Wiscasset's Community Trails
Welcome to Wiscasset’s Community Trails!
Welcome to this historic town on the shores of the Sheepscot River in midcoast Maine, where approximately 20 miles of trails are open for your enjoyment. These trails provide opportunities for recreation and good health as well as a chance to understand more about Wiscasset’s natural and cultural history. Here you can walk beside a salt marsh, hike through a quiet forest, wander along a farm field, steer your canoe down a saltwater river, and study fine examples of 18th- and 19th-century architecture.
Wiscasset’s story stretches back to prehistory; Americans Indians dwelt here for countless generations. The first English settlers arrived on the shores of Wis-casset Harbor on the Sheepscot in 1660. Not until 1729, after two wars with the Indians were over, however, did English immigrants and other New England settlers establish a permanent village here. In 1760, the village was incorporated into the larger town of Pownalborough, which, upon the establishment of the County of Lincoln later that year, became the county’s shire town.
Thanks to its ice-free saltwater harbor, the village grew, especially following the American Revolution. In 1794, the Lincoln County Courts and Goal (jail) were moved from the western parish of Pownalborough (today’s Dresden) to the eastern parish at Wiscasset Point, where they remain today. Dresden and Alna (first called New Milford) split off and incorporated separately that same year.
In 1802, what remained of the Town of Pownalborough changed its name to Wiscasset. The year 2010 marks the 250th anniversary of Wiscasset’s incorporation.
The meaning of the word “Wiscasset” has been the subject of debate. According to Indian Place Names of the Penobscot Valley and the Maine Coast by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm, the name derives from an Indian word and most likely means “the outlet…being descriptive of a location near the outlet of the harbor, with the implication that a bend in the river concealed it from one coming up the river.”
Wiscasset’s natural resources have defined more than its name; they have shaped its history. Here, the Sheepscot River widens to make a deep saltwater harbor with strong tides. In the past, the river provided transportation and a connection to key ports on the eastern seaboard, the West Indies, England, and Europe. It also provided food and jobs. The Sheepscot’s lobsters, fish, clams, bloodworms, and other species still support lobstermen, fishermen, and harvesters.
The town has three major streams, Montsweag Brook, Ward Brook, and Polly Clark Brook, which fueled sawmills in the 19th century. Clay soils provided raw material for brickyards. Plentiful forests supplied lumber for buildings and ships. The shoreline from Birch Point, south of the village, to the village served in the 19th century as an industrial area including mills, shipyards, a gristmill, and icehouses (before refrigeration, ice was sent by ship from Wiscasset to warmer climes on the Eastern Seaboard and down to the West Indies).
The industrial tradition on Birch Point made it an attractive place to build a coal-fired power plant, the Mason Station, in the 1940s. In 1972, connecting to infra-structure built for the Mason Station, the Maine Yankee nuclear power plant began producing electricity on Bailey Point in the Back River, the western arm of the Sheepscot. Both the Mason Station and Maine Yankee are now closed. Both properties are still valuable for their potential for future power generation.
Wiscasset’s forests nurture deer, occasional moose and bears, and many species of smaller animals, birds, insects, plants, and trees. Areas of fertile soil have supported farming since early days (three organic farms operate today); the stone walls that once marked farm fields are still evident in many places around the town. Salt marshes along the river provide important habitat for many types of birds. The town also encompasses small streams, wetlands, vernal pools, saltwater points and coves along the Sheepscot and Back rivers, and one “great pond,” Gardiner Pond.
The village that developed on the western side of the harbor in the 18th and 19th centuries included handsome wood and brick houses and civic and commercial buildings. Many are still standing, and Wiscasset’s outstanding architecture has long attracted admirers to the town. Wiscasset buildings have appeared in books, magazines, and newspaper articles. Most of the key historic buildings are within the historic district, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Ten buildings are part of the Historic American Buildings Survey (on record at the Library of Congress and online at its website). Two, Castle Tucker and the Nickels-Sortwell House, are operated as seasonal house museums by Historic New England. One, the Old Jail, is owned by the Lincoln County Historical Association and is also open seasonally to the public.
Wiscasset’s community trails are important for the stories of people and events that they represent, as well as for their environmental and recreational benefits. Daniel Sortwell, who was interested in agriculture, forestry, and forest steward-ship, gave 90 acres of forest to the New England Forestry Foundation in 1955.
