WHITEFIELD — Town officials are working with the Maine Department of Transportation and the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office to make Whitefield roads safer for horse-drawn buggies and other vehicles after two minor traffic accidents involving members of the Amish community.

A horse-drawn buggy was rear-ended Oct. 4, and there was also a minor accident on Sept. 28, Select Board Chairman Tony Marple said. Nobody was injured, but there was damage to the vehicles, and the incidents prompted the Select Board to begin talking about ways to make the town safer for its Amish residents.

“I don’t think anyone’s comfortable, because it’s a tough situation,” Marple said Thursday. “We’ve had a lot of input, and it’s an ongoing conversation.”

According to the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, George Bronn, of Whitefield, was driving north on East River Road when he tried to avoid striking the rear of a horse-drawn carriage. He skidded into the southbound lane and then struck the back of the carriage. The carriage, being driven by Henry Miller, was pushed into a ditch on the northbound side. Nobody was injured, but the incident prompted local officials to take a closer look at vehicle safety in Whitefield.

“It seems like all the players are willing to commit to solving the problem, but there’s no quick solution,” Chief Deputy Rand Maker said. “I’m happy that people weren’t at the meeting to attach blame but instead to find solutions.”

Marple said he hopes to have a meeting with members of the Amish community as early as next week to discuss some of the Select Board’s ideas, and Maker said he already has spoken with some of the Amish, who have expressed a desire to work with officials on making the roads safer. No one appeared to be home Thursday afternoon at any of the properties believed to be occupied by Amish families.


“They are certainly aware of the risks when using (a buggy), and they are interested in taking steps to reduce the risks,” Maker said.

Maine Department of Transportation engineer David Allen said the department will add mileage information — such as “Horse and Buggy next three miles” — underneath the existing warning signs. They also might add additional signs at specific points around Whitefield, depending on where the Amish typically travel, he said.

The meeting provided an opportunity to start a conversation among all the parties, Allen said. He said the meeting was a good first step, and Allen recommended the town consider getting its own electric driver information signs that can be moved around.

Maker said there is an electric sign on East River Road, and the sheriff’s office plans to move it around Whitefield during the next few months in hopes of alerting as many motorists as possible to the presence of horse-drawn carriages.

“There’s no quick solution to the problem, but hopefully with time, education and public input, I’m hoping we can avoid any real tragedies,” Maker said.

In May 2014, a station wagon struck a horse pulling a buggy — carrying four Amish children — in Aroostook County. The horse was killed, and the children weren’t injured. Maker said he has spoken with law enforcement officials in Waldo County, where there’s an Amish community in Unity, and they said that town experienced similar problems soon after the Amish arrived.


“With time, though, the community began to expect the horse-drawn buggy, and their number of complaints reduced drastically,” Maker said. “The sign we have now is flashy and will get people to pay attention.”

The Millers and at least two other Amish families moved into Whitefield and Jefferson in the spring after coming to Maine from New York state and Kentucky. Whitefield officials added horse-and-buggy signs in preparation for their arrival.

Marple said there is still a lot to be done to educate residents and motorists. He said there will be an article in the next Whitefield newsletter, and he said there are places around Whitefield where the road can be cleared, allowing the Amish vehicles more room to operate. Marple said it’s important to put signs in areas where the Amish travel, and he hopes to get more information about their routes if the Select Board meets with members of the Amish community.

The board also has discussed adding larger signs on specific roads entering the town that would read “Welcome to Whitefield. Beware of horse-and-buggy.” He said that type of sign would have to be included in the annual budget, but it is something they’ll look at for next year.

Widening the roads would be a solution, albeit a costly one. There has been no talk of investing in widening certain Whitefield roads, Allen said, but he added that he can’t say for sure if that is something that will be considered in the future.

Cooper Road doesn’t have a shoulder, and Route 218, where the other accident occurred, doesn’t have much of one, Marple said.


“Awareness is 100 percent the key to all of this,” he said.

No injuries were reported in either of the two accidents, so the Whitefield Fire Department wasn’t called to the scenes. Fire Chief Scott Higgins said no matter how many signs are displayed, it’s up to individual drivers to be aware that they may encounter a horse and a buggy while driving through Whitefield.

“People just have to be cautious, because they are all through the area,” Higgins said. “The town has done well putting signs up, but drivers just need to pay attention.”

As more Amish people move into Whitefield and other central Maine communities, Marple said discussions will continue on how best to make the busy thoroughfares, through streets and back roads safe for everyone.

“People are really happy to have the Amish here, and we want to protect them,” Marple said.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663


Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: