Henry Rolfe, early Aroostook potato farmer

Kimberly R. Smith, Special to The County
8 months ago

There is no denying the importance of the potato as an agricultural crop to the economy of Aroostook County.  Did you know that Maine produces 4 percent of the national potato crop with Aroostook County producing 96 percent of that?  

According to the Maine Potato Report from the USDA, Maine potato production is valued at $200 million with 54,000 acres planted.  Of the 13 states producing potatoes, Maine ranks fourth behind Idaho, Washington, and Wisconsin (and tying with Colorado).  

According to various sources, the very first acre of potatoes to be planted in Central Aroostook was on Henry Rolfe’s “wilderness” farm. Rolfe settled his farm in Maysville in 1840. At that time, the road from Presque Isle to Caribou did not exist and the covered bridge over the Aroostook River had not yet been built.

Everyone knows that farming is not an easy profession. The farmers of the 1800s clearly demonstrate this. Rolfe first had to clear the land of trees to plant. He cleared 16 acres of land just two miles north of the river. Rolfe planted one acre of potatoes, one of wheat, and the rest in oats. With no roads and no bridge across the Aroostook River, he had to carry his harvested crop in a sack through the woods on his back and row across the river to take it to market. Over time, his farm grew to several hundred acres and consisted of land on both sides of what is now US 1.  

Rolfe was born in Buxton, Maine (York County) on July 6, 1818 and moved to Presque Isle in the 1840s. Around 1861, he married Esther Lavina and together they had four children.  

He served as a captain of the 7th Maine Regiment, Company I (known as the “Presque Isle Company”) in the Civil War. The regiment was organized and mustered on August 21, 1861. This regiment saw action during the Battles of Williamsburg, Antietam, and Gettysburg. Rolfe mustered out on August 21, 1864.  

Rolfe passed away at the age of 84 on March 27, 1903. He is buried in the Johnson Cemetery on the Caribou Road in Presque Isle. His farmhouse still stands today on US 1 and is currently owned by the Keirstead family.