History of Skowhegan, Maine
From
A Gazetteer of the
State of Maine
By Geo. J. Varney
Published by B. B. Russell, 57 Cornhill,
Boston 1886
Transcribed by Betsey S. Webber



Skowhegan is a prosperous manufacturing town lying on
both sides of the great bend of the Kennebec in the southern part of
Somerset County, of which it is the shire town. Cornville bounds it
on the north, Canaan on the east, Fairfield on the south and Norridge-
wock on the west. The surface is somewhat broken by swells and
ridges, Bigelow Hill, the greatest elevation being about 500 feet in
height. Slate rock generally underlies the soil, the latter being sandy
loam, and quite fertile. Hay, potatoes and wool are the principal
agricultural products. The water-power of the town is on the Kenne-
bec, at Skowhegan Falls, where the whole volume of the river de-
scends 28 feet in half a mile. An island, the head of which is at the
crest of the perpendicular fall, divides the river into two channels,
and serves at once as a natural pier and as a site for mills. The
bottom and banks of the stream are of solid ledge, and other vast
masses of rock support the dam and render it of great strength. The
minimum volume of water available here in a drouth, is estimated
at 110,500 cubic feet per minute for 11 hours a day, equal to 5,852
horse-powers, or sufficient for 234,000 spindles. The manufactories
here consist of a paper-mill, saw-mill, two sash and blind factories, two
flour-mills, a wood pulp-mill, three planning-mills, a woolen-mill, an oil-
cloth-factory, two axe-factories, one scythe-factory, two harness and
saddlery factories, and a foundry. The town hall is a three-story
brick block belonging to a corporation. The seating of the hall is
1,500 and the cost $60,000. There is a public library in the village
containing upwards of 3,500 volumes. The elegant brick building con-
taining the court-room and county offices was presented to the county
by Hon. Abner Coburn, to induce the removal of the county capital
from Norridgewock. The houses in village and county are in neat re-
pair, and the roads are generally good. There is an excellent iron
railroad bridge here. The highway bridges across the river are of
wood, and 150 feet in length. The streets generally are adorned with
trees; and on one old street along the river are rows of elms seventy-
five years old and upward. Skowhegan is on the Maine Central Rail-
road, 100 miles from Portland. It is connected by stage-lines with
Norridgewock, Anson, Solon, Athens, the Forks of the Kennebec, and
Moosehead Lake, also Canaan and Mercer.

The territory comprising Skowhegan was originally a part of
Canaan, from which it was taken and incorporated under the name of
Millburn, Feb. 5, 1823. In 1836, the name it now bears was substi-
tuted. Skowhegan is an Indian word, and is thought to signify a
place of watch, referring to the habit of the savages in gathering
here to catch salmon and other fish, which were abundant in their
season. The original territory of the town lay wholly on the north
side of the river, and contained but 19,071 acres; but by the addi-
tion of Bloomfield on the south side of the river opposite, in 1861, the
area was swelled to 30,981 acres. Of this number 48 acres are water,
and over 321 are in roads.

This town is largely indebted to Hon. Abner Coburn for its pros-
perity. Mr. Coburn's father, Eleazer Coburn, moved to this locality
from Massachusetts in 1792, at the age of fifteen years, being among
the early settlers of the Kennebec Valley. He was a farmer and sur-
veyor. Abner was born in 1802. After he became of manly age,
he and his younger brother Philander, assisted their father in survey-
ing and exploring the 1,000,000 acres of Bingham's Kennebec purchase.
The three, a little later, entered into a partnership business in land and
lumber under the name of E. Coburn & Sons; and after their father's
death in 1845, his sons, the surviving partners, continued the business;
and in 1876 Philander died. He and another brother are now sole
possessors of the property of the family. They own 450,000 acres of
land in Maine, and several thousand in the western States. Mr.
Coburn was governor of Maine in 1863. His charities have been very
large of late years. Besides the gift of an elegant court-house to his
native county, he has given $75,000 to Colby University at Waterville,
and several gifts of smaller sums to other institutions, among which is
the State Agricultural College at Orono. Other valued citizens of
former years were Gen. Joseph Locke, Judah McLellan and Samuel
Weston, Esqs. Col. Z.A. Smith of the “Boston Journal,” was for
sometime a resident of Skowhegan. This town sent 285 men to the
Union army in the war of the Rebellion, losing 84. There are here a
society each of the Congregationalists, Baptists, Methodists, Christians
and Catholics. E.P. May's Somerset Reporter is published here.

The village has graded schools, including a good high-school. The
number of public schoolhouses is twenty-four, valued with appurten-
ances at $28,900. The population in 1870 was 3, 893. In 1880 it was
3,861. The valuation in 1870 was $1,581,610. In 1880 it was $2,053,818.

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