August 29, 2012

Thoreau Spring Plaque

Thoreau Spring Plaque

In 1846, Henry David Thoreau ascended from a nearby campsite on the West Branch of the Penobscot toward what is now known as Baxter Peak.  It seems clear that Thoreau climbed a significant part of the way toward the peak and almost assuredly above treeline, most likely ascending near the current Abol Slide or somewhere between Baxter Peak and South Peak, but poor weather prevented Thoreau from reaching the summit.  Thoreau’s subsequent writings about his experience on Katahdin and in the Maine Woods had a great and lasting effect on people’s view of the region. Fannie Hardy Eckstrom wrote of the influence of Thoreau’s writing, “So, though, he was neither woodsman nor scientist, Thoreau stood at the gateway of the woods and opened them to all future comers with the key of poetic insight.  And after the woods shall have passed away, the vision of them as he saw them will remain…. Indeed, this whole description of Katahdin is unequaled.”[i]   

Nearly eighty years later in 1924, Percival P. Baxter concluded his political career after failing to win the Republican party’s nomination over Owen Brewster of Dexter, Maine.  Brewster went on to become Governor of Maine and in 1925 he climbed Katahdin with great fanfare as the first sitting Governor to climb Katahdin.  The site of the spring at the junction of the Abol and Hunt Trails was christened “Governor’s Spring” in 1925 and demarcated by an engraving on a rock near the spring that read:

Named in honor of Gov. Ralph O. Brewster,
the first sitting Governor to climb
 Katahdin while in office.
Willis D. Parsons, Comr.

 Later in his career, Brewster used photos of his climb to help promote his proposal to create a national park centered around Katahdin.  Brewster’s national park proposal arose during Baxter’s work to create the Park and Baxter worked ceaselessly for two years to defeat the proposal.  In 1933 Baxter completed the purchase of the first parcel of what would eventually become Baxter State Park.  Baxter directed that “Governor’s Spring” be renamed “Thoreau Spring” and he directed that a plaque be installed in a location near the spring.  This was installed and a photo of the plaque exists in the Park’s archives.  It can be assumed that the original chiseled demarcation of Governor’s Spring was removed at this time for it is no longer extant at the site.

Sometime over the years, the original 1933 plaque was stolen or removed.  On August 22, 2012, almost eighty years again from the date of the installation of the original plaque and more than 160 years from Thoreau’s ascent of Katahdin, we installed a replacement plaque for Thoreau Spring.  The wording is identical to the original as specified by Percival Baxter.  The day was windy and cool with clouds obscuring the landscape from time to time – a typical day on the Tableland.
Thoreau Spring Tablet, installed 8/22/12

I want to thank Bill Greaves of the Maine Forest Service and MFS pilot Lincoln Mazzei for their critical support in this effort – we would not have accomplished it without their help.  BSP Resource Manager Rick Morrill was also a great work-mate in this mission.

I hope the plaque remains in place for at least another 80 years

[i] From Hakola, Dr. John W.; Legacy of a Lifetime, The Story of Baxter State Park., The Baxter State Park Authority, 1981; p. 16