Riceville: A Real Maine Ghost Town

Several years ago, I read an article published in the Bangor Daily News about a Maine ghost town.

In 1879, at Township 39 in Northern Hancock County, several miles east of Greenfield, F. Shaw and Brothers Company operated a tannery, extracting tannins from tree bark for tanning hides. Known as Hancock Tannery and Thirty-Nine Tannery, the business changed owners during ensuing years. In 1896, it became Buzzell and Rice Tanning and processed buffalo hides for shoe leather. Later, James Rice acquired the company and surrounding land holdings and renamed the town Riceville.

The 1890 census recorded 136 residents, many employed at the tannery and living at a local boarding house. In 1900, the population waned, but there were still 75 residents with 21 pupils attending the local schoolhouse at the north end of the old Tannery Road. During earlier years, the Baker Family had moved into town. Working at the mill, they cleared fields and built a farm atop a hill overlooking the village, later named Baker Hill. During its heyday, the town had a grocery store and post office, and further research also described a dance hall, roller rink, theater, and baseball team. In 1903, phone service arrived.

In 1905, the tannery suffered a devastating fire of unknown cause. Locals spoke of a similar fire two years earlier that had destroyed the Hancock Leather factory in Amherst. It seems James Rice owned the Riceville and Amherst operations and had the foresight to insure both operations in case of fire. Just rumor, but you know how people like to speculate.

With no viable industry remaining, residents moved away deserting the town entirely by 1910. In later years, nonsensical rumors spread about a cholera epidemic and the mysterious vanishing of the populace as the cause for the town’s demise. But, that’s a bunch of claptrap…in my opinion.

A recent online search found some information about Riceville’s history and a past paranormal investigation. However, there were scant clues of the town’s precise location, so I resorted to the Maine Atlas and Google Earth for directions. It took appreciable time and deduction to locate it, and I wasn’t sure if there was a marked trail or not.

Anyhow, with autumn days waning and snow impending, my family and I ventured out and followed a circuitous route to Northern Hancock County. Eventually, we found a nondescript dirt berm marking the trailhead of the old Riceville Road. According to Google Earth, it was a mile and a half hike to the middle of town.

Anyhow, we crawled over and under numerous blowdowns until we arrived at an immense beaver flowage. Unless frozen over, we weren’t getting through that mire without getting wet to the nether regions of our undershorts. Instead, we backtracked and continued east, crossing Big Buffalo Stream, rounding Baker Hill to the south, and following a jeep trail for the last leg. After subjecting our truck to a gauntlet of tree branches and muddied ruts, we disembarked our trusty 4x4 Toyota Tacoma and continued west on foot toward Big Buffalo Stream.

At the bottom of a steep knoll, we soon arrived at an overgrown meadow dotted with apple trees and populated with an abundance of partridge. We trod careful to avoid moose, bear, and coyote scat. Several stone foundations and deep open wells marked the remnants of the tannery, outbuildings, and various houses. One well was a good twenty feet across and plunged several feet to the water’s surface. Though bordered with caution fencing, a lone person might drown for sure if he slipped. I wondered what else might lurk at the bottom of the deep shaft.

All around, metal relics from woodstoves, horse wagons, plumbing, and barrels lie scattered along with crumpled sheets of buffalo hide, mildewed and moss-covered. We walked north upon the tangled back of the old Tannery Road, so we might find the cemetery, and perhaps, ford the stream and explore the rest of the town. Regrettably, we didn’t find the graveyard and high, running water thwarted further progress. We vowed to return next summer with a canoe and paddle upstream, so we would have access to both sides of the town.

I don’t know about no ghosts, having never bumped into an apparition or heard disembodied voices calling from woodland shadow. I’m just too skeptical to believe others, even those, who have related sincere supernatural encounters. Alas, personal experiences are too subjective to substitute for actual evidence. Oh…and don’t get me started on psychics…or orbs never captured on image until the invention of digital photography. Supposed spectral orbs are nothing but freakin’ dust particles and bugs…period. For crying out loud, my game camera photos abound with images of orbs and angelic figures, but I doubt my backyard is a haven for spooks. Anyhow, Riceville is a silent place, and I suppose some might feel anxious with little auditory stimuli to calm their imaginings. Me…I ain’t scared of nothin’…except when my wife catches me with my pants down…figuratively speaking...except for one time… Anyways, I don’t get scared; I get mad.

After 105 years, since the last resident departed, nature and incessant wood harvesting operations have vanquished most signs of Riceville. Except for hunters and the occasional sightseer, I imagine this once bustling community isn’t visited often. Surely, no one still lives, who has direct memories of Riceville. After the murky passage of time, its past is mostly forgotten, and its skeletal remains hidden amongst the alders and cedars.

So, if you’re feeling adventurous, trek to Township 39 and see if you can find the town for yourself. Just don’t annoy the ghosts of former residents, lest you get pushed into an open well.

Approximate directions and distances only, so don’t give me any guff if you zig where you should have zagged

1. Travel to Milford along your preferred route
2. Turn right (northeast) on County Road and drive 8.3 miles
3. Turn right (east) on Stud Mill Road and drive 8 miles
4. Turn left (north) on tote road 24-00-0 and go 3.75 miles
5. Turn right (northeast) on tote road 24-06-0 and go 2.25 miles
6. Cross Little Buffalo Stream
7. Go half a mile until you bisect a skidder road on the left (northwest)
8. Immediately across from the intersection of tote road 24-06-0 and the skidder road, there’s a nondescript dirt berm marking the trailhead of the old Riceville Road
9. Exit vehicle and start slogging, you should see building foundations in about a mile
10. If you can’t get across the beaver flowage a half mile down the trail, backtrack and continue east on tote road 24-06-0
11. Cross Big Buffalo Stream and go 2 miles
12. Turn right (southeast) on unmarked tote road and go 1.75 miles
13. Turn right (northwest) on jeep trail and go slowly half a mile
14. Once you arrive at a clearing, turn left (east) at second jeep trail and go as far as your vehicle will allow, approximately one-third mile
15. At the end of the jeep trail, continue west on foot down a knoll until you reach a clearing
16. There, you should observe stone foundations and the remnants of the old Tannery Road heading north along the stream

Accompanying images at https://www.facebook.com/writer.johnr...

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Published on February 05, 2016 11:14 Tags: cobb, ghost, john, maine, riceville, town, writer
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