The Old Canada Road was originally a major trade route and immigration trail from Quebec to the Atlantic Ocean. The first money spent to develop the road came from the Massachusetts Legislature in 1813. The original Old Canada Road went down the west side of the Kennebec River to Anson. The Kennebec River defined a significant part of Maine, both in its geography and in its history. The river provided a major transportation route, first for Indians and later for colonists. During the American Revolutionary War, Benedict Arnold led American troops up the Kennebec in large open canoes (called bateau), for an ill fated assault on Quebec City. Later the river carried logs to the mills as late as the 1970s.
The Old Canada Road, a portion of which is also known as the “Kennebec Chaudiere” was later moved to the east side of the river starting at The Forks, Maine. Shadowing the river, Route 201 became an overland route to Quebec, conveying commerce and immigration in both directions. Between 1813 and 1859, more than 500,000 people immigrated to the manufacturing mills in Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Today the Old Canada Road Scenic Byway, roughly follows the old route from Solon to the Canadian border. With the road traveling along the Kennebec River, Wyman Lake and on through The Forks area, where the Dead and Kennebec Rivers converge, the traveler can experience endless scenic views of amazing waterways and spectacular mountainous vistas. North of The Forks, the road passes through forest lands with ample opportunities for wildlife sightings. Rest stops and way stations are embellished with informational kiosks and historic markers and includes scenic pullouts, such as Attean Overlook and Lake Parlin. North of Jackman, Maine, the road to the Canadian Border is again in the mountains and part of the great north woods working forest.
The Old Canada Road Scenic Byway is a corridor that seems specifically designed for people who love and appreciate the outdoors. The tourism amenities offered here add a touch of modern polish to the traditionally rustic nature of the area. Quaint villages along the way provide lodging, eating, outfitting and guiding services for all types of outdoor enthusiasts.
Along with being a Maine Scenic Byway, Old Canada Road is also a National Scenic Byway, making it one of only 125 routes in the country to garner the distinction.
Historical Sites Along the Way
The Solon Hotel
On October 31, 1893, Solon’s first hotel, the Caratunk House, was consumed by fire. Joel Herbert (Bert) Gray owner and operator of the hotel, rebuilt on the old foundation. A little over two years later, on November 11, 1895, he held the grand opening of his new hotel, the New Caratunk House, or Gray’s Tavern. The new hotel contained 30 guest rooms with an office, reading room, parlor, and family quarters on the first floor and a large ballroom on the top floor. Gray’s was a popular spot with the lumbermen and logging crews coming in or out of the woods. Turner Davis, the hotel clerk met every passenger train on a four seated wagon led by a pair of horses. Mr. Turner held this position until his death in 1934. The hotel advertised “chicken dinners served every day” and “lunched served between regular meals.” Gray’s Tavern operates today as the Solon Hotel.
The Solon Hotel is currently owned by Jim MacLean, who runs a bar on the first floor but no longer rents the rooms upstairs.
Old Canada Road Historical Society
The Old Canada Road Historical Society was founded when a group of regional historians came together around the work of archaeologists Barry Rodrigue and Alaric Faulkner, who together began a survey of the Canada Road in 1993.
In late November of 2009, the Society acquired a house in Bingham to use as its headquarters and began a series of renovation projects. The doors opened in a limited way during the summer of 2010, though there was still much work to do. We have maintained regular open hours on Fridays and Saturdays as we work on the huge job of organizing and cataloguing our holdings.
The Benedict Arnold Trail
In September 1775, early in the American Revolutionary War, Colonel Benedict Arnold led a force of 1,100 Continental Army troops on an expedition from Cambridge in the Province of Massachusetts Bay to the gates of Quebec City. The expedition was part of a two-pronged invasion of the British Province of Quebec, and passed through the wilderness of what is now Maine. The other expedition invaded Quebec from Lake Champlain, led by Richard Montgomery.
