Dr. Allan Drew Currie got his middle name from his father’s birthplace, Drew, Maine. Don’t try to locate Drew in your Maine Gazetteer, however. It no longer exists.
The town was the victim of time and change, forces all too familiar to Allan. The medical practice in Bangor where he has worked for 35 years is nearly unrecognizable from the place he joined in 1977.
“The only things that haven’t changed are me and the phone number,” he said.
Time and change took an even greater toll on a piece of Allan’s family history. All his life, Allan knew that Drew was a busy community where his grandparents had lived and worked, and where his father and two aunts were born and raised for some years. And yet, after they left in 1921, none of them ever attempted to return to Drew, because Drew was gone.
Some history will explain:
In the late 1800s, scores of saw mills sprouted up along the shores of the Penobscot and Mattawamkeag Rivers. People came to work, often bringing their families along. Communities grew and expanded around the mills, and one of them was Drew. Although officially a plantation, those who lived there thought of Drew as their town.
One of Drew’s unique characteristics was that it never had any road access. Three miles east of Kingman along the Maine Central Railroad line, a short spur of track veered south toward the Mattawamkeag. That was the only access to Drew and its mill.
After clearing an area of trees near the mill, lumbermen constructed a main street that never saw a car. Using finished boards from the mill and great skill, the local people built many comfortable homes, a railroad station, a boarding house, a store, a two-room schoolhouse, a barbershop, and a post office where Allan’s grandmother worked as postmistress.
By the early 1920’s, saw mills were dwindling in importance. The pulp and paper industry had begun to take over, and the old saw mills were abandoned. Allan’s grandfather, originally a millworker, began running Drew’s general store when he developed an allergy to the wood. When sawmills began closing down, he bought a store in Hartland and moved there with his family in 1921. Allan’s father was 7 years old. By 1924, Drew’s mill closed and the last resident disappeared.
Allan Currie heard about Drew as he grew up. Having heard the stories, and perhaps inspired by the legacy of his name, Allan finally gave in to curiosity and set out to find his roots.
In the mid-1960s, Allan walked the tracks from Kingman until he found the mound that indicated the railroad siding that used to head into Drew. Though he found a few foundations, there were no remnants of a mill, no old boards, no sign that there used to be a town. It seemed strange that so much lumber could have rotted away in only 40 years, but perhaps people took their houses down to rebuild elsewhere. Allan’s interest was still piqued.
About 10 years later, he returned again, intending to do some digging for relics. The forest had grown in even more, and there was nothing much to find.
In 1985, Allan’s father was just over 70 years old, and had never returned to Drew.
“He thought it was so cool that I had been to Drew,” Allan said. “Even though he had some heart issues, we decided to go.”
When they arrived, Allan’s father started to recognize everything.
Glowing with the memory, Allan told me about his father’s re-creation of the town before his eyes: His father identified the exact location of the mill, his home, the swath where the street used to run through town, his Aunt Lou’s house, the schoolhouse.
“I’m just looking at trees,” Allan said, remembering the day, “and my Dad saw the whole town.”
Eleanor Currie Parsons, Allan’s “Aunt Ellie” who died in 2009, wrote a wonderful book in 2003 called, “A Town Called Drew and Beyond” (published by the Sandy Bay Historical Society and Museums). Her recollections of childhood life in a remote mill town are wonderfully vivid. Although she recognizes the isolation and hard work that must have been a part of life for the adults in that remote area, her childhood memories are of comfort, community, plenty, and fun.
The relentless march of time, change, and the Maine woods have erased Drew, Maine, from existence.
Allan Currie, however, now has his own memory of one wonderful day with his dad when he got to see the lost town of his ancestors.
“I think I went once more, but the trees had gotten so overgrown you couldn’t even leave the tracks.”
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.