Last week I found myself heading out west to Vermont to entertain a group with my Maine stories. It was one of those corporate events held at a beautiful conference center on the banks of the Connecticut River just over the New Hampshire line. My trip took me from Portland to Fryeburg on Route 302, then into New Hampshire and north along that state's fabled Kancamagus Highway, which runs east to west for 35 miles (or 55 km) through the White Mountains. It's a wide and well-maintained road that has some of the most beautiful scenery in New England and every time I travel it, I say something like, “Why can't we have roads like this in Maine?”
Now, don't get bent out of shape and start firing e-mails texts and tweets at me. I know we have roads like the Kancamagus somewhere here in Maine, it's just that I wish we had more of them and that they were closer to where I lived so I could enjoy them more often. Experts on such things say the reason Maine doesn't have more beautifully maintained roads like the Kancamagus is because - from the very beginning - we've been more interested in building ships and places to dock them.
In fact, one of the first big construction projects organized by Europeans in the New World was not to build a scenic highway or a toll-road, or a travel plaza. It was to build the Virginia, a 30-ton Pinnace. It was built at the mouth of the mighty Kennebec at Popham Beach in 1607. The Virginia was built by the unlucky settlers of the Popham Colony who, we’re told, suffered through one of the worst winters on record. OK, so they probably didn't have very extensive weather records back in 1607, but whatever records they had you can rest assured that that winter shattered them all to pieces.
Things were so bad that winter that many of the 120 residents of the ill-fated Popham Colony died before the decision was made to build the ship to transport the colonists the heck out of there.
According to historians the Virginia made it back to England in good shape. What's more, it apparently had been put together so well that for about more 20 years she went back and forth between England and the Virginia colony carrying passengers and cargo.
Historians aren't sure what the Virginia looked like and like historians everywhere they have lots of fun arguing about it, but all agree that its construction on the shores of the Kennebec marked the beginning of boat-building in America.
More than three hundred years later we're still building great vessels there on the Kennebec and lots of other places in Maine. Now if we could just do something about our roads.