Unanticipated problems beset the expedition as soon as it left the last significant colonial outposts in Maine. The portages up the Kennebec River proved grueling, and the boats frequently leaked, ruining gunpowder and spoiling food supplies. More than a third of the men turned back before reaching the height of land between the Kennebec and Chaudière rivers. The areas on either side of the height of land were swampy tangles of lakes and streams, and the traversal was made more difficult by bad weather and inaccurate maps. Many of the troops lacked experience handling boats in white water, which led to the destruction of more boats and supplies in the descent to the Saint Lawrence River via the fast-flowing Chaudière.
By the time that Arnold reached the settlements above the Saint Lawrence River in November, his force was reduced to 600 starving men. They had traveled about 350 miles through poorly charted wilderness, twice the distance that they had expected to cover. Arnold’s troops crossed the Saint Lawrence on November 13 and 14, assisted by the local French-speaking Canadiens, and attempted to put Quebec City under siege. Failing in this, they withdrew to Point-aux-Trembles until Montgomery arrived to lead an unsuccessful attack on the city. Arnold was rewarded for his effort in leading the expedition with a promotion to brigadier general.
The Sterling Hotel
The Sterling Inn was opened 1816 by Joseph Spaulding Sr., who moved to Caratunk from Embden, and was called The Hotel at Caratunk. It was a stagecoach stop along the Canada Road, the primary trade route connecting Quebec to the Atlantic Ocean. At the time, it had just four guest rooms and no plumbing. Electricity was still several decades before it was widely used.
In 1836, upon the death of his father, Joseph Spaulding Jr. took over operation of the hotel for nine years before selling it to Joseph Clark Jr., a businessman from the Bingham area. The Clark family and their descendants ran the inn for more than 100 years, with Clark’s son, daughter and wife at times running the hotel over the next 70 years.
Around 1910, Ralph Sterling, a great-grandson of Clark, took over operation of the hotel with his wife, Leona. It was by then known as the Webster Inn, named after Sterling’s grandmother, Abby Clark Webster, but he renamed it the Hotel Sterling. Sterling was chief Maine fire warden and a state legislator who oversaw major renovations of the hotel, including adding electricity and indoor plumbing. In 1934 Sterling also built Pierce Pond Stream Sporting Camps at nearby Pierce Pond. The site was not accessible by road. Visitors to the inn would be ferried across the Kennebec River, then required to hike more than three miles to the remote camps. After Ralph Sterling’s death around 1950, Leona, daughter Mildred and her husband, Harold Smith, continued to run the inn until 1988, when they sold it to Matt Polstein, a businessman and rafting guide. Polstein developed the property into a tourism business, the New England Outdoor Center, constructing a lodge, a dining pavilion and a dozen cabins across the street from the inn. Today the cabins remain in operation as a separate business, Maine Lakeside Cabins.
Wallace and Nancy Pooler bought the inn and ran it as a bed-and-breakfast for four years before selling it to Eric Angevine in 2012.
Bob Henderson, of Bingham, the grandson of Ralph Sterling’s brother, said most descendants of the family are no longer in the area, but those who are still have an interest in seeing the inn preserved. Marilyn Gondek, who is also a Sterling family descendant and a member of the Old Canada Road Historical Society, which covers most of Somerset County north of Bingham, said the inn “is certainly the oldest thing up the river (from Bingham) that has lasted.”
Jackman – Moose River Valley Historical Society
The museum, originally the Town Hall, was built 1903-1904. It was opened in 1991 by a group of concerned citizens. The museum provides several exhibits of local interest.
In 1904, the town hall had a large hall downstairs with a raised stage at one end. This is where the “parlor” is now located. Upstairs it had several rooms that served as meeting place for the various societies and Lodges. Some of the groups to meet there were the Foresters, the Macabees, the Modern Woodmen, and Moose River Lodge of the Independent of Odd Fellows.
This hall was also used for entertainment. Dances were held in the hall and Harry Stillwell, the popular theatrical man, ran moving pictures there on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday nights. At Christmas time a large tree was put up in the hall under the 16 foot tall ceilings and everyone was invited to come to the Christmas party.