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Swan Island, Maine
Swan Island is in the Kennebec river, between the
Dresden, on the east bank, and Richmond and Bowdoinham, on the west
bank. Before the Europeans arrived, and into the 17th century, Little
Swan Island was the seat of the Norridgewock tribe of Abenakis. Swan
Island was apparently first settled by Europeans in the 17th century,
but native hostility prevented permanent settlement until the
1752, the Kennebeck Proprietors, an unscrupulous group of Boston
investors, organized the settlement of a group of Huguenots at what is
now Dresden (calling it Frankfort), and
this included Swan Island. They were soon joined by some German and
native (English) settlers. In 1760, Frankfort was merged with the
larger town of Wiscasset, the new town being called Pownalborough, and
it was the seat for the new county of Lincoln. Pownalborough was split
in 1794 into the
current towns of Dresden, Alna and Wiscasset, with Swan Island being
Dresden until 1847, when it became the
very small town of Perkins. The town seems to have managed well enough
for a few decades, by farming in the summer, cutting ice in the winter,
and shipbuilding, though the population was never more than about 100.
times changed: The river became less important
as a highway, as roads and railroads were built; a bridge was built
between Dresden and Richmond, so Perkins was not a necessary part of
the trip; wooden ships became obsolete; ice cutting faded due to a New
York-based monopoly and mechanical
refrigeration. I don't know why farming didn't survive, except that
farming in New England was always a challenge. So Perkins was gradually
abandoned, it was legally
disincorporated in 1918, and the state bought it up. Swan Island is now
part of the Steve
Powell Wildlife Management Area, with a campground and a few of the
old houses standing neglected.
A piece of the USGS topographic map for Gardiner, 1892.
Swan Island/Perkins is in Sagadahoc county, and has
been since the county's formation in 1854, but most genealogy
references put it in Lincoln county.
Perkins - by Miss Ruie
With feasting and firing of cannon the
inhabitants on Swan Island in the Kennebec celebrated the incorporation
of their little town. This island community had been a part of Dresden
until its people, although scarcely a hundred in number, sought and
obtained their own municipal government.
Its name was given by Col. Thomas H. Perkins,
founder of the Institute for the Blind in So. Boston. He paid the
expenses of incorporation for the honor.* Perkins became a town June
A few of the children freightened by the din
could not know that they would outlive the new town. Death or changing
conditions depleted the population until there were not enough to carry
on its affairs. On July 1, 1918, it quietly went out of existence and
became an unorganized township.
There never lived in this unique town a
doctor, a lawyer or a clergymen. There was however a Justice of the
Peace. For a short time a tiny grocery store was the first, last and
only place of business. The staunch little school house was the scene
of its educational, religious and social activities. In the late
eighties the Perkins Brass Band built the Band Hall which took over the
These records are far from complete. At the
time of disorganization all records should have been given over to the
state. This was neglected. The books are scattered. Perhaps too the
farmer town clerks were not altogether diligent in the keeping of their
accounts. These few survive.
from Perkins (formerly Swan Island) by
L. Curtis. 1935. typewritten manuscript at the Maine State Library.
introduction, vital records, 1850 US census and index total only 30
* I think it was actually paid for and named
for Col. Thomas
H. Perkins, Jr. (1796-1850), who married Jane Frances Rebecca Dumaresq
(1799-1856) of Swan
Island. And Perkins, Sr. (1764-1854) was a major donor to the School
for the Blind,
but not its founder.