SKOWHEGAN — The log drives that brought raw material to the pulp-hungry paper mills that brought industrial development to river cities throughout Maine are recalled in a new exhibit at the Skowhegan History House Museum & Research Center.
It wasn’t a ribbon-cutting this week to open the museum’s summer season — it was a log cutting.
In keeping with the theme of the new exhibit, “Old Kennebec — Skowhegan’s First Highway,” a ceremonial length of fir — the type of pulp wood that once clogged the Kennebec River during the log drives — was cut with a bow saw by museum curator Benjamin Doty and summer volunteer Sam Wheeler, both of Skowhegan.
“You can just picture thousands upon thousands of those endlessly going down the river you’ve got a visual of what’s been going through my head the last few months,” Doty said of his work to prepare for the new exhibit. “The river itself is literally and figuratively a part of Skowhegan. The community wouldn’t be here, or at least wouldn’t be what it is, without the river.
“The log drive is one of the most colorful and interesting illustrations of this — it was the economic driver of the town of Skowhegan.”
In many ways, the log drive is a lost way of life, Doty said, but it is still part of the living memory.
As one-time log driver David Calder, of Skowhegan, played guitar and sang songs of the days when workers would steer logs down the Kennebec and other rivers, videos of Calder, 63, as a young man were shown during the drives that ended in 1976.
The display shows the river as the first highway, a 170 mile aquatic journey from the forested upper reaches of the river where it is met by the Dead River in The Forks. The highway began as Indian foot trails, not yet wide enough for wagons. The river was the conveyor of pulp and created thousands of jobs along the way.
The exhibit features the written and pictorial history of the river and the region, along with tools — axes, hooks and chains — and a 12-foot-long pike pole used to guide the floating logs.
Former Skowhegan Town Manager Patricia Dickey, who worked downtown during the days of the log drives, said the annual event brought people, jobs and money to town.
“There was always activity — there was a lot of work, a lot of jobs for the local people,” she said. “I think the exhibit is wonderful; we’re very fortunate to have the History House, this place is the best kept secret. This is really honoring the log drives.”
The Skowhegan History House at 66 Elm St., is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday until mid-October. Admission is free, but a $5 donation is suggested. Visit on the Web at www.skowheganhistoryhouse.org or like them on Facebook.