|Maine House||District 145|
|Maine Senate||District 2|
|Area sq. mi.||(total) 40.5|
|Area sq. mi.||(land) 35.9|
Total=land+water; Land=land only
[I-land FALLS] is a town in Aroostook County, incorporated on February 27, 1872 from Island Falls Plantation, once the township T4 R4 WELS.
The first white settlers arrived in 1842, just as the state’s northern boundary was finally settled. Levi Sewall was one, and he later bought a one-mile square tract, including the falls. His sons continued as active local citizens: David, a lumberman and county commissioner; Samuel, a farmer; and William who kept the large homestead built by his father.
By the 1850’s a steamboat was plying the waters of Mattawamkeag Lake towing logs and catering to tourists. The lake covers 3,323 acres, has a 22 mile shoreline, and an average depth of 17 feet.
In the 1880’s the town had three lumber mills, two grist mills, and cultivated wheat, oats, and potatoes. The community of 236 had a town hall that had “a school on the first floor, and a pretty hall on the second, used for town and religious meetings, and social entertainments.” [See George Varney below.]
A small park recalls Island Falls’ contribution to the Civil War, as well as its other veterans, and the bell of an earlier school house. An inscription on Robinson Mountain, (still labeled May Mountain in Delorme’s 2011 The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer) reported by the Bangor Daily News, reads:
Robinson Mountain, formerly May Mountain, was renamed to honor private George F. Robinson of the Eighth Regiment of Maine Infantry in the Civil War.
Private Robinson, a Maine hero, was credited with saving the life of Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William H. Seward, following an assassination plot April, 1865.
Island Falls has frontage on almost half of Pleasant Lake. The piece of land between Pleasant and Upper Mattawamkeag lakes is known as the Walker Settlement. It hosts a golf course and residential development near the lake shores.
Ava Chadbourne’s mid-twentieth century description is hard to improve upon:
There is no more picturesque town in all Aroostook County. The west branch of the Mattawamkeag enters the town near the northwest corner and, after flowing south for nearly two miles and being enlarged by the confluence of Fish Stream, sweeps madly through a rocky gorge and dashes over precipitous ledges, forming one of the finest falls in the country. In the middle of the falls is a small island, its rocky sides rising abruptly from the water and dividing the swift current. . . . After continuing its course for about three miles, the river empties into Mattawamkeag Lake, a beautiful body of water which covers a large portion of the eastern part of the town.
Several large homes point to the heady days when potato was king in the County. Though affected by the slowing regional economy and declining population, the faded downtown shows evidence of renewed investment interest. One of those houses was that of Governor Carl E. Milliken.
Another is the William Sewall house, described as it was in the 1870s by Andrew Vietze:
Built just a few year prior [to 1878], the Sewall house was not only at the geographic center of the tiny community of some 230 souls in the woods of Aroostook County, but it was also its social center, and it was ever a busy place. Four Sewalls lived in its seven bedrooms, and they were frequently joined by another resident or two as well as visitors popping in and out, often looking for their mail. This was the town’s post office, its only guest house, and arguably its finest house; there was always something in the oven, and visitors were made to feel welcome.
Chadbourne, Ava Harriet. Maine Place Names and The Peopling of its Towns.
A History of Island Falls, Maine, from its Settlement in 1843 to its Centennial Year 1972: and a collection of historical sketches. Compiled by Nina G. Sawyer. Island Falls, Me. c1972.
*Maine. Historic Preservation Commission. Augusta, Me. Text and photos from National Register of Historic Places: http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/nrhp/text/xxxxxxxx.PDF and http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/nrhp/photos/xxxxxxxx.PDF
Island Falls Opera House: 84001359.PDF
Sewall, William W., House: 82000740.PDF
Miller, Harriett Harmon. Mary Alice Sherman Sewall: a Biography Chinked with Fiction. Stamford, Conn.? The Author. c1984. (Warner, N.H. R.C. Brayshaw Co.)
“Mountain Immortalizes Assassination Thwarter.” Bangor Daily News.October 12-13, 1968. p. 10.
Newman, Sandra S. Life & Times on Pleasant Pond: Island Falls, Aroostook County, Maine. Van de Bogart Publishing. Santa Barbara, CA. Produced by Sea-Hill Press. c2010.
Stratton, Frances Morin Webb. My Life on the Line: Recollections of a Childhood . . . . The Author. c1985. (Old Town, Me. Howland’s Printing Co.)
Varney, George J. A Gazetteer of the State of Maine. 1886. p. 287.
Vietze, Andrew. Becoming Teddy Roosevelt: How a Maine Guide Inspired America’s 26th President. Rockport, Me. Down East Books. 2010. Quote from p. 13.
National Register of Historic Places – Listings
Island Falls Opera House
[Patten Road and Sewall Street]
This very large structure is typical of the kind of multi-purpose buildings that existed in many of Maine’s smaller communities. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries traveling entertainment groups, revivalists and speakers appeared regularly in small town “opera houses” or theatres such as the one in this building,which later became a movie house. Stores and a dwelling or two were often combined in the design. The Island Falls Opera House recalls rural town life of more than a century ago.
Mr. Columbus Lamb Pettengill, a lumberman from Vanceboro moved to Island Falls in 1893. The following year, he built a general store with a hall on the second floor. Within a year or two the residential wing was added. The land was bought from W. W. Sewall, and as was the case with most of Sewall’s deeds, it stated that the land would revert to the grantor if any intoxicating beverages were sold on the premises within the next one-hundred years. The Opera House was the home of all local and,traveling entertainments, balls, lectures, and revival meetings. These included the Gale and Hatch Revival Meetings, H. Price Webber’s Boston Comedy Company, Gladys Klark, Chautauqua, the Ethel May Shorey Company, Tinker’s Orchestra, and even the Bowdoin Glee, Guitar and Mandolin Club.*
Sewall, William, House
[Main Street] Beyond its importance as the former home of Island Falls’ first citizen, the owner of the Sewall House was a companion, guide, and lifelong friend of Theodore Roosevelt. Just after the former President’s death, William Wingate Sewall wrote his own biography of “T.R.” that describes Roosevelt in a very personal manner. The two men, though separated in their age and geographic location, retained their friendship from their first meeting, when T.R. was 18, until Roosevelt’s death in 1919.
Until his late teens Sewall worked as a frontier farmer, then in 1861 he went on his first log drive. He and his older brothers continued lumbering winters and having drives in the spring until 1920 when he was 75. In 1865 Sewall had the simple Greek Revival style house built by Osgood Pingree, a former neighbor and a classmate of Daniel Webster. Sewall’s home served as Island Falls’ first post office. It became well-known for its use as an “open house” for hunters on their way further north. While keeping the open house, in 1872 Sewall met young Theodore Roosevelt. During three successive fall hunting expeditions Sewall served as Roosevelt’s guide and companion. Although they differed in age by thirteen years, T.R. and Sewall became close friends.*