridge, not nearly as beautiful as the artistic 1928 version:

The best part of researching on Mount Desert Island, mostly a tourist site, was the food.  We had beer, lobster, beer, seafood pizza, beer, and more beer.  And, still, we got some work done.  :)

Well, the trip back home was great!  I got to eat in a pub in Boston that reminded me of Cheers... right outside the train station.  I also got to stroll through Union Station in Washington, DC... a virtual Amtrak-World complete with a Barnes and Noble!  All in all it was a great trip!


Hopefully, at the end of 2017, I will be finished with my newest book: Dictionary of Pyrate Biography, 1713-1720 which will attempt for the first time ever to re-discover pirate history without using A General History. I guarantee a lot of surprises!

Please keep up with updates on my website at

Meanwhile, visit my Lulu page for already published material, including Quest for Blackbeard! 

Quest for Blackbeard is 15% OFF ALL PRINT FORMATS now at:

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1 comment:

Baylus C. Brooks said...