It's getting to be that time of year again, when many of us are planning that Thanksgiving, Christmas, or other miserable-cold-weather trip to relatives or to places that have nothing to do with relatives -- but most of our plans are about getting to Grandma's house, or someone else's.
So, about getting there (theyah in Maineiac) from here (heah in Maineiac), read my non-expert advise...a story thrown in, of course.
When I first came to Maine, I led a group of Baptist church youth leaders on a trip to Mount Blue State Park.
They didn't know the way. I didn't either, but I could read the highway route numbers on the map and on signs alongside the roads.
But I never had read a history of how those route numbers came to be. I have found a variety of websites that list route numbers today or lists books that contain histories of Maine's route numbers. I haven't read those books.
For example, in 1923, there was an atlas of Maine's roads, which appears to me to be the earliest. I also read of one road that was listed in 1910, but once I left that website I couldn't get back into it. I even found, but can't again, a story of road access points from the north woods. This had begun with logging trucks connecting with roads.
I do know that many roads were originally named, such as the Mariaville Road from Ellsworth to the village of that name, for the next town to which the road led. Now it is Route 180. And from Brownville Junction to Millinocket ran the Davis Road. Why it was called the Davis Road is a question, the answer I assume has to do with an early landowner or traveler of that road named Davis. The Davis Road is Route 11. Northwest of Millinocket is the Millinocket Lake Road, a smaller road that is not numbered but which leads to the lake of that name.
A governor, I believe Kenneth Curtis, encouraged the creation of the Maine Turnpike, numbered Interstate 95, a continuation of the interstate from northern Maine to Florida. Route 1, of course, was the first numbered highway in Maine, leading from one town along the way to the next.
So leading that church group to Mount Blue State Park, I simply followed the map. Every so often I hear an older Maineiac referring to a road by the name of the adjoining town. This no doubt was logical, as long as you were traveling by horse and wagon or shank's mare, because in one day or a few you wouldn't get beyond that next town. So the first farmers were along a road, which was built to help them haul their crops to market and get their necessary products from market, without their resorting to Maine's original routes, the rivers.
I also know that some towns were founded high on frost-free ridges or hills, such as Paris. Railroads that had to follow the lower riverbeds eventually brought the population -- and their homes and businesses -- down to those valleys, so they could use the railroads. Paris now boasts Paris Hill, an early settlement, and Paris, known as South Paris, which was close to the Little Androscoggin River and so lower and flatter.
The Androscoggin, Kennebec, and other rivers hosted the larger settlements.
But even now, 46 years after my pilgrimage to my new home in Maine, I use route numbers. One day a couple of tourists asked me where they could drive and find moose on their way west to New Hampshire. On a piece of 8.5 by 11 paper, I drew them a map, which included major towns, a lake or two, and route numbers. I'd still be there scratching my head should I have drawn that map using the old town-to-town names.
I can today tell you what route numbers to follow from Ellsworth or Bar Harbor to reach Mount Blue State Park. That takes a minute or so.
But want to find a local place, such as our house. Head on out the Bucksport Road and then.....I'm not going to tell you because supper isn't ready.
Of course, the Bucksport Road is Routes 1 and 3.
But our house is from the Bucksport Road.
Just like those guys from that Baptist church 46 years ago. They knew where they lived and how to get to where it was usually important for them to go.
I guess Mount Blue State Park wasn't their usual destination.
Want to get to Wellington from where? That's a pretty small place to find, even using route numbers. You can get there by following Route 150 and then head west on the Wellington Road. The only route in that town is Route 154.
I can tell you that generally Wellington is north of Skowhegan -- somewhere.
Describing it to a bus passenger the other day, I commented that in Wellington you might come across one person.
"And that person is probably wearing antlers," said another passenger who knows that area because he was raised nearby.
Where is nearby? Never mind those town-to-town road names. Get out your Maine Atlas and Gazetteer and turn to Map 31.
To find it, the good old days' road names are nowhere near as helpful as these good now days' maps, atlases, and route numbers.
Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at email@example.com.
Milton M. Gross Copyright 2013