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by Esther J. Perne
Let's meet on Water Street. Let's meet in downtown Skowhegan or Augusta or Waterville or any of the other cities, towns and villages in the area where water is within sight (that would be all of them) and was the essential source of transportation, power, commercial success and establishment of communities.
Let's meet on Water Street. Let's meet on that main thoroughfare in town where a taste of times past prevails and a quaintness remains and yet where progress and future plans welcome the visitor.
Let's meet on Water Street. Let's meet in downtown Skowhegan. Let's meet on a footbridge high over the Kennebec and admire the rocky waterfalls which Benedict Arnold's men had to portage with their bulky water-logged bateaux on their ill-fated trip to invade Quebec during the Revolutionary War.
In later times, logs floating downstream plummeted down the falls, while above the falls in more modern times electricity was generated and large mill buildings were used in the production of wood products. Today the falls also provide a recreational setting for canoeing and kayaking. For the future, a Run of River Whitewater Recreation Area is planned.
On the east side of the river a community trail awaits, complete with work-out stations and glimpses of the Kennebec and the backside of downtown. On the west is Water Street itself, a collection of shops, restaurants, a charter school, a farmers' market, a unique mill, parks along the river and impressive wooden sculptures by Maine sculptor Bernard Langlais. There also are a History House museum and the Margaret Chase Smith Library oriented toward the river.
Let's meet in downtown Augusta where the tide turns. The dam on that section of the Kennebec has been breached and the extensive mill buildings that once lined the river have been torn down but a unique part of Kennebec River history, the oldest wooden fort in the country, remains. Where once a solitary canoe laden with furs might have passed under the shadow of the fort, today there is more likely to be a Sea-Doo on the river. The fort is a good vantage point for looking across at downtown Augusta and at the parks that line both sides of the river.
Water Street in Augusta is rich in historic architecture, of doorways framed in local granite, a massive post office building and one of the few intact and preserved blocks of mill worker housing in New England. Some of Water Street's history and architecture is illustrated by Museum in the Street placards. In addition to parks and walkways on both sides of the Kennebec, a rail trails extends from downtown Augusta south to Hallowell and Gardiner.
Let's meet in Hallowell where Water Street has parks on the river at either end of this vibrant downtown of restaurants and shops. Many of the buildings were once warehouses for the merchandise delivered by ship from far ports before they headed back downstream with loads of tall pines, lumber, apples and ice. Today the accent is on art and antiques.
Let's meet in Waterville. Let's go to the Two-Cent Bridge and cross over the Kennebec as the mill workers did between Winslow and Waterville. Let's watch the Kennebec River flow underneath. Water Street goes by an enormous mill complex, an old building with many new uses. Downtown Waterville is full of restaurants, stores, change. Let's meet and see what they are.
Let's have one last look around. Let's look upstream. Miles north the high adventure of Maine's whitewater rafting takes place daily. Downstream where the Kennebec enters the sea, where a maritime museum captures the way river life was and modern Bath Iron Works represents the way it will be.
Let's look for reasons to return. Skowhegan has a River Fest next month. Augusta has one next week. Gardiner has a major festival this weekend. Hallowell has Old Hallowell Day in July.