A group of citizens interested in education, agriculture, history, and open space created the Morris Farm Trust in 1995. The presence of the Chewonki Founda-tion, a nationally known environmental-education organization, has resulted in several protected properties open to the public: Cushman Mountain, given to Chewonki by Margaret Stetson; the Eaton Farm and connected land, which Chewonki received as part of the natural-resources settlement after the closing of Maine Yankee; and Chewonki Neck. Citizens interested in conservation have made a commitment to protect these places and make them accessible to you.
We hope that you will enjoy and learn from all that you experience in the woods, fields, waters, and village of Wiscasset. Have a good time!
How to enjoy the trails
Trail maps and descriptions
Review the trail maps and descriptions of the trails online by clicking the link under: www.wiscasset.org/committees/conservation/. You can print the map(s) and descriptions of the area(s) you want to visit. You can also pick up hard copies of them in the office of the director of planning and development in the Wiscasset Municipal Building on Route 1.
Read the trail descriptions to get a sense of the type of trail you will be using. Remember that the descriptions provide only a general idea of the character of each trail. Also keep in mind that these trails are not regularly maintained and are quite rough. Although the descriptions give basic information, conditions vary from year to year, month to month, and even week to week. Wind and snowstorms can change the look of a trail and markers can become obscured by blow-down. Keep your bearings; know where permanent landmarks, such as roads and water bodies, are at all times. Take a compass, a cell phone, adequate clothing and water, and a hiking buddy. Check with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services at www.maine.gov/ddds/boh/ddc/epi/vector-borne/) for the latest health advisories on biting insects, including ticks. And then—enjoy your hike!
We welcome your improvements to the trail maps and descriptions. Contact any member of the Wiscasset Conservation Commission if you have recommendations for how to make a map or description more accurate and useful.
Using the trails
So that everyone may enjoy Wiscasset’s trails: LEAVE NO TRACE! Take nothing from the trails (except trash, if you come across it) and leave nothing. ATVs are not allowed on these trails, in order to protect the ground and keep the peace. Snowmobiles are allowed on designated trails in the Sortwell Forest. (For information on more snowmobile trails, contact the Wiscasset Sno-Goers Club.)
Wiscasset trails are open for the pleasure of the townspeople and visitors. When you use them, think of yourself as a trail steward—you are! Protect these trails for everyone’s benefit.
If you are interested in participating in trail clean-up and maintenance events, please contact any member of the Wiscasset Conservation Commission.
Maps and trail descriptions
The Town Overview map shows the general areas in Wiscasset where community trails are located. There are five specific trail maps corresponding to the five highlighted areas.
Map 1. Village Walking Trail of historic sites and scenic views
Click Map to Enlarge
Wiscasset village has a remarkable collection of historic houses and public and commercial buildings interspersed with views to the Sheepscot River and Wiscasset Harbor. This trail is a pleasant walk highlighting many interesting buildings. You can find more information about these and other Wiscassest buildings online at www.wiscasset.org/visit/community_assets/ and at the Wiscasset Public Library on High Street and the Lincoln County Historical Association in the Old Jail on Federal Street.
The Walking Tour begins in the center of the village at an architectural high-point, the Lincoln County Courthouse. You may park behind the courthouse
or along High Street.
The Wiscasset Public Library Walking Map is the basis for this trail. Copies of that map are available at the library.
1. Lincoln County Courthouse. 1818-1824. Oldest continually functioning courthouse in Maine. Additions made in 1952 and 1972.
2. First Congregational Church. 1909.
3. Nickels-Johnston-Lennox House. 1808. Victorian alterations made on exterior at the end of the 19th century.
4. Governor Smith House. 1792. Built by Judge Silas Lee. Inhabited later by Samuel Emerson Smith, who served as governor of Maine in the 1830s.
5. Wiscasset Public Library. 1805. Built as the Lincoln and Kennebec Bank.
6. Clark-Wood House. 1852. Built as a duplex by shipbuilder and trader Henry Clark and Captain George Wood.
7. Lennox House. 1844. Built for Captain Patrick Lennox, who mastered and owned many barques and brigs.
8. Carleton House. 1804-1805. Built by ship owner Joseph T. Wood. Traded to ship owner Moses Carleton for a hundred puncheons of rum.
9. Captain Tucker House. 1834. Built by Captain Richard H. Tucker.
10. Wood-Foote House. 1811-1824. Federal mansion begun by Abiel Wood, Jr. Due to proble
ms associated with the War of 1812, it was not completed till 13 years later.
11. Castle Tucker. 1807-1808. Built by Judge Silas Lee. Glassed-in portico added by Captain Richard H. Tucker, Jr., in 1859. Now owned by Historic New England and open to the public May-October.
