ROCKLAND, Maine — When John Bird moved back to his hometown nearly 30 years ago, this city was a different place than it was during his youth.
But from its beginnings as a hotbed for limestone quarrying and shipbuilding, to a harbor city known for its fishing traditions, to a gritty and sometimes dangerous place ― Rockland’s reputation has further evolved in modern times.
“People in Maine who’ve been around a long time have an image of Rockland as a gritty blue-collar place that you knew was an industrial town because you could smell it,” Bird said. “But that’s not true now. There is a ‘wow’ factor when people come here now.”
Bird, 82, released “Rockland, Maine: Rise and Renewal” earlier this month through a partnership with the Rockland Historical Society and Maine Author’s Publishing. At just more than 500 pages, it isn’t an “exhaustive history” of Rockland, according to Bird, but more of a “broad stroke look” at the city’s 165-year history. It’s also one of the first books to record the modern history of the city.
Rockland was once part of neighboring Thomaston. The area where the city is located today was then known as Shore Village. But as vast limestone deposits were found, the village and its large harbor separated from Thomaston “and quickly outgrew it,” according to Bird. The city was named Rockland after its burgeoning quarrying industry.
The limestone industry ― and the shipbuilding that accompanied it ― would be the city’s first prominent industry. But around the turn of the 21st century, as new building material became more popular, the industry began to shrink until the last lime kiln went out in 1958.
The city rebounded with its booming fishing industry, including both lobstering and groundfishing, Bird said.
It was around this time that Bird left Rockland to attend Bowdoin College, never planning to return.
“This is my hometown. This is where I grew up,” he said. “But did I ever think when I left to go to college that I would ever write a book about Rockland? No. I just wanted to get out of town, go off and see the world.”