The Bingham connection

After discussing Maine’s unincorporated townships, I need to add that there are a lot of variants – 17, if I’m counting right. Among them are the BKP, BPP, NBKP, NBPP, and WBKP designations – translated as Bingham’s Kennebec Purchase, Bingham’s Penobscot Purchase, North of Bingham’s Kennebec Purchase, North of Bingham’s Penobscot Purchase, and West of Bingham’s Kennebec Purchase.

So just who was this Bingham guy?

In short, he was William Bingham, already a wealthy Philadelphian when he became filthy rich via privateering during the Revolutionary War. He was also a statesman and U.S. senator who parlayed his riches into vast land purchases, as noted above but also including upstate New York, where Binghamton, where I’ve also lived, was named in his honor.

Got it?

Quite simply, Bingham owned two million acres in Maine, making him land rich but cash poor.

His agent in Maine, Revolutionary War Gen. David Cobb, was responsible for laying out most of the roads associated with the Airline Highway (now eastern State Route 9). And when Cobb retired in 1820, John Black, agent for Baring Brothers Bank in London, felt that lumber was the wealth that would provide his boss the needed profit. There were further complications as well as marriages, but you get an idea how Baring township in the Moosehorn wildlife preservation got its name.

Cobb did, however, build a great house at Gouldsborough and soon faced some harsh realities that he notated between 1795 and 1800.

First, the land and climate of eastern Maine were not and are not suitable for farming. He noted that “those who come to view the country … have as frequently returned almost blind by the bites of flies and mosquitoes. You have no conception of the hosts of these devils that infest the thick forest at this season.”

More critically, he found “the great body of the people of this country possess no regard to the rights of private property,” calling them ” vicious inhabitants who disfigured its landscape. Every inhabitant here is now a trespasser, a plunderer. They live by it, and therefore they will not cultivate the finest soil in the world. They’re not doing this is the chief cause why the reputation on the country has been damn’d. If the people who live by lumbering are indulged in cutting the forests wherever they please, they will have but little … appreciation of the soil.”

For the record, the soil itself wasn’t nearly that rich.

But continuing, in his estimation, “The greater part … follow lumbering and fishing … and they are very intemperate, very lazy and very poor. It may be said in truth … the majority of the inhabitants are drunkards.”

There are those, of course, who would question whether much has changed since.

Or, as is sometimes said of Eastport, it’s a drinking village with a fishing problem.

Maine has a raft of unincorporated townships, and some of them even have names

For those of us who come to New England from other parts of America, the insistence that here we live in either a town or a city but nothing in between comes as a shock. There’s no saying “near” anywhere, even if the place has its own post office. Nope, either city or town, the difference being the kind of government it has.

Eastport, for instance, is a city, while neighboring Lubec, roughly the same size, is a town.

And each may have its own neighborhoods or villages, further complicating the picture. A town typically has its historic center, even when larger development came later somewhere else within the boundaries – maybe out along the railroad tracks, for instance, or the mills. Note that when you look at maps.

Maine adds a third twist to this model. Much of the state was surveyed into parcels, typically six-by-six-mile squares, that never lived up to expectations, at least in terms of habitation and development. They remain uninhabited, seasonally or year-’round, or lack sufficient population to self-govern themselves.

Here in the Pine Tree State, they’re designated as townships or even plantations, though some do have names or have reverted by necessity from self-rule to management by the state.

Thus, when driving along you might see a highway marker like the one announcing that you’re entering T26 ED BPP.

There are many more signs like this, equally baffling. This one translates as Township 26, Eastern District, Binghams’ Penobscot Purchase. Don’t ask me more, I’m already confused, as I’m sure you are.

There’s even another variation, PLT, for Plantation – and, no, it has nothing to do with fields of cotton or tobacco.

The Plt stands for plantation, which has nothing to do with a privately owned farm in Maine.

Significantly, more than half of the state is uninhabited. Hard to think of that, considering the urban and suburban density and congestion of so much of the rest of the Northeast.

Somehow, nobody’s counting mosquitos or moose in the equation.

What do you have to explain to others about the political setup of the place you live? Ward politics? The county sheriff? The nut jobs, right or left?

Not just moose but a murder mystery, too

The joke is that moose don’t have horns, they have antlers. The Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge excuses itself by noting that it’s named after a brook that meanders through the preserve. Not that it’s the only fine body of water.

Canoeing, kayaking, and fishing are welcome.
The marked lanes make for some lovely strolls.

And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adds that the preserve is home to much more than moose, bear, beaver, and deer. For example, some 223 bird species have been identified in its two divisions – the 31-square-mile Baring Division to our northwest and the 13-square-mile Edmunds Division to our west, both within a half-hour drive from Eastport.

The terrain is varied, much of it wetlands, and a third is protected as wilderness.

I especially appreciate the miles of hiking trails, some along former roads.

What I wasn’t expecting on one outing was the moose I encountered on a grassy roadside near a flowage.

When I first spotted the tawny hump amid the green, I thought it might have been one bent over grazing, in which case I’d need to approach cautiously, or else just a big rock.

Instead, it became a mystery.

The hooves and legs.
Apart from the head injury, the body was in fine shape – no mat of ticks, for one thing.
It really is a big, powerful jaw.

Tire tracks in the grass had me wondering if a ranger driving down the gated-access lane had tried to veer away from the animal on the roadway, only to have it bolt into the oncoming vehicle.

The carcass was fresh enough that a solitary vulture overhead wasn’t even taking notice.

Later, back in town, I began picking up details. Everybody seemed to have more to add, most of it from Facebook.

Seems the baby male was hit on Charlotte Road earlier in the morning. (Baby? It was bigger than me.) Folks were wondering what took the wildlife officers so long to clear the road. They then took the remains into the preserve, to return to the food chain. Mama Moose, meanwhile, spent the rest of the day wandering forlornly.

It is a relief to know that moose collisions aren’t so common around here that they’re taken for granted. Deer, on the other hand, as everyone will remind me – keep your eyes open.

For my entire hike, I was the sole human experiencing sights like this.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever encountered out on a walk? Or even a drive?