12. Tempe Lee House. 1815. Built by Judge Silas Lee’s widow when she moved out of their mansion, Castle Tucker, which was mortgaged.
13. Joseph Emerson Smith House. 1864.
14. Page House. 1837. Carved wood figurehead on portico on front of house is of special interest. There is one like it on a house in Damariscotta.
15. Wiscasset Municipal Building. Police and fire stations, town offices.
16. Powder House. 1813. Built to store ammunition in the War of 1812 (which lasted till 1815).
17. Hodge-Taylor House. 1787.
18. St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. 1822.
19. Wiscasset Academy. 1807. Now houses the Maine Art Gallery.
20. Old Jail. 1809-1811. Now houses the Lincoln County Museum and the Lincoln County Historical Association.
21. Octagon House. 1855. Built by Captain George Scott.
22. Ancient Cemetery. Oldest grave is that of Joshua Poole, dated 1739.
23. Stacy House. 1827. Later the Wiscasset Inn, which suffered a fire around 1940 that destroyed the top floor.
24. Kinsgbury House. 1763. First two-story house on Wiscasset Point and has the oldest recorded history.
25. Johnston House. 1805. Home of Captain John Johnston. Johnston appears in Tales of the Sea by James Fenimore Cooper.
26. Colby House. 1789. Traditionally known as “Lilac Cottage.”
27. Franklin-Clark House. 1845. Known for most of the 20th century as the Bailey House.
28. Cook-Marean House. 1795. Built by Francis Cook, who was a friend of George Washington.
29. The Sunken Garden. In the foundation of the Hilton House Hotel (1843),
on the site of the Whittier Tavern (1769). Hilton House burned to the ground
in 1903. A few years later, Frances Sortwell, whose family owned the Nickels-Sortwell House across the street, asked her friend Rose Greely, a respected landscape designer and the first female graduate of Harvard’s landscape architecture program, to help her design a garden in the old foundation.
30. Nickels-Sortwell House. 1807-1812. Built by ship’s captain William Nickels. In the first half of the 20th century used as a summer house by the family of Alvin F. Sortwell, the mayor of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
31. Dana House. 1805. Built by Edmund Dana, the village apothecary.
32. Customs House. 1868-1869. Customs officials processed imports and exports here. Now a private residence.
33. Former Methodist Church. 1834-1835. Recently restored. The Town Clock
sits in the steeple.
34. Manasseh Smith House. 1797. Thought to be the first brick house in Wiscasset.
35. Tucker-Nash House. 1784.
Map 2. The West Woods and Morris Farm Trails
Click Map to Enlarge
The West Woods and Morris Farm Trails link more than 200 acres of woods and fields on three contiguous properties: the Sortwell Memorial Forest, the Town Forest (owned by the Town of Wiscasset), and the Morris Farm (owned by the Morris Farm Trust). Trails appear in colors corresponding to the names and descriptions below.
Beech Tree Trail (red): narrow, easy with moderate slope, a few wet areas, approximately ½ mile. Appropriate for walking, trail running, snowshoeing,
Blackberry Trail (white): parking, wide trail, easy hiking, approximately ¼ mile. Appropriate for walking, trail running, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, blackberry-picking in late summer.
Deer Run Trail (blue): narrow, easy hiking, level with narrow bridges over streams, a few wet areas, approximately ¾ mile. Appropriate for walking, snowshoeing, bird watching.
Elderberry Trail (white): parking, wide trail, easy hiking, approximately ½ mile. Appropriate for walking, trail running, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, elderberry- and blackberry-picking in late summer.
Great Escape Trail (pink): parking, wide trail, easy with moderate slope, approximately ½ mile. Appropriate for walking, trail running, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, bird watching.
Hemlock Trail (no blaze): parking, wide then narrow trail, easy with moderate slope, approximately ¼ mile. Appropriate for walking, trail running, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, bird watching.
Morris Farm Trail (white): parking, farm lane that changes to a wood path, easy with moderate slope, approximately ¾ mile. Appropriate for walking, trail running, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing. Please check in at the farmhouse to see if there is livestock you should avoid and whether dogs should be leashed.
Ridge Runner Trail (orange): wide trail, easy hiking, approximately ¼ mile. Appropriate for walking, trail running, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, bird watching.
Tall Pine Trail (white): wide trail, easy hiking, wet areas, approximately 1 mile. Appropriate for walking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, bird watching.
