Opinion

Oh, the history in a map

Displayed on the Nylander Museum wall next to the life-sized wax figure of Olof Nylander is a huge map, six feet tall by four feet wide, circa 1920s-1930s. The map shows many features in Aroostook County that were very important 80 to 90 years ago, and stretches from the town of Madawaska to the north and Fort Fairfield and Presque Isle to the south.

There are 14 separate towns depicted, along with three townships. Each of these towns has country schoolhouses. The map shows the location of all 97 school buildings with their names.

Most of these buildings of learning were constructed in the mid- to late 1800s and early 1900s. This was a time when children would walk to school or take their ponies to class, a time when roads were not kept open in the winter. Access to school needed to be close to home. These county schools usually had one or two rooms providing instruction to children from grades first through eighth. Students who wished to go to high school boarded in the large towns that had high schools.

These county school houses were often named for the families who donated the land for the building. Exceptions were the St. John Valley, where many of the schools were numbered, for example, 1 through 12. Some folks paid their property taxes by delivering wood for the winter semester at these country schools. All the schools were heated by wood or wood and coal in the coldest part of the winter.

Also of interest on this map are the many named sidings on the three railroads that were extensively used at this time. Most of these sidings or spurs were used to load potatoes on box cars. Potato storages along these spurs began shortly after the rail lines were completed. The Canadian Pacific was the first to enter the County from New Brunswick. Then in the 1890s, the Bangor and Aroostook entered Aroostook County from the south, and finally the Aroostook Valley Railroad started in 1919.

Many of these sidings were named for the families that built the first potato house at the location. The Aroostook Valley Railroad made a loop to Caribou, Presque Isle, Washburn and New Sweden. A few sidings were used for multiple purposes, such as shipping finished wood products, long and short lumber, cedar shingles, and clapboards. Many high school students in later years could live at home and take the train to school from one of these sidings.

Find your favorite spot in The County on this map and see what was popular at the time.

This column is the work of members of the Nylander Museum’s board of directors.

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