You stand on the side of Hopkins Stream beside the Blake Hill Road bridge, preparing to launch your canoe where Ron and Nancy LaRue generously provide public access to the stream.

Admiring the LaRue’s handsome brick house across the road, you don’t know that those bricks were made just a few hundred yards away at the foot of Minnehonk Lake, behind my house. An old kiln and hundreds of discarded bricks litter the woods there.

Perhaps you gaze upstream, unaware of the box and board factory and the tannery that stood at each end of a dam there. The box factory was the last to go, burning to the ground in 1911. Now the dam is gone too.

A lot of history slides by as you glide downstream, enjoying the laconic meandering waterway.

The first things you slide by are the cranberry plants that dot both sides of the stream, plants that once provided a thriving commercial cranberry business. When you get to the camp downstream on your left, you won’t realize that it was built to process those cranberries.

As your eyes wander to admire the wetlands and forests on both sides of the stream, you won’t imagine the open farm fields that once bordered the stream all the way to west Mount Vernon.

You’d have to get out into the woods, and see the barbed wire still clinging to old fence posts, to get a glimmer of just what that landscape looked like back in the days when more than half of Mount Vernon’s 25,000 acres was cleared farmland. Today, less than 700 acres of open farmland remains.

Gaze to your left and imagine a time before the Revolutionary War when a group of loggers from Lewiston camped on the hill, the highest spot in Mount Vernon. One man climbed a tall tree to scout for those huge “King’s” pines that were used for ship masts. The climber was a man named Bowen and the hill still bears his name today.

Two of the town’s first families established farms on Bowen Hill, raising mostly corn where you now see nothing but trees.

When you get to “Three Rocks” you just passed, on the left, the camping place of a group of Penobscot Indians who spent time there each year, making baskets from nearby ash trees and sweet grass. Then the paddled all the way to the Androscoggin River and sold their baskets as they made their way down the river.

Listen carefully and perhaps you’ll hear the cries of glee of the group of Campfire Girls, including Ruby Robinson, who followed a blazed trail along the west side of the stream to the Indian encampment so many years ago.

The Indians “pounded a section of ash log, still full of sap, until the annual growth layers separated, and these they used for making baskets,” related Ruby. “With their guidance, each of us made a small basket to take home. The Indians took us back up the stream in their big canoes, standing tall and straight as they paddled.”

They probably stood taller and straighter than you do paddling your canoe downstream.

Here’s something else to look for. In the lower section of stream you will find a boulder with someone’s initials carved into it. Find out whose initials they are and why they are there. Nearby, you’ll notice a pyramid of rocks under water. Figure out what critter made the pile, and why.

You may see a nesting loon nestled into the reeds, halfway along on your trip, or a trio of deer swimming across in front of you. Perhaps our resident great horned owl or eagle will be settled high above the stream in their usual spots, or one of our great blue herons will burst from the grass beside you.

If it’s November, you might spot someone hunting deer from a canoe. One year, I shot a 200-pound buck just before sunset, and by the time I got it into the canoe and paddled back home, it was pitch black.

As I approached the bridge, my wife Linda and 5-year-old son Joshua were on the bridge, watching for me. Lin shined her flashlight into the canoe and Josh spotted that big buck. “Great fishing, Dad!” he exclaimed.

Hopkins Stream carries many stories in its slow current. Make some of them yours.

 

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.

 

 


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