Woody’s Trail (in honor of the late Woody Freeman)(yellow): wide trail, easy hiking with moderate slope, approximately ½ mile. Appropriate for walking, trail running, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, bird watching.
Parking for the West Woods and Morris Farm trail system:
Wiscasset High School (272 Gardiner Road/Route 27)
Wiscasset Community Center (242 Gardiner Road/Route 27)
The Morris Farm (156 Gardiner Road/Route 27)
Wiscasset Primary School (146 Gardiner Road/Route 27)
Sortwell Memorial Forest (there are two entrances on the north side of Willow Lane with space for parking)
Map 3. The Water Trail
Click Map to Enlarge
This is a route for canoe and kayak paddlers. It begins at Memorial Pier on the Wiscasset waterfront, just north of the Wiscasset Yacht Club in the village. You can also access the Water Trail further south, from the Old Ferry Landing at the end of Old Ferry Road (by water: on the west side of the Back River just north of the former Maine Yankee site). From Memorial Pier, paddle south and enter the Back River just south of the old Mason Station. From the Old Ferry Landing, paddle north toward the bridge to Westport Island. Just south of that bridge is little Berry Island, which is a bird sanctuary. From your boat, you may see herons, ospreys, or eagles in this area. Please respect signs, which restrict access during certain seasons to protect the birds. Caution: Currents are very strong and erratic in this area, known as the Cosweagan Narrows. Check tides before you get on the water and use care.
At high tide, you might enjoy stopping off on the tip of the Eaton Farm Preserve for a picnic or a swim. Also at high tide, it’s possible to paddle up Montsweag Creek to town-owned land on the right side of the creek north of Chewonki Campground. (You might want to find this spot first by car. From Route 1, turn onto Route 144 and after you cross the railroad track, take the first right onto Chewonki Neck Road. Follow this and as it rounds the southern end of the airport, look for a small dirt road on the right, going down toward the creek through fields. It is before the sign for the Chewonki Campground. This is a public byway and ends at the creek.) Again: be sure to check the tides before setting out on the Water Trail.
Map 4. Cushman Mountain Preserve: Back River Trail
Click Map to Enlarge
This trail runs on a high, wooded property west of the Back River, north of the bridge to Westport Island. Park at the northern trailhead, on the short road that connects Birch Point Road to the Point East Road to Mason Station. The trail begins behind the concrete buttresses. Follow it around the Ice Pond (on your left) to the monument to Margaret Stetson, who gave this land to the Chewonki Foundation in 1989. Mrs. Stetson called this land “Foote’s Mountain,” honoring her great uncle Erastus Foote, Jr., who owned it in the early 19th century.
From the monument, the east trail leads easily to the Meadow, where you’ll get a scenic outlook south toward Cushman Cove and another northeast toward the harbor from the end of the peninsula. The west trail, of moderate difficulty, climbs to the 210-foot benchmark placed there by the U.S. Geological Survey, and continues 2.4 miles to the Westport Bridge Road (Route 144). The trail diverges (splits) just before the benchmark but reconnects in approximately ¼ mile. The Cushman Mountain Trail is appropriate for hiking, snowshoeing, mountain-biking, and advanced cross-country skiing. Motorized vehicles are not permitted on this trail. Parking at the trail’s end at the Westport Bridge Road is limited to one vehicle at most and is not recommended.
The trail on the Cushman Mountain Preserve is a middle section of the Back River Trail. The trails on Chewonki Neck and the Eaton Farm Preserve (see Map 5) are also sections of the Back River Trail.
Map 5. Chewonki Neck and the Eaton Farm Preserve: Back River Trail
Click Map to Enlarge
Chewonki Neck: Chewonki Neck is the westernmost peninsula on the Back River in Wiscasset. Most of it is owned by the Chewonki Foundation, an environmental-education organization, and is private. However, Chewonki has started work on a new, public trail that runs at least a mile along the eastern edge of the Neck, in forest with views of Chewonki Creek and the salt marshes. Access the trail at either end. The northern trailhead is on Chewonki Neck Road, just left of the sign (as you are facing it) for the Chewonki Foundation, which is on the left after you pass Chewonki Campground (a private campground) on the right and the road takes a sharp right away from the airport. Park alongside Chewonki Neck Road, across from the sign.
