Town Intern Bridger Tomlin ’17 Links Land Preserve to its Past

bridger tomlin

BridgerTomlin ’17

Bridger Tomlin ’17 has been researching the history of Merriconeag, a Brunswick settlement that was deserted in the 1950s when it became the site of the (now defunct) Navy base.

Tomlin has a Psi Upsilon Community Matters in Maine fellowship from Bowdoin to intern with the town’s planning and development department this summer. The town has asked him to research the former base region with an idea of memorializing the people who once lived there.

The area he’s looking into, roughly located between Harpswell and Princes Point roads, was first settled by Europeans in the early 1700s. There, families built homes, farms, a couple of one-room school houses, a grange and a church. A dam generated power for flour, lumber and wool mills. The land edges on Harpswell Cove, and Tomlin said some inhabitants were involved in the shipbuilding industry. Others made bricks from marine clay.

Today all that remains of Merriconeag are faded outlines of old roads and a few stone foundations. Some sites contain archaeological evidence suggesting Native Americans occasionally hunted and gathered there, but there is no major settlement, according to Tomlin. However, the word Merriconeag is an Abenaki word for a piece of land connecting two coves.

merriconeag

An old newspaper clipping shows some of the abandoned houses in Merriconeag before they were destroyed to make way for the Navy base

About 60 families in Merriconeag left their homes after the government in the 1950s developed a smallish air strip into the huge Naval Air Station. “With concerns for public safety, ongoing Cold War politics, security, and the power of eminent domain in the hands of the federal government, the area was purchased and structures were torn down or moved,” Tomlin writes in a history for the town.

After the base closed for good in 2011, the town received some of the land and decided to turn part of it into a 168-acre nature preserve with walking trails. After some debate, officials named the preserve after a local botanist named Kate Furbish (1834-1931).

A few townspeople felt that this name did not reflect the history of the area, Tomlin recounted. “Some of the people whose families lived there for seven generations thought the name didn’t honor that community,” he said.

After hearing local people’s grievances, town officials decided to name the preserve’s trails after some of the old Merriconeag families. It is Tomlin’s job to decide which families should be honored in this way. Working with a team of high school volunteers, he has spoken with local historians, dug up old documents and interviewed people who lived on the land in the first part of the 20th century. One woman told him that she had met her husband when they were 10-year-old students at the little school together.

So far, Tomlin’s trail name suggestions include School House Trail, Shipyard Overlook, and several named for prominent families, including the Givens, Dunnings and Snows.

Tomlin, who grew up in Boulder, Colo., is an environmental studies and history major. He says he is interested in working for town government or in the national parks system where he thinks he could achieve tangible goals. “The common good can be achieved in a town government,” he said. “It’s a little more accessible on a smaller scale.”

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