Why Presque Isle:
Presque Isle is in the extreme north of Maine very close to the Canadian border. The region has an airport where the only route is an Essential Air Service flight to Newark, NJ operated by United.
I decided to go because the flight cost 1/3 that of any other city in Maine and September was probably the final month of the year where it is warm enough to be up there. Additionally, the Sunday flight back to Newark is at 6:40 am. Normally, I would be disappointed by “wasting” a weekend day but, I picked a weekend where I had a commitment on Sunday night so I wouldn´t feel so bad about taking such a short trip.
I had been to Maine as my 50th and final State in 2019. While my journey through the state did not take me to Presque Isle, I did go into a town in New Brunswick, Canada just 30 minutes from Presque Island where I stayed on a farmhouse and had an incredible conversation with a local family.
So, Presque Isle it was for late September.
September 23, 2022: Through the Remnants of Fiona
The flight left from a remote bus gate in Newark. It seemed that most people on the plane lived in northern Maine. The guy next to me on the plane was a photographer heading to shoot (pun intended) a moose hunting marketing campaign for the outdoors store Cabela´s.
The flight flew straight through the remnants of Hurricane Fiona and was quite bumpy. 90 minutes later, the Embraer 175 landed at Presque Isle International Airport. The terminal was quite small, but there was a terminal.
Despite landing at 23:30, the car rentals were all open. My car was from Ace, but it turns out that all three companies: Ace, Avis and Budget are all owned and operated by the same people.
I then drove the 5 minutes to my Airbnb near downtown Presque Isle. My host, Mona, left a handwritten note welcoming me to Presque Isle. How sweet!
I went to bed around 12:30 am, excited for my one big day in Aroostook County.
September 24, 2022: The French and the Swedes
I woke up around 8:00 only to discover that Mona had penned another letter to me. This one said she was sorry to not be able to greet me since she was going to be helping a friend move.
I then took off in my car and headed north along US-1.
After passing through the town of Caribou which claims to be America´s northeasternmost town, I entered the St. John River valley which separates the US from Canada. This is Acadian country.
The Acadians are French settlers that came to eastern Canada and a tiny sliver of Maine in the 1600´s. As a result of the 1763 French and Indian War, the English took Acadia and deported the Acadians. First, they went to back to France, but the Acadians then made their way down to Spain where they secured passage to the then-Spanish territory of Louisiana. The Acadians that came here became known as Cajuns.
After the war and into the 1800´s, Acadians were slowly allowed to resettle their lands. While the vast majority of Acadians still live in Louisiana, there are 30,000 in the towns of the St. John River Valley and another 100,000 or so in Canada.
My first stop was a short hike to try to reach the northeastermost point in USA. The actual point in unmarked so I don´t think I reached it, but it was so nice to be in the woods during fall.
Continuing north, I passed through small villages with Acadian flags proudly flying from every house. In Grand Isle, I stopped in a bakery to get some breakfast – a slice of apple pie. The family running the bakery spoke French with the Cajun accent. The bakery also sold souvenirs including those wooden posters seen in many country homes with cheesy slogans such as “Relax, you´re on lake time”. However here, many of these signs were in French! Despite the geographic differences, the Cajuns and Acadians have such a similar culture!
The region has a bunch of attractions such as a church and an Acadian village, but by mid-September they were already closed for the long winter.
In the town of St. David, I visited the Acadian cross monument which is outdoors and therefore does not close. Along the path to the 5-meter-tall cross were plaques commemorating 20th and 21st century reunions of descendants of specific original 17th century Acadians. It is amazing that the family trees are so intact and that so many would want to return.
Just below the cross is access to the St. John River and Canada just beyond.
