The Flooding of Flagstaff

The Dead River Area Historical Society museum includes a memorial exhibit to the "lost" towns of Flagstaff Village and Dead River Plantation. 


Main Street of Flagstaff Village
Photograph courtesy of Dead River Area Historical Society

 

The Lost Towns of Flagstaff Lake

 

            The village of Flagstaff, which took its name from the flagpole erected by Benedict Arnold’s men during his famous march, drew its first permanent settlers in the early 1800s.  Settlers came for the soil of the Dead River floodplain, the power available from the outlet of the naturally-occurring Flagstaff Pond, and especially the area’s rich timber resources (Burnell and Wing 2010).

In the 1840s, Myles Standish (a descendent of the pilgrim of the same name) built Flagstaff’s grist- and sawmills, which were powered by a small dam on the outlet, known as the Mill Stream (Lamb 2009).  During the same time period, the area around Flagstaff Village was also being settled, including Dead River Plantation (Burnell and Wing 2010). 

For the next century, the people of Flagstaff and Dead River lived and worked, went to school and raised families here - but the towns were flooded in 1949 as the result of the construction of the Long Falls Dam.  Flagstaff Village was legally disincorporated, and its residents relocated (Maine Public Broadcasting 2000).




The diverted waters of the Dead River flood Flagstaff's remaining buildings
Photograph courtesy of Dead River Area Historical Society



The Fate of Flagstaff and Dead River

 

            The fate of the Dead River Valley’s lost towns was a product of the era of hydroelectric power in Maine.  Walter Wyman and his company, Central Maine Power, began buying up small, local power companies in the early 20th century, consolidating Maine’s electricity production.  Central Maine Power Company went on to build and operate a series of hydroelectric dams in Maine – but to do this, Wyman wanted to build a dam which would control the flow of the Kennebec River (Judd n.d.). 

            Originally, Wyman planned this dam at The Forks, where the Dead River meets the Kennebec.  Wyman’s plans met with opposition by legislator Percival Baxter, who would later become governor of Maine.  Ultimately, the Maine legislature chose to approve Wyman’s plan on the condition that he lease the state-owned lands his company would be flooding (Maine Public Broadcasting 2000).  Because of the cost of leasing the land, Wyman looked toward an alternative – which included the construction of a dam at Long Falls on the Dead River, sealing the fate of two small towns in the Dead River Valley (Burnell and Wing 2010).

            In 1930, Central Maine Power began purchasing the land that would be flooded.  In 1948 and 1949, the company hired

crews to clear the flowage area.  During the summer of 1949, smoke engulfed Flagstaff as the crews burned the brush that remained.  A year after that, the Long Falls Dam had been completed, its gates shut, and the towns of Flagstaff and Dead River were under water.  Some of the town's structures, like its schoolhouse, were razed; others were moved out of the path of the diverted Dead River; some, because their owners had not settled on compensation with Central Maine Power Company, remained standing as the flood waters rose in Flagstaff (Maine Public Broadcasting 2000).



Above: The home of Mae Savage
Below: The diverted waters of the Dead River flood the house
Photographs courtesy of Dead River Area Historical Society



            Today, the reservoir that covers what was once the village of Flagstaff is Flagstaff Lake, Maine's largest man-made lake.




Flagstaff Lake as seen from The Pines Market in Eustis, Maine
Photograph by A. Sylvester

 




The People of Flagstaff and Dead River


A July 4th, 1949 Boston Globe article describes Flagstaff's "Old Home Days"

Photograph courtesy of Dead River Area Historical Society with special thanks to Kingfield Historical Society


 

            The people of the flooded towns relocated.  Central Maine Power Company bought their properties, selling some houses back to families so they could be moved to higher ground (Broadcasting 2000).  Some former Flagstaff residents moved to neighboring towns like Eustis, which is home to Flagstaff’s and Dead River’s relocated cemeteries, as well as Flagstaff Memorial Chapel.

            In 1999, fifty years after the Dead River was diverted by the Long Falls Dam, the Flagstaff Memorial Chapel Association published There Was A Land: Memories of Flagstaff, Dead River and Bigelow.  The book includes stories of the lost towns from its residents and friends (Flagstaff Memorial Chapel Association 2001).


Flagstaff and Dead River Cemeteries today, relocated to Eustis, Maine
Photograph by A. Sylvester



Flagstaff Memorial Chapel in Eustis, Maine
Photograph by A. Sylvester




The villages of Flagstaff and Dead River were casualties of progress.  Interviews and writings by former residents convey the loss felt by all who had lived in the Dead River Valley.  Again and again, residents also describe a sense of inevitability as demand for electricity increased and outsiders touted the benefits of harnessing the Dead and Kennebec Rivers.  Maine’s industrial and individual power customers moved forward in part as the result of the sacrifice made by the people of Flagstaff and Dead River.






References

Boston Globe. "Maine Village About To Die Has Farewell Celebration." July 4, 1949.

Home: The Story of Maine -- Episode 204 "Power Lines". Maine Public Broadcasting. 2000.

Burnell, Alan L, and Kenny R Wing. Images of America: Lost Villages of Flagstaff Lake. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2010.

Flagstaff Memorial Chapel Association. There Was a Land: Memories of Flagstaff, Dead River and Bigelow. 2001.

Harkavy, Jerry. "Survivor's flood of memories: Progress put Maine village at the bottom of a lake 50 years ago." Associated Press, September 1999.

Judd, Richard. Walter Wyman and River Power. n.d. http://www.mainememory.net/sitebuilder/site/815/page/1225/display?use_mmn=.

Lamb, Jane. "Flagstaff Found." DownEast Magazine. October 2009. http://www.downeast.com/magazine/2009/october/flagstaff-found.

 


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