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Swan Island, Maine

    Swan Island is in the Kennebec river, between the towns of 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 1750s.  In 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 up in 1794 into the current towns of Dresden, Alna and Wiscasset, with Swan Island being part of 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. But 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.


Perkins topo map 1892
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 Louise Curtis, 1935
     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 24, 1847.
     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 social affairs.
     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 Ruie L. Curtis. 1935. typewritten manuscript at the Maine State Library.
The introduction, vital records, 1850 US census and index total only 30 pages.
* 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.


1850 Perkins census - PDF file
partial Tallman genealogy shipbuilding records
maps nomination for National Register
The Kennebeck Proprietors
Boston-Maine marriages Dresden history Friends of Swan Island
Perkins (town) genealogy

Wiscasset in 1800

Maine in 1839

other old Maine articles are in Mass.
Historical Society Collections

stories on Swan Island historic preservation:
National Trust, 2004
Maine Today, 2003
Times Record, 2001
Steve Powell WMA