The Historical Atlas of Maine is ambitious and fascinating

atlas2-600x399The Historical Atlas of Maine is a historic book, oversized and ambitious, covering Maine’s history from the Ice Age to 2000, in 203 pages crammed with maps, photographs, charts, and text.

It’s so big it’s hard to pick up, but it’s even harder to put down. Editors Stephen Hornsby and Richard Judd spent ten years putting this fascinating book together, with financial assistance from a lengthy list of funding sources including foundations, the Maine legislature, and Ocean Properties. Many writers and historians contributed text, photographs, and art to the book.

The Historical Atlas of Maine was published recently by the University of Maine Press and, I read recently in a review published in Maine Biz, has already sold out. Lucky for me that the Eleanor Philbrick Fund, left by artist Eleanor to the town of Mount Vernon to encourage the arts, purchased a copy of the $75 book for our town library.

ATLAS 2 LCOWhile the text is certainly informative and interesting, you will spend a lot of time studying the amazing maps and charts. I loved the section showing the maps created between 1932 and 1975 for Maine tourists. The “Pictorial Guide to Happy Motoring in New England,” an Esso road map, outlined major state roads with drawings of the principal attractions. Many involved outdoor activities including hunting and fishing.

Stephen Hornsby and Dale Potts created a section titled “Hunting and Fishing in the Maine Woods.” You can bet I spent a lot of time on these pages! The chart showing shipments of big game over the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad in 1899 was interesting. A map showing the distribution of fish and game licenses in 1900 noted that 860 nonresidents purchased licenses compared to only 469 residents!

The section on sardine canneries interested me because my grandmother packed sardines in Lubec. And I am well aware that there is not a single cannery still operating in Maine. In fact, the cannery where Nana Searles packed sardines is now a museum. I learned in this section that Maine’s sardine cannery industry was worth over $4 million in 1900, the most valuable fish canning industry in the country.

I really like the way the book is organized, first by era, then by topic. Topics like French Canadian Immigration, Electrification, Warfare, Timber Trade and Irish Migration, are a few of the many that kept this book in my hands for several evenings.

The book is dedicated to the late Burton Hatlen, a professor and American literary school at the University of Maine, who dreamed of and advocated for this book for many years. Burt Hatlen was my professor in a freshman creative writing class at the UMaine in Orono. Stephen King was also in that class. In my book talks, I like to say that Steve and I were in Professor Hatlen’s creative writing class together, and we both became writers, and we’ve sold over 300 million books.

Steve once said that, “Burt was the greatest English teacher I ever had.” I agree with him. Burt definitely inspired me to be a writer.

The Historical Atlas of Maine contains lots of information pertinent to today’s issues. For example, the increased harvest of seaweed is a hot topic today. “Farming the Salt Marsh” is a section of the book that everyone working on this issue should read.

In 1524, Giovanni Verrazzano, exploring for French King Francis I, filed his first report on the Maine coast, describing the land as “high, full of thick woods, the trees wherof were firs, cypresses and such like as are wont to grow in cold countries.” He should have been here this winter!

Some maps of Verrazzano’s explorations here referred to Maine’s Penobscot Bay region as Norumbega (Oranbega was the Native name for the coastal region) and el paladiso, an earthly paradise. He got that right too!

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.