The southern trailhead is behind a small, three-vehicle clearing for parking, on your left after Chewonki Neck Road turns from asphalt to dirt and enters the foundation grounds. The lot is just opposite the entrance to Chewonki’s maintenance buildings and just before a brown telephone pole on the left (you’ll see tennis courts beyond, on the left). Keep your eyes open for bright orange plastic ribbons marking the trail; there are no other markers, and some of the orange ribbons have become obscured or disappeared altogether in the blow-down. This trail goes through a variety of terrain and vegetation. At the southern end, you will pass through a section that has been harvested fairly recently and now has young, waist-high pines. The trail runs very close to the shore of Chewonki Creek from the midsection north, and there are beautiful views of the creek and its salt marshes. In wet seasons, wear waterproof walking shoes, as you will cross several small streams and wet areas.
At a modest pace, with plenty of time to check out the views along the creek, this trail will take about an hour and a half. Most of it is flat but there are some short steep areas and, until the trail is cleared, lots of downed trees to climb over or bushwhack around. This would make cross-country skiing challenging. Hiking and snowshoeing are appropriate. You might see worm diggers or clam diggers on the mud flats of Chewonki Creek at low tide.
Eaton Farm links: The Eaton Farm was once a family farm on the Reidy Point peninsula, east of Chewonki Neck and Youngs Point, on the Back River. The Maine Yankee Atomic Power Company formerly owned the property, along with Bailey Point, the neighboring peninsula to the east, where the nuclear plant was located (it is now decommissioned). In 2007, after the closing of Maine Yankee, the Eaton Farm and another large property to the west were given to the Chewonki Foundation, an environmental-education organization located on nearby Chewonki Neck, as part of a natural-resources damages settlement. Chewonki established and marked trails for the public, installed a trails kiosk, and enlarged the parking area. There are now two main trails (with spur
s) and both include loops of a little over a mile.
South Loop: From the kiosk, facing south, you can access the south trail by walking southeast to the edge of the woods. The trail travels through forest before reaching the shore and then parallels the shore, giving beautiful views of the Back River and Chewonki Creek. Eventually the trail loops north, leaves the woods, and comes out into hayfields sloping up to the parking area. To the east, you can see Bailey Point, the former site of Maine Yankee. The trail is quite easy and at a moderate pace takes about an hour. It is suitable for hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.
North Loop: With your back to the kiosk, access the north trail from the northwest corner of the parking lot, between two large pines. The trail ascends through a tangle of slash and blowdown (and is not for the faint of heart or small children). The view from the top of the knob, however, is beautiful. Remnants of handsome stone walls are visible. On the other side of the knob, the trail follows an old logging road and then takes a left turn just before a Back River Trail marker on a tree, and runs down to Youngs Point Road. Turn right on the road and walk about 100 yards till you see the Back River Trail marker on a tree on the left. If you want to avoid the slash on the knob, walk down the access road from the kiosk to the Youngs Point Road, turn left, walk a short distance, then look to your right for the Back River Trail marker on a tree. Enter the trail and follow your map to find the beginning of the loop, which you can start from either end.
The trail follows the peninsula quite closely, affording unspoiled views of Chewonki Creek and the salt marshes. Keep your eyes open for black duck and other birds. This is a very quiet tidal creek. The loop takes a good hour and a half, allowing plenty of time for stopping to take in the view. There are some striking cliffs on the eastern side of the trail along Montsweag Brook and many old pines. Wear heavy shoes for climbing over heavy brush; waterproof shoes would help in certain areas during wet months. The trail is difficult along the northwest section, where it is very high and steep.
The Eaton Farm trails and the trail on Chewonki Neck are the southern sections of the Back River Trail. The trail on the Cushman Mountain Preserve (see Map 2) is also a section of the Back River Trail.
The Wiscasset Conservation Commission is grateful to the following individuals and organizations for their invaluable assistance:
Wiscasset Boy Scout Troup #201
Jay Robbins, Lincoln County Historical Association
Morris Farm Trust
Todd Souza, Director of Parks and Recreation,
Town of Wiscasset
New England Forestry Foundation
Bob MacDonald, Wiscasset Sno-Goers Club
Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association
Wiscasset Public Library
Wiscasset Community Center
Special thanks to Jeffrey Hinderliter, Director of Planning and Development for the Town of Wiscasset, for his encouragement; and to Paul Hoffman of Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association for his patient, careful work on the maps.
Wiscasset Conservation Commission
Spring 2010, Wiscasset, Maine
Anne Leslie (chairman)
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown,
for going out, I found, was really going in.”
“When we see land as a community to which we belong,
we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
A Sand County Almanac, 1949
“Tell your children to spend as much time as possible in the woods.”
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