The Ghost Towns of Flagstaff Lake

Paul Doiron here —

As I write in the author’s note to The Poacher’s Son, I decided to set part of the story in two Maine villages that no longer exist.

In the 1940s the towns of Dead River and Flagstaff were slowly evacuated, burned down, and eventually flooded to create a dam at Long Falls on the Dead River. The new dam created a vast manmade lake north of the Bigelow Mountains (Flagstaff Lake, now Maine’s fourth largest). The Poacher’s Son deals with loss in the North Woods—loss of nature, loss of access, loss of heritage—and I thought that incorporating Flagstaff and Dead River into the story, literally raising them from beneath the waves, would add a layer of sad subtext.

One book I wish I had during the research of my novel is the Lost Villages of Flagstaff Lake, which is largely a photo history of the towns of the Dead River valley. Like other titles in Arcadia’s “Images of America” series, the book has the feel of a scrapbook designed primarily for area residents, but it reaches a poignant climax with the flooding. I hadn’t fully appreciated the feelings of rage and impotence the villagers experienced as the Maine State Legislature used eminent domain to push aside their objections. The people in those communities felt they had their homes ripped away from them by state bureaucrats and politicians in the pocket of a powerful corporation (Central Maine Power).

The authors—Alan L. Burnell and Kenny R. Wing—also make the connection between the fate of Flagstaff and Dead River and the current controversy over building wind turbines on the area’s mountains:

In no small respect, the people of the region are facing similar issues today regarding electrical power requirements and consumption. As renewable technology is developed (i.e. wind power), the people living in Maine’s western mountains are faced with similar issues as the former residents of Flagstaff, Dead River, and Bigelow. Although they are not being asked to give up their homes, many residents feel they are now being asked to give up what they believe is a piece of what makes this area so special—its natural beauty. They feel they are being asked to sacrifice some of their inheritance so that other people might benefit financially, while at the same time being asked to accept the degradation that is inundating the area’s mountaintops. We must ask ourselves, “What is the price of power?”

It’s a good question. As Faulkner famously wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

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4 Responses to The Ghost Towns of Flagstaff Lake

  1. Kaitlyn’s husband here. I lived in Stratton, which is actually a village in the town of Eustis, from 1954 until 1957. My parents, who were teachers at the Stratton school, knew most of the families evicted from Flagstaff and Dead River. Many of them relocated in Eustis and the Flagstaff Cemetary was relocated to Eustis along Rt. 27. One of my childhood friends told me later in life that his earliest memory is looking out the back window of the family car as they drove away from Flagstaff for the last time. He watched as long as he could see and the last thing he saw was the chimney on his house falling over. He would have been three years old.

  2. John Clark says:

    Fertile ground, very fertile ground the ghosts under the water up there. I remember as a kid when my dad and I fished the Dead river back in the late 1950’s early 1960’s, looking out over the expanse with dri khi sticking up all over the place and imagining people and buildings existing underneath the gray surface.

  3. Paul, I’m going to the new Flagstaff hut this fall with my hiking group. Apparently there is a glass-bottomed boat that enables passengers to see parts of the flooded village? Such a sad story — and Sandy’s comment really brings it all home.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I lived at the end of Arnold trail in 1999 at white house dirt cellar there old days buried dead in winter in cellars i didn’t sleep organ playing at nite smell cigar smoke voices shadows day and nite ghosts from old flooded town i am sure very old old ghost that are there forever move a grave yard not right if you seen the Eustis 👻 let me know

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