November 17, 2018
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Like Atlantis, some landmarks exist only in the imagination

Julia Bayly | BDN
Julia Bayly | BDN
Sometimes the tried and true navigational aids are the best when giving directions in rural Maine.

Not long ago a friend and I arranged to meet near Madawaska Lake in New Sweden.

Since my friend is not from northern Maine and not at all familiar with the area, I suggested the most obvious public spot I could think of — the Maine Department of Transportation garage on Route 161 just south of the lake.

“You can’t miss it,” I told her with great confidence. “It’s right there on the side of the road.”

Imagine my horror when I arrived at the garage only to notice it was no longer an MDOT garage. It’s now the North Lakes Fire Station, and has been for a while now.

Luckily, my friend is pretty clever and figured out that’s where we were meeting, but I started thinking about the way we who live in rural areas often give directions based on landmarks.

Half the time, those landmarks are no longer there, but that doesn’t stop us from referencing them over and over to confused friends.

Take the “red barn” in Fort Kent.

Ever since moving here 38 years ago I’d been hearing about the red barn. Usually in reference to hiking or ski trails.

Meeting at the red barn for a cross country ski run is a common rendezvous and remains so to this day.

The trouble is, the red barn is no longer standing, it was torn down in 2005 and its spot is now occupied by Cross Winds, an assisted living facility.

The original red barn was owned by the late Harry Escovitch, a local potato farmer and car dealer. From what I’ve been told, Harry stored much of his potato farming equipment in that barn.

Now Harry’s gone and the barn is gone.

But do people arrange to meet at Cross Winds to hit the trails?

In fact, I would guess if that was suggested to any local skier it would be met by a confused, blank look.

But arrange to meet at a barn that no longer stands? Not a problem.

Unless, of course, you’re not from around here.

It’s the same with the Fort Kent Drive In that showed its last movie in 1995. The screen and parking lot of speakers stood for several years after that but were all removed in 2000.

When the drive-in was open, it was a great landmark and people would give directions based on its location.

After it closed but was still standing, the reference was modified to “the old drive-in.”

When nothing of the drive-in was still standing, and even to this day, people will still use “the old drive-in” as a landmark.

Again, no problem if you remember the place, but quite confusing to new comers.

There are other such defunct landmarks in Fort Kent — their absence acknowledged by inserting the word “old” into the description.

There’s the old Fort Kent Hotel that once stood on Main Street. The old Edna & Camille’s Restaurant that was in a building at the intersection of Main and Market streets. The old Nadeau’s, shortened from Nadeau’s House of Furniture, which burned down several years ago. The old Soucy’s Farm Supply on Market Street that now contains the area’s first microbrewery.

Oh, and let’s not forget the old Market Street School, which closed years ago and has long since been renovated to house a courthouse and various agriculture offices.

I am fairly confident that every small town throughout rural Maine has its own set of landmarks gone by but still in use as directional points.

So what’s a resident to do when giving directions to those unfamiliar with buildings and structures long gone?

Since I don’t want friends getting hopelessly lost on their way to Rusty Metal Farm, I try to use existing street names and more, well, established landmarks.

Of course, those instructions are weather and season-dependent.

Spring through fall, for example, those directions include “when the road turns to dirt,” as I live on a dirt road about a quarter mile from where the pavement ends.

In the winter I switch to, “if you hit the snowbank, you have gone about 50-feet too far past my driveway,” as I am at the literal end of the road since the municipal snow plow turns around at my driveway.

At all times, I try to discourage heavy reliance on satellite global positioning system — or GPS — technology.

Doing so a few years ago led a friend of mine not to my doorstep, but instead straight into a northern Maine potato field thanks to the less than consistent satellite reception in my neck of the northern Maine woods.

I would have been better off sending her past the old drive-in.

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