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Houlton looking to use its history to attract tourists

HOULTON, Maine — Like any community that is more than two hundred years old, Houlton is rich in history.

There is the Hancock Barracks, established by the United States government back in 1828 as an active U.S. Army post before it was shut down in 1847. There is Camp Houlton, a prisoner of war camp that was in operation from 1944 to 1946. The site is located on what is now the Houlton Industrial Park and housed thousands of German prisoners of war who picked potatoes, chipped ice and harvested wood to support the Allied troops. There also are a number of buildings around the community that are now located on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Blackhawk Putnam Tavern, the Edward L. Cleveland House and the Cary Library.

Both Leigh Cummings, who is curator of the Aroostook Historical and Art Museum, and Town Manager Bill MacDonald have been discussing ways to attract more tourists to Houlton based on the historic points of interest in the community.

“I think that we can do a better job of highlighting our history,” said Cummings. “We have a number of buildings and artifacts here that are unique tourist attractions. We have been discussing ways that we could market them better.”

Cummings pointed out that the town has the museum, which has a number of historic items, as well as a spot in the community that features the only place where you can access U.S. Route 1 and U.S. Route 2 at the same time. He said that officials are discussing putting a sign up to better market that fact. He also said that the storyboards in Riverfront Park provide excellent details about the history of Houlton, and the genealogy section and website at the Cary Library is a key resource that assists people with tracing family histories.

“I believe that the first step that we need to take is to provide signage around town to market our assets,” he said. “That is a low cost thing to do. Also, it would be great if we could get volunteers to do some walking tours in the summer. The Tourist Information Center already provides maps for self-guided walking tours, but people providing the tours would be more personal.”

In Riverfront Park on Saturday, Anne LeClaire and her daughter, Jill LeClaire of New Brunswick, Canada, were visiting Houlton for the weekend. It was the first time that they had been to Riverfront Park and were reading all of the town’s history on the storyboards.

“What a great idea to tell the history of the town,” said Anne LeClaire. “You can learn so much about the community this way.”

Jill LeClaire said she wanted to visit the town’s museum, but only after she visited the skate park.

Her mother laughed, adding, “She is 12-years-old, after all.”

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