Friday, November 3, 2023

Raymond’s early waterway alterations continue to affect town’s history

By Ernest H. Knight

Virgin lands, as molded by nature, have depressions that fill with water to depths depending on the retainability of the soil and the contours of what become outlet streams.

The Jordan River and Panther Run waterways below the
Mill Street dam in Raymond are shown in a 1906 postcard
by G.W. Morris of Portland. COURTESY PHOTO 
These outlets were the focus of the pioneers to provide waterpower for their sawmills, grist mills and other activities on which depended the success of their new communities. Flowing watershed runoff could be harnessed by a dam and millwheel to raise the level and impound more stored water which lead to cherished water rights. 

Thus Joseph Dingley, the first settler of part of Raymondtown, picked the outlet of Thomas Pond and Dominicus Jordan selected the Jordan River outlet to Sebago Lake near present Route 302, for their home sites with mill purposes in mind.

The proprietors of Raymondtown had already spotted and reserved the best site of all, the outlet of Panther Pond at present Mill Street, for their control. So, most bodies of water in the town after the raising of dams are higher now than in their primeval state though some, through neglect of their dams, reverted to their original or lower levels.

To start with the “hayth” at the foot, actually the headwaters of Thompson Pond in Casco, was farmland with dwellings and a road through it and extends into the adjacent Hog Meadow which were flooded by raising a dam at Craigie’s Mills, Oxford Village, on the outlet of the Little Androscoggin. Pleasant Lake, once Greater Parker Pond, was separated from Parkier Pond by a stream through farmland once traversed by a road now abandoned to a swamp.

Little Rattlesnake (Raymond Pond), Great Rattlesnake (Crescent Lake) and Painter (Panther) Ponds would all have been smaller in area and with more large islands, some of which are now underwater shoals that are hazardous to boats. Tenney and Jordan Rivers would have been mere trickles except during the spring runoff conditions. Nubble Pond supported a busy sawmill by its dam before which it was little more than a swamp to which it is gradually returning by natural process. And the dumpling ponds, now Coffee and Dumpling, were probably of little importance without their dams as they had very limited watershed area to draw from.

The natural level of Sebago Pond, now Sebago Lake, would have been determined by the natural falls of the Presumpscot River, and was raised by a dam at the falls and a long dike in the 1820s to provide water for the Cumberland & Oxford Canal then being dug and again in the 1880s to provide for more water for mills on the Presumpscot River.

This had a great effect on the shores of Raymond and Casco, which originally extended to Brandy Pond and Songo River, to make passage of canal boats possible and destroyed the Chute River which had been the shortest river in the world (a companion to the Songo as the most winding). Even though with the first level increase it was necessary to dig a ditch from the Songo a half mile into the lake, with sheathing spiked to piles which can still be seen submerged by the later level raising.

Some of the Dingley Islands became the rocky shoals that are now boat hazards. Standish Cape, now Raymond Cape, being surrounded by deep water has not changed much except at Camp Cove which is now swampy, but which once was a busy picnic and religious camp meeting area accessible mainly by boats.

Isaac Whitney’s land on Deep Cove Shores Road had a hill on it which became Whitney Island on which was built The Venice, a girls’ summer school in the late 1800s. The shoreland past Raymond Village to the Jordan River was a dense pine forest but now reduced to a flourishing growth of cattails. The Jordan River became lined with wharves for canal and later steamboats, though under very low water periods these boats had to move to a wharf at the end of Wharf Road from Raymond Village.

At the time of the last level raising of Sebago in the 1880s, property values of the shorelands were valuable enough that flowage rights had to be acquired and compensation paid, but there are some properties that were not so settled and in case of damage by high waters, their owners received payment from the Presumpscot mill and power water rights holders, mainly S.D. Warren Company.

Anyone looking at the shores of our scenic waters might visualize Indian canoes landing at seemingly logical spots, but in most cases their actual landings were offshore in deeper water. Fortunately, our waters are still beautiful though vulnerable to today’s environmental dangers, but there will probably be no more changes caused by dams, mills, or shore alterations. <

This article was written by the late Ernest H. Knight, one of the founders of the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and contained in his book “Historical Gems of Raymond and Casco.” It was submitted by the Raymond-Casco Historical Society and articles about Raymond history from the historical society will appear regularly in The Windham Eagle newspaper. To find out more about the Raymond-Casco Historical Society, call Frank McDermott at 207-655-4646.

No comments:

Post a Comment