Further north in the town of Madawaska is the strange Four Corners Monument which commemorates the 1983 Southern California Motorcycle Association´s “Four Corners Tour”. Participants were given 21 days to visit 4 checkpoints representing the 4 corners of the United States. They are San Ysidro CA, Blaine WA, Key West FL and Madawaska ME (I have now actually been to all 4 corners!). In 2004, a local man hoping to bring tourism to Northern Maine secured land to build a monument to commemorate this ride. The local Harley Davidson dealership helped and it has become a shrine for motorcyclists. Riders and Harley Davidson dealerships from around the country paid for plaques commemorating their journeys and celebrating the spirit of the open road.
15 minutes further up the gorgeous road was the town of Fort Kent. Fort Kent was built during 1839 bloodless Aroostook War, a part of American history completely lost to time.
After independence, the United States had not settled the remote northern boundary between what is now Maine (then Massachusetts) and Canada. When Maine gained statehood, this became an issue, as the US claim to the land overlapped with the British claim. In 1838-1839, Canadian lumberjacks entered the land claimed by the US and captured the American land agent sent to expel them. As a result, the US dispatched 10,000 troops and General Winfield Scott to protect the American interests. No shots were fired and eventually the situation was resolved diplomatically with the two sides splitting the land roughly evenly.
The wooden fort in Fort Kent is the only surviving structure from this bloodless conflict.
Also in Fort Kent is the northern end (or start) of US-1, the iconic coastal road ending in Key West.
I asked a random lady nearby to take my picture in front of the sign. She asked where I am from. After saying New York City we struck up a conversation. Just a few minutes later, I got invited to eat lunch with her and her two friends in town.
Beverly grew up in the nearby town of Stockholm, Maine. For a brief while she lived in Texas which is where she met the other couple before moving back. She lives with her husband who is also from Stockholm.
The Texas couple are in Maine with their church for a mission trip. They are helping to renovate an abandoned Christian youth camp near Stockholm, which I think was a coincidence (or God´s will depending on how you look at things). They reconnected with Beverly via Facebook.
By this point, the work had been completed and the church group had a free day before driving down to Boston the next day.
After a fantastic conversation during lunch, Beverly invited me to Stockholm to check out the town´s museum. At this point, how could I say no?!
We drove 45 minutes south along a more direct road to Presque Isle before detouring 3 miles into Stockholm.
Stockholm was founded as a Swedish immigrant colony established by the State of Maine in the 1880´s. Due to the wood mills, the town boomed and attracted not just Swedes but also Acadians. The 1940 census shows 1,100 residents. However, as the mills disappeared so did the people. The 2020 census reported just 250 residents.
The tiny town is situated along the Little Madawaska River. The town center contains a post office and the town museum in a 120-year-old general store.
The museum is a true treasure trove of artifacts and town history. It truly has EVERYTHING from antique kitchen items to a list of the winter carnival kings and queens to artifacts from every veteran to 100+ year old Nordic skis. I have never seen such an impressive small town history museum.
What made the visit even better was having Beverly explain the significance of all the items.
The museum is typically only open in the summer, but today they were hosting a haircut fundraiser for the museum. For $10, you can have Lois, a retired barber, cut your hair. Lois is not Swedish but was struck by the strong community and wanted to help.
I obviously had to get a haircut and it turned out great!
Back in Presque Isle, I returned to the house where I got to meet Mona. She was living in Florida when her husband died earlier this year. She wanted a change and decided to move up to Maine close to her extended family. To earn extra income and to meet people, she decided to accept borders in her house on Airbnb.
Mona clearly has a big heart and was just as welcoming in pen as in person. Faith seems to be an important part of Mona´s life. Hilariously, Mona knew all about the church group and met up with them earlier on their trip.
She helped me return my rental car at the airport and then we went out for dinner in a local restaurant.
After another great conversation, it was time to go to bed.
Then to bed.
The next morning, I woke up at 4:30 am, walked the 50 minutes to the airport and headed home. I landed in Newark at 9am.
Presque Isle is way off any tourist´s radar and that´s what makes it amazing. The landscapes are pretty, and the history is cool, but the people here are what made this place special. I met so many genuinely friendly and interesting people. I would love to go back in a heartbeat – preferably during the summer when everything is open.