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Harpswell’s 200 Acre Wood

Susan Lowery
July 25, 2023

It’s 1926. In Maine, a pioneer forester is completing purchase of several plots of land on Great Island with the plan of managing them for timber production. A Portland politician has just left the governorship, and after years of trying to persuade state government to create a park, he’s determined to buy a mountain and a forest and do it himself. And in Lexington KY, two sisters with no thought of Maine at all are sharing a new book, Winnie the Pooh, wherein lie seeds from the 100 Acre Wood that will grow into a love of forests for both.

looking up at group of trees and sky

Mixed forest at Austin Cary (Susan Lowery photo)

Out of these disparate strands, unheralded but unhidden, came the Austin Cary Forest on Great Island.

Austin Cary, for whom the forest is named, was one of the earliest foresters of the United States. He was born in Port Machias in 1865 to a successful family with lumbering interests. He leaned toward science in his studies: after he graduated from Bowdoin (1887), he completed additional courses in biology (John Hopkins, 1888-89) and paleontology (Princeton, 1890-91). It wasn’t until a fishing trip in 1892 when he met Dr. B.E. Fernow, one of a very few people in the U.S. at the time versed in forestry, that he realized his life’s calling. Cary later said his choice of the then essentially non-existent profession of forestry was “natural, desirable, and inevitable even,” also acknowledging that “It is an inspiring thing for a man to be a pioneer in anything.”

Cary returned from the fishing trip with a singular focus on learning all he could about forests and their management. There was no formal course of forestry instruction anywhere in the country, but with Fernow’s help, he became a surveyor and investigator and soon qualified as an expert in the federal Bureau of Forestry. Out of this beginning, he forged an accomplished career that included, among other things, publication of The Woodsman’s Manual (1909), considered a bible for foresters up to the 1960s, and restoration of the devastated forests of the American south almost single-handedly through persuading private industry to apply sound forestry practices. Though known as the Father of Southern Forestry, Cary never lost touch with Maine, planning a scientific management project for the Bowdoin Pines and working on the Brunswick Town Commons, where he enlisted members of the first class in the Maine state university’s school of forestry to help plant the trees there.

As early as 1908, he was purchasing small tracts of forest land to manage. Among the properties that Cary purchased over the years were what came to total some 500 acres along Long Reach, west of Rt. 24 on Great Island. His intent was to sustainably manage the wood that was growing or would grow there, applying the practices he’d been developing throughout his career. He put together these holdings parcel by parcel.

Much as Percival Baxter did when his efforts to get the State of Maine to acquire Mount Katahdin’s forests were frustrated.

Percival Baxter was born in 1876. His father, James Phinney Baxter, had built a successful canning business in Portland. After graduation from Bowdoin (1898) and Harvard law (1901), Baxter did some traveling with his family, remarking that he and his father used some of their time attending to how other countries ran their governments. In 1903, James took Percival with him on a visit to Kidney Pond Camps near Mount Katahdin, planting a seedling that became Percival’s obsession.

Percival embarked on a political career, running for various state offices, sometimes winning, sometimes not. In 1920, he won a State Senate seat, and was elected President of the Senate. He was then suddenly catapulted into the governorship when the governor died in 1921. Baxter won a second term as governor in his own right in 1922.

Even before he became governor, Baxter promoted the idea of a state park to preserve Katahdin and its region, to no avail. When he left office in 1925, he’d given up on the State purchasing the lands for the park he envisioned. He did not abandon the idea; instead, he set out to purchase the land himself, and donate it for creation of a state park. The first gift of an undivided fractional interest in 5,760 acres was made in 1931. Others followed, including the remaining fractional interest in the original acreage, until his last contribution in 1963 of 7,764 acres, bringing the total to 201,018 acres.

Governor Baxter died in 1969, but his largesse didn’t stop with his death. His will provided a trust with “substantial funds to be used by the STATE OF MAINE to acquire additional lands for recreational and reforestation purposes….” The trust did not require that such lands be adjacent to Baxter State Park, but did require that they be held in trust “for the benefit of the People of Maine for the development, improvement, use, reforestation, scientific forestry and the production of timber and sale thereof.”

According to the Austin Cary Forest Management Plan of 2019, prepared by Barbara Brusila, a consultant forester working with the Baxter State Park Authority, this final expression by Governor Baxter for completion of his vision led to the acquisition of the property from Dr. Virginia Hamilton Bailey and Mrs. Patricia Hamilton Lowery Bousfield (the Hamilton sisters).

little girl sits on table surrounded by three adults in sepia photo

Virginia Hamilton (back) and her younger sister Patricia with their parents at home in Kentucky (photo courtesy of Susan Lowery)

The Hamilton sisters first arrived in Maine from Kentucky when their mother purchased a summer home on Harpswell Neck in the late 1920s; Patricia was 11 and Virginia was 27 at the time. Both fell in love with the state, and each settled in Maine as soon as she was able. They had no other siblings; despite their age difference, they were close throughout their lives.

The sisters together purchased the Austin Cary property in 1964, and established a tree farm on it that was certified in 1969. When they bought the property, both sisters lived in the area, Virginia, in South Harpswell, and Patricia, in Brunswick.

By the time Governor Baxter died and his trust was known, Patricia’s husband had also died and she had remarried and moved to Mount Desert.

How Maine Forest Service Director Fred Holt and Virginia found each other is unknown, but when searching for suitable properties to acquire under the Baxter trust, Holt reached out to her about possible purchase of the Austin Cary Tree Farm, and, in 1973-74, the Hamilton sisters conveyed the property to the State. The correspondence makes clear that the sisters’ vision for the property tracked values held by both Governor Baxter and Austin Cary. Brusila quotes the letter setting forth Holt’s general understanding of the land use envisioned by the Hamilton sisters:


[T]hat the area be held for management of game species, particularly waterfowl for reasons of the marshland habitat, and for a model or demonstration forest. These uses will not be such as to encourage large crowds of people and we do not wish to develop any facilities which will concentrate people on the property. However, I think to be realistic some increase in hikers and observers will be anticipated.
The deeds set conditions on the conveyance, as follows:
[T]hat the land be used for a demonstration forest, wildlife management area, or for other educational and scientific uses, and this condition will run with the land for a period of ninety-nine years from the date of this instrument. It is the hope of the Grantors that this use shall extend beyond the period of this condition in perpetuity or until such time as such use of this tract would no longer serve a beneficial purpose. (Deed for 5/6 interest, 29 December 1973)


Austin Cary viewed the forests very much in terms of a product source rather than a spiritual haven, while Percival Baxter’s vision was very much focused on preserving a landscape and an environment. “Katahdin always should and must remain the wild, storm-swept, untouched-by-man region it now is,” he wrote. And elsewhere, “I want hunting with cameras to take the place of hunting with guns.”

salt marsh flanked by trees and blue sky

Salt marsh at Austin Cary (Susan Lowery photo)

But Baxter also recognized the importance of a scientific understanding of the woodlands to ensure their resilience. He and Cary could have agreed on the need for model or demonstration forests. The Baxter trust agreement provides “I hope some of the forest land acquired under this provision…will become model forests…producing a crop of wood to be sold by the State. The State of Maine is given full power to harvest the crop, reforest and protect these lands against damage by insects, fire or otherwise.”

The Hamilton sisters subscribed to both philosophies, though Patricia may have leaned more toward managed preservation than Virginia, who may have been more inclined toward conservation with an eye to productive effects.

Whatever their philosophies, all four shared a reverence for the forests that ultimately resulted in an unparalleled legacy for the Town of Harpswell under the Baxter State Park Authority, before a local land trust option was available.


Further Information:

Austin Cary

R.R. White, “Austin Cary, the Father of Southern Forestry,” paper published by the Forest History Society, https://foresthistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/AustinCary_RoyWhite.pdf

Isabel Whittier, “Maine’s Austin Cary was Pioneer Forester,” http://abacus.bates.edu/muskie-archives/ajcr/1968/Maine%20Forester%20Cary.shtml

Percival Baxter

Neil Rolde, The Baxters of Maine: Downeast Visionaries (Tilbury House, Boston) 1997

Liz Soares, All For Maine: The Story of Governor Percival P. Baxter (Windswept House Publishers: Mount Desert, ME) 1995

Baxter State Park

Howard R. Whitcomb, Governor Baxter’s Magnificent Obsession: A Documentary History of Baxter State Park 1931 – 2006 (Friends of Baxter State Park: Bangor ME) 2008

Austin Cary Forest

“Austin Cary Lot,” Baxter State Park Authority, prepared by Jensen Bissell, May 1993

“Austin Cary Forest: Forest Management Plan,” prepared by Barbara Brusila, 2019