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Street Talk

History Of Towns Help Give Perspective

Joe James is a flooring specialist in Farmington, Maine. I worked with him for three days last week, helping redo the floors on a house my brother owns in Eustis, Maine. My brother bought the house in January, it flooded in February. If you don’t know Eustis, well it’s fairly remote. Their motto is “Get Useless in Eustis.” 

The town is in the western edge of Maine in the north corner, it is 20 miles from the Canadian border. Some 600 people live there, but I bet there’s more than triple that number of moose in the area. I saw two and I wasn’t really looking for them. 

Maybe more interesting than my drive to the north woods in what seemed one continuous chilly downpour (rain and 42 was the average day), were the towns I passed through. You see there is no interstate to this area, it’s all two-lane roads.  And these roads all pass through the center of the towns, the highway is the Main Street as well. 

The two roughly Water Valley sized towns were Farmington and Rumford. They  were 45 and 60 miles away. All three towns, and I mean Water Valley and these two Maine towns, had same population in 1900 of about 3,600.                                 

Farmington has continued to grow despite changes in the base economy. Once a center for lumber, wool, and cheese and, while it still has these, it has branched out to be a more diverse economy. And with that a steady growth to a population of 7,600 now.                                     

Rumford had rapid expansion from 3,600 in 1900 to 10,000 in 1930, stayed at that level until 1960, and now has dropped to 5,500. The main industry has been a mill, there is a great river view with steep falling water over a granite ledge, the river and the mill and the town’s prosperity entwined.                                                                                                                                                                   If you remember that most contentious year of 1968, you might remember Rumford’s most famous son Ed Muskie. A former governor and a senator, Muskie was a candidate for vice-president. He said in 1968, “Americans like to believe that they are decent, and most of them are, nevertheless they find it easy to persuade themselves that there is too much risk, too much danger, in trusting Americans who are different.”                                                                               

One of the best things you can do for Water Valley is to go to other like-sized places and see and talk and ask about their story. It will help you understand our town and even give you some perspective. 

Joe, the flooring guy, has never been to Mississippi or even close. That might change. I think after working with a couple of Southerners, well he knows now, we’re not so different after all. That’s better for both Maine and Mississippi.

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