The Star-Herald

Mysteries of history

Anyone who has lived in a small town for any length of time can pretty much assure you that everyone knows everyone else’s business.  But, I bet there are still a few things about Presque Isle that today’s residents don’t know. 

For instance, did you know that there is a Model A Chassis embedded in the stream?  Or that there was once a bowling alley on Main Street for which the men that set the pins by hand actually laid underneath the street?  How about that Presque Isle once had a cigar factory — or a steamboat?  Do you know the location of the ice harvesting warehouse along the stream whose foundation walls can still be seen?  

Although a relatively small geographically remote community, Presque Isle has a rich history with direct ties to state, national and international history.  In fact, there are numerous “firsts” in our history.  One of those firsts involves the nation’s first radio listening post allowing the military to pick up radio broadcasts during World War II from our own bases and planes as well as those of our adversaries as far away as Africa.  

The building that is home to Cushman’s Embroidery on Maple Street was actually originally built to be a Nash dealership.  The Nash automobile was definitely far ahead of its time.  The automobile was designed in 1948 by Preston Tucker.  It had three headlights, the one in the center rotated to light corners as you turned.  The fenders retracted as you turned corners.  It had a padded dashboard, disc brakes, a rear engine, a roll bar, a collapsible steering column, and featured fuel injection. The windshield was made of shatterproof glass designed to pop out in case of collisions.  However, due to an SEC investigation and opposition from the other major automobile manufacturers, the company went kaput in March of 1949.  

Our Aroostook State Park, the first state park in Maine, was established in 1938.  At the time, the United States was suffering from “The Great Depression,” the longest-lasting and most severe depression ever suffered by this nation (1929 to 1939).  The president at the time, Franklin Roosevelt, began a series of federal programs known as “The New Deal” to turn the country’s economy around after the Depression.  One program was known as the Works Progress Administration or the WPA.  The WPA provided jobs and income to those unemployed during the Depression.  It put millions of mostly unskilled men to work on public projects such as building roads and bridges.  

One WPA project was centered right here in Presque Isle.  The project was to build a large ski jump off the north face of Quoggy Jo at Aroostook State Park, which is where our ski trails were located at the time.  Although the trees were cleared and the beginning of the jump was built, the project was abandoned when it was determined that the slope was too severe and no one would survive the jump.  If you look very carefully at the north slope, you can actually make out where the trees were cleared and the jump started.   

These relatively obscure facts and several others are the focus of Presque Isle Historical Society’s Amazing Mystery History Tour aboard Molly the Trolley on Monday, Sept. 6.  The trolley tour will take participants to the actual locations of these ‘history mysteries’.  This “rain or shine” tour will depart from the historic fire station at 1 p.m.  Advance reservations are required.  Tickets at the door ($10 pp).  

For more information on this tour or any of the other programs of Presque Isle Historical Society, visit www.pihistory.org.  Reservations may be made by calling (207) 762-1151 or emailing the Society at pihistoricalsociety@hotmail.com.  

Kimberly R. Smith is the secretary/treasurer of the Presque Isle Historical Society.

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