BATTIE TOWER

I received E-Mail that said:

The tower in the picture is the Mt. Battie Tower in Camden, Maine at the top of Mt. Battie. There's quite a bit of history behind it, apparently, involving a Pulitzer Prize winning poet, and a fire, and I think originally it was some sort of WWI memorial, but in truth, I know very little about it. Most of this is from memory, from little things that I learned in the mere months when I lived in the town. I only visited it once.

Does anyone have more information about the history?

Later, I received E-Mail that said:

Mt Battie
All I could see from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked the other way,
And saw three islands in a bay.

That's the opening stanza of "Renascence," by Camden's unofficial poet laureate, Edna St. Vincent Millay. If the lines aren't familiar to most Camden residents, the view certainly is, because that's what we see every day when we stroll around town. "Where the mountains meet the sea" is a familiar phrase on Camden tourist brochures, though few of us realize what a distinction this actually is. On all of the Atlantic coastline, from the tip of Florida to the Bay of Fundy, the mountains meet the sea in only two places: Camden and Mt. Desert, both in Maine.

In Camden, the town snuggles cozily at the foot not just of one mountain, but two: Mt. Battie and Mt. Megunticook, both part of Camden State Park. For many a Camden child, climbing one or both of these mountains has been a rite of passage (and for many of their parents, a rite of endurance). Today, you can drive up Mt. Battie on an excellent asphalt road after you've paid the park admission fee. That tradition has been in place for 100 years. In 1897, a man named Columbus Buswell built a toll road to the top of Mt. Battie from the old Fay house near the bottom, paying $40 to the land owners. That gave him the exclusive use of the road for 10 years and the privilege of collecting tolls from other travelers. That same year, Buswell leased one square acre of the mountaintop from its owners, the Adam family, and he built a wooden structure he called the Summit House. In 1899, a group of summer residents formed the Mt. Battie Association and purchased not only Buswell's road and Summit House, but also another 59 acres of the mountain. Their purpose was to create a permanent park.

The Association also remodeled Summit House, turning it into a summer hotel. It opened on Aug. 17, 1900. "While people almost everywhere were sweltering in the intense heat Saturday afternoon," wrote the Camden Herald, "Those who were on the summit of Mt. Battie were comfortable and cool in the refreshing breeze that Mt. Battle always furnishes... "But there were other attractions on Mt. Battie on Saturday afternoon, for the members of the Mt. Battie Association were receiving friends and they made that reception a pleasure indeed for their guests. The pretty club house just remodeled was thrown open and in the house and on the broad veranda fair, ladies devoted themselves to the pleasure of the visitors... "Considerably over a hundred enjoyed the hospitalities offered. The buckboards and public carriages were kept busy transporting the people up and down and there would have been many more had not the extreme heat deterred them."

In 1918, fire swept Mt. Battie. The hotel escaped the flames, but its day had nearly come to an end. In 1920, the association voted to tear it down because it couldn't pay for itself. A year later, the World War I Memorial Tower was built in its place-and from some of its foundation stones. Most of the building's original foundation remains intact and visible beneath the tower.

About two years after the tower was built, the Ku Klux Clan of Camden and Rockland burned a cross on the Mt. Battie summit, outraging most of the town's residents. In 1930, another fire swept over Mt. Battie, charring a path two miles long and a mile wide. It burned for four days, while thousands turned out to fight it. The present road was opened in July 1965, with Gov. John Reed and many other dignitaries in attendance. The Camden Women's Club served donuts and coffee at the summit.

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Photo